Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday again -- where does the time go?

Cory Doctorow on copyright

It is a circumstance more than once remarked upon here that the best indicator of a truly amateur (and probably truly awful ) writer is a manuscript which bears on the cover, in large letters, a statement along the following lines: PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE KNOWN UNIVERSE AND IN ANY UNIVERSE WHICH MAY HEREAFTER BE DISCOVERED. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO READ WORK THIS ONLY WITH MY WRITTEN PERMISSION. YOU CAN'T PHOTOCOPY IT. AND IF YOU TRY TO POST IT ON THE INTERNET I WILL SEND MY AUNTIE MILDRED ROUND TO DUFF YOU UP. AND THEN YOU'LL BE SORRY. Or words to that effect.

That situation arises because there are very few people around with any common sense, and even fewer who combine common sense with a knowledge of copyright law. Cory Doctorow is one of the few who have both, and you can read his latest essay on the subject in Locus.

Meanwhile, there's some more common sense on the question of copyright in music from Valleywag. (Link from the Creative Commons blog.)

Simon Jenkins's new book

Simon Jenkins (actually he's Sir Simon, having been knighted in 2004) is one of my favourite journalists. He's a former editor of the Times, which is about as distinguished as you can get in journalism, and until recently he used to write fairly regular think-pieces for the Times, though I gather he is now officially signed up to the Guardian.

Jenkins is also the author of quite a few books, such as England's Thousand Best Churches. And his latest is due out from Penguin (Allen Lane) in October. Its title is Thatcher and Sons: a Revolution in Three Acts.

Here's a snatch of the advance publicity:

[Mrs Thatcher's] premiership transformed not just her country, but the nature of democratic leadership. By 2006, Britain was the most heavily regulated country in the non-socialist world, with every aspect of public activity relentlessly audited, and power more rigorously centralized than in any other mature democracy. The great instrument of centralization and audit was the Treasury, whose Thatcherite policies were carried to their apogee by the most controlling Chancellor of modern times, Gordon Brown.

Pithy, passionate and polemical, Simon Jenkins's book explains how we have come to be where we are - prosperous but perplexed, economically liberated and spoilt for 'choice', but less and less equal, infantilized by targets, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and frustrated by a politics which values spin over substance.

Yup. Sounds about right to me.

I shall be surprised if Jenkins's book isn't serialised somewhere, shortly before publication.

A bad day at the office

M.J. Rose, at Buzz, Balls & Hype, points to a short cartoon on YouTube and suggests that yes, some days the business of being a writer does feel like that.

What's this with the 'some days' though, M.J.? It's surely every day.

Also on YouTube

While you're hanging around YouTube, with all those asbos and hoodies, you might do well to look at something with a bit of culcha. Try the witty and really very interesting 'TV programme' about the typeface Cooper Black. (Link from Mr Maud at Maud Newton.)

Hanging is too good for them

Yesterday Blogger was being a real pain again, losing half an hour's work for me, and I sat there muttering how one day I would swing for that bloody Blogger.

And that got me to thinking, or rather wondering, how many of the modern generation understand the origins of that expression, 'I'll swing for' something?

At the risk of stating the obvious, it derives from the old English practice of hanging criminals from the neck until dead.

And that got me thinking about hanging in general. I was led, naturally, to remember the most famous English hangman of them all, Albert Pierrepoint, but I wrote about him not so long ago, so I won't repeat that here.

And the next thought, in this idle chain of linkages, was my memory of what Bernard Levin had to say about a famous hanging judge, Lord Goddard, who ended his career as the Lord Chief Justice.

Almost immediately after Goddard's death, Levin wrote an article about Goddard which was a pretty brutal denunciation of the man. So far I have not been able to trace an online copy of the article, but there are plenty of web references to it. It appeared in 1971, and I haven't read it since, but my memory tells me that Levin accused the Judge of deriving sadistic pleasure from sentencing a man to death. He also reported that the Judge liked nothing better than a dirty story, the coarser the better, and that his taste in stories was for those in which women were demeaned and humiliated.

Anyway, whatever the details, the Levin article enraged the legal establishment, and soon afterwards, when Levin applied to join the Garrick Club, he was blackballed. (For an explanation of blackballed, see here.)

Low Winter Sun

These days I am hard put to find anything that I really want to watch on television, so I tend to study the printed programme rather carefully. Yesterday I noticed that the Times thought that there was some terrific acting on show in Low Winter Sun, so I gave it a try -- Channel 4, 9 p.m.

Wow. LWS is a modern crime drama, set in Edinburgh, and it carries a warning at the beginning about violence and strong language, both fully justified. However, this is not sensation for the sake of sensation.

It turned out that I was watching part II of a two-part drama. What with that, the thick Scottish accents, and me being deaf, I was not able to absorb the finer points of the plot -- but never mind, it was gripping throughout.

What we have here is absolutely top class UK TV drama. I have the impression that Channel 4 have been getting a bit of stick recently, but they've redeemed themselves with this one; though I see that it was made by the indie company Tiger Aspect in association with BBC America, whatever that is. I gather it means that LWS will end up on American screens.

Chief plaudits must go to the actors, particularly Mark Strong. He was in The Long Firm, you may recall, and as a friend of mine (now dead, alas) said at the time, when he's on the screen you can't take your eyes off him. Another eye-grabber is Neve McIntosh, who was in Bodies; and John Sessions, playing an unusual role for him. And so on.

The photography and direction are as good as you will see, and the writing, by Simon Donald, was of course excellent, otherwise the whole thing would never have held together.

You can get Low Winter Sun on DVD, or you can watch/record it in the UK on More 4, from 9.15 p.m. to just after midnight, tomorrow, Saturday 23 September.

Unremarked bestsellers

The Guardian publishes a light-hearted reminder that the books which sell best, year in and year out, are the ones with a low profile that most people ignore, take for granted, or never even know about. (Link from

Fractured Veil

Gregory Connors has published his novel Fractured Veil on Lulu, where you can find a brief description of it. There is also a substantial chunk available as a preview, so you can make your own mind up, and there is a lot more on Gregory's blog.

This novel is not one that I personally can feel wildly enthusiastic about, but the last time I said that about a similar book it got noticed by a New York publisher, who bought the rights, so there you go.

The origin of speech

There's a new blog on the block about the origins of speech. This is an academic subject, but it is, perhaps, more interesting than it sounds, and it might not be a bad idea for writers to have some idea of what the scholars are thinking.


Anonymous said...

I do grind my teeth when I receive a submission with the © 2006 or some such thing. The Flickr photography site is, I suspect, an excellent example of Creative Commons--they not only explain it clearly but put it to good use. I do believe our absurd copyright laws will fall by the wayside as CC comes into greater use. I hope.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention hanging. I just put something on-line about the archaeology of Swedish 18th century execution cemeteries.

Martin R

Marie said...

Low Winter Sun reminded me why I have a television. Not a lot of programmes do that. Best thriller since Prime Suspect 1 I reckon. Can we have a programme with both Helen Mirren and Mark Strong in it now please?

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for the tip about Low Winter Sun - watched it on Saturday night after your recommendation and it was just as you said. Mark Strong is magnificent.