Doris Lessing has won the Nobel prize. That's the first story. Well, at least she's more readable than most of those who get this accolade.
The other, rather more important piece of news, is that Orion have won a landmark libel case in the Court of Appeal. The Court has ruled in favour of investigative journalism; as a result, one allegedly bent copper and his supporters are left with a huge bill.
Judging by the web site, Ron Wulkan's novel The Gook Lover seems to be a cut above the average. Certainly it is written by a man who has had an extraordinary life and knows whereof he speaks. Having lied about his age, he found himself, aged 17, serving as a military policeman in occupied Japan.
David Loye is another World War II veteran, married to an internationally known holocaust survivor (Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade). He was a television newsman back in the Ed Murrow days, and an award-winning author himself (The Healing of a Nation) in the Nixon era. Now he's running the Benjamin Franklin Press, dedicated to publishing books 'for the restoration of national and global sanity'.
David is has not entirely given up the idea that the world may have a future if we do the right things. Take a look for yourself.
Margaret Atwood told the Cheltenham Festival audience that young writers need an awful lot of luck. 'Writing is not a job description,' she said. 'A great deal of it is luck. Don’t do it if you are not a gambler.'
For a longer discussion of the same important truth, see my essay On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile.
In the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle does as thorough a demolition job on If I Did It as I have ever read. He describes it as:
A book that is simultaneously morally disgusting and excruciatingly dull. A filthy little project that, although extremely brief (there’s a lot of padding in those 208 pages), succeeds in both boring the reader beyond endurance and making him gag.Furthermore, Liddle describes O.J. Simpson as a man who 'murdered his wife'. Where was the ST duty lawyer when that went to past the sub-editors? 'Spare yourself and don't buy it,' Liddle concludes.
Commenters on my piece last Thursday, about the PFD debacle and the generally matey atmosphere in publishing, have accused me of a certain lack of consistency. Surely, they say, I have always argued that modern publishing is all about the money?
Well, maybe. I would not claim to be immune to inconsistency, but here I think I have just not explained myself very well.
Yes, modern big-time publishing is mainly concerned with profit, whereas once the big-time publishers were more concerned with literary quality, the public good, the need for the truth to out, and all like that. But where do books come from, whether chosen for literary merit and general worthiness, or for their ability to sell in large numbers?
Answer, they come from writers and agents. And since big-time publishing often pays big money (by publishing's modest standards), everything depends upon judgement, track record, reliability, trust. An editor who is going to pay half a million for a book ideally wants it to come from a writer with a proven track record, and a well known agent who will advise her wisely in the writing and marketing of same.
These relationships take a long time to build up. If an agent departs from an agency, taking her clients with her, you can't replace her in the same way that you can replace a van driver or a copy typist. That's why I think the money men have got it wrong where PFD is concerned.
Incidentally, it seems to me that the really smart money men take a quick look at publishing, decide that it's an absurd business, and push off elsewhere. Consider the career of Luke Johnson. He was once a publisher, but described it as a 'terrible business… a barely rational industry.... You ship finished volumes to booksellers who only accept them on a sale or return basis, and demand at least 55 per cent trade discount, and pay 120 days later.'
Not surprisingly, Johnson has recently bought the UK division of Borders.