Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Midweek roundup

And still they come

Last week, in connection with books about codes in works of art, I mentioned that the public seems very happy to go on buying and reading books about subjects and themes which, to you and me, may seem to have been thoroughly worked out and worked over. Here are a couple more examples.

Publishers Lunch reports that Mitch Silver's debut thriller Provenance has been sold to Trish Todd at Touchstone Fireside, in a major deal, by Larry Kirshbaum at LJK Literary Management. The plot features a nonfiction manuscript by Ian Fleming which provides evidence that the Duke of Windsor was in a treasonous plot with Hitler.

Well, ahem, plenty of people have dealt with this before. In fiction there's my own novel Beautiful Lady. Jack Higgins did Thunder Point. And in nonfiction it's a fairly well known story: try King Pawn or Black Knight? by Gwynne Thomas (Mainstream, 1995).

And then there's the continued use of a fairly well known type of character, such as the Cockney charlady, the dumb blonde, or the streetwise private eye. The likeable conman is, in my view, a difficult character to portray, but that doesn't stop people doing it. Coming soon after Locke Lamora is Joseph Pittman's London Frog. (World English rights just sold to Tekno -- report also from Publishers Lunch.)

Tekno-Books, by the way, turns out to be a really interesting outfit. Here's a profile of the CEO, Martin Greenberg. As with 17th Street, this is not an operation which could run in quite the same way in the UK, because (in my view) the market is not big enough.

Mitzi again

If you aren't able to go to erotic writer Mitzi Szereto's week-long course on writing erotic fiction, on the Greek island of Skiathos, in September, a similar course (weekend only) is being offered in the Isle of Wight, UK, 25-27 June. Details on The Grange web site.

Tips from Paul Dorrell

Paul Dorrell, whose Living the Artist's Life was mentioned here a while back, has begun posting Friday Tips for Artists on his blog. And, since Paul is also a novelist, some of what he has to say is also relevant to writers.

Take, for instance, his piece about 'The guilt of selling your work'. It seems that art students are frequently taught (and, being nice girls and boys, tend to believe) that it is dirty, disgusting, and demeaning to even think about selling their paintings and sculptures. Selling things is commerce, and they are artists. Not surprisingly, these crackpot ideas get people into emotional and financial difficulties.

Paul says, and I believe him, that 'dealers like me encounter those artists on a regular basis--especially after they've reached their 30s or 40s, are broke, emotionally exhausted, and feeling like a failure on all fronts--even if their work is great. That is indeed tragic.'

The situation is often the same with writers. Virtually all writers tend to be madly ambitious for fame and fortune, but have absorbed the view -- usually after three or four years of studying Eng Lit at a prestigious university -- that the only worthwhile fiction is literary fiction of the most highbrow variety, and that writing anything which might acutally entertain the woman on the Clapham omnibus is dirty, disgusting, demeaning, and all like that. That b'ain'tn't true. And you shouldn't believe it.

Write a page for charity

I wasn't going to bother reading this story, but I'm glad I did.

The Guardian has an article (link from about a man who's inviting people -- via ebay -- to buy the right to write a page in a novel. Seventeen pages have been written so far, and there are to be 250 all told. Details on Novel Twists.

Well, it all sounds very silly, until you find out that Phil McArthur, the man behind it, dreamed up the idea while having chemo treatment for cancer, and that the money generated from the page auctions goes to Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan, for the sake of non-UK readers, is a charity which has a high reputation for looking after terminal cancer sufferers.

Contributors are allowed to publish a little note about themselves at the foot of the page. Who knows, Jonny Geller might see what you've writ and sign you up! And Random House might give you a six-figure contract! And all like that.

Keeping up to date in crime

I used to make a determined effort to keep abreast of developments in the crime-fiction field, because most of my books have fitted into that genre somewhere, loosely speaking. But then in 1990 I attended the Bouchercon conference in London and realised that, despite my best efforts, there were scores, if not hundreds, of practising crime writers who were completely unknown to me. So after that I stopped trying too hard, and just read whatever I came across, or heard about, which looked as if it might be interesting.

I mention this because if you want to keep up with what's new in crime fiction, and hear from a few experts in the field, Galleycat has a useful essay for you, complete with links to other stuff.

Final word on the London Book Fair

Galleycat also has sensible things to say about the London Book Fair fiasco, mentioned here on Monday.

In an age when Publishers Marketplace posts deals all year round, when blogs demystify the publishing industry and report news as it happens, and the Internet opens things up that much further - and when rights conferences such as BEA just lead everybody into a never ending bitch-and-moanfest - why is this all necessary? Granted, impressing upon the industry just how insanely big it is and how much more difficult it is to do business is an important lesson to learn every year, but is it all more trouble than it's worth?
Probably. I haven't been to the LBF for about four years, and I don't feel that I've missed much, except the chance to say hello to a few people.

A short history of the short story

Oh my God. I don't think I'm strong enough, but I owe it to you to try.

Bookslut had a link to a short history of the short story, written by William Boyd, and foolishly I clicked on it. It turns out that Boyd's article is in Prospect, and Boyd is a judge of the so-called (UK) National Short Story Prize, about which I was less than thrilled when it was first announced.

Boyd's history is yet another version of the 'official' history of the short story, and doesn't seem to me to offer anything very new. There is a good deal about Chekhov, for instance. But he does tell us that many of the stories that he has been reading, in connection with the great Prize, are in Chekhovian mode; which is no surprise at all, given the nature of the thing.

If you have any strength left -- or indeed any will to remain living -- after wading through Boyd, you might like to compare and contrast what he has to say with what I had to say in March 2005, both about the 'official history' of the short story, and the unofficial or true history of same.

Meanwhile, just after I wrote the above, it was announced that the winner of the National Short Story Prize is James Lasdun, for An Anxious Man. The Guardian has the story (link from According to the judges, the story has 'visceral resonance'. Which sounds painful.

The winning story is not available online, but it will be published in the June issue of Prospect, available in shops from 24 May. Queues will doubtless form.

Let's hear it for David Mitchell's publicist

I have the very definite feeling that I would not be entertained by reading David Mitchell's new novel Black Swan Green. I know nothing about the novel, or him either, but I just get the feeling that I wouldn't be interested. The whole enterprise smells lit'ry to me, and, as is well known, I am an ignorant philistine, ill equipped to wrestle with the finer works of our time.

One thing I do know, however, is that David Mitchell's publicist has done one hell of a job for him. You can hardly open a newspaper or turn a page without seeing another review, or an interview, or a profile, or whatever. And if my eyes glaze over, and I hastily move on to the cricket scores, or to check what time New Tricks is on, that's not the publicist's fault.

Samples: Telegraph; Newsday; Guardian; Bookpage; Bookseller; and, doubtless, a whole lot more.

Don't blame me department

I'm gonna stand well back from this one. I just report the facts, OK? (Link from Publishers Lunch.)

Over at Slate, Tyler Cowen has a provocative piece on independent bookshops. What are independent bookshops good for? he asks. And answers: Not much.

Look, I didn't say that, OK? A big boy did it and ran away.

Tyler Cowen, by the way, is a professor of economics at George Mason University, and is the author of Good and Plenty: the creative successes of American arts funding. And if he's writing about the benefits of funding the arts at the taxpayers' expense it's presumably a very short book.

Kids don't know they're born

Went round my local W H Smith yesterday afternoon, and it wasn't as painful an experience as I had thought it might be. And the one thing that occurred to me is that kids today are very well served with books. In fact, some of the kids' books on display looked a great deal more interesting than the stuff in the adult section. (Jokes about my second childhood by snailmail only, please.)

Take Angie Sage, for instance. She seems to have written, or done illustrations for, every publisher in town. Google her, and you get author pages for her from Bloomsbury, Penguin, Hodder Headline, and HarperCollins. At least.

The books of Angie's which caught my eye, however, were the Septimus Heap novels. These have their own fancy web site, complete with ducks that seem to go miaow. The first Heap book, Magyck, looked as if it might be pretty good too.

Then there's Louise Rennison, who has written a series of novels under the overall title The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. These have different titles in the US, but the one I looked at was called Then he ate my boy entrancers.

Hmm. Think about that. Boy entrancers. And then he -- whoever he is --ate them. No, no, couldn't possibly be. Not in a respectable shop like W H Smith. Well, fairly respectable. Anyway, I reckon kids have a pretty good time figuring out what's going on here. The cover, by the way, promises that you will laugh your knickers off.

Louise lives in Brighton, which she says is the British San Francisco. Which made me think, for a minute or two, that she must be blind, but then I realised that she is also a stand-up comedian, with a one-woman show.

Louise's heroine, Georgia, also has her own web site.

The Stage

The other thing I noticed in W H Smith is that The Stage has had a make-over. Sometime since last summer, which is the last time I looked at it.

The Stage, for those who have never had the pleasure, is a sort of UK version Variety, only vastly inferior in every way and much more limited in its scope. Some 25 or more years ago, there were rumours that David Frost was going to buy it, and even then it was described in the press as a 'clapped out show-business weekly'.

Anyway, there it still is. New tabloid-style shape, slightly snazzier layouts, but still pretty dull. I bought a copy for old times's sake and sighed over les neiges d'antan. There are many pages of advertising, which must be the main source of revenue by the look of it, and many of the adverts are for 'drama schools' and the like.

The Stage has an online presence, which has also been spruced up considerably since I last looked at it. And it seems to include most of the paper content, which is very user-friendly of it. But that suggests that the paper version is bought mainly for the ads -- wannabes in desperate search of work.

Susan Swan on Casanova

Last September, Susan Swan's novel What Casanova Told Me was favourably reviewed here, and since then she's posted an essay about the great man on her web site. For all his vices, Casanova is certainly a figure who has captured the public attention for well over two hundred years.


Dr Ian Hocking said...

On the subject of David Mitchell, he's one of my favourite writers precisely because he isn't afraid to use genre where necessary. Haven't read Black Swan Green as yet, but can recommend Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' and 'Ghostwritten'.

Anonymous said...

As for that slate piece on the independent bookshops it states

>>>Many of the smaller indies have financed themselves by selling, in a separate part of the store, pornography<<<

Now I *know* what I have been doing wrong !!!

Lee said...

I hate to disappoint you, but I'm reading Lasdun's The Horned Man at the moment, and it's both beautifully written and genuinely startling. (And short enough even to satisfy you!)

Anonymous said...

Seconds on the Lasdun novel. His new book is a beauty as well.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I think Tyler Cowen's piece in Slate is wrong, he provides no factual support for his conclusions. It all seems to be anecdotal and he has a kind of reverse snobbery
antipathy for independent bookstores.

I've written a resonse on my blog which people might read if they wish.

Anonymous said...


I have read your comments, thank you from an independent bookstore proprietor.

In the old days editors demanded facts ; its a pity that Slate have chosen to given space to such unsubstantiated drivel.

Merisi said...

Tyler Cowen is free to express his opinion however unsubstantiated it sounds to me. I continue to frequent independent bookstores between Washington DC and Vienna for my own pleasure (and displeasure of my bank account) :-)

Martin said...

Me too have a say: Lasdun's Horned Man is good unreliable-narrator post-mod fun and well worth a go.