Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bits and pieces

The glorious future

The International Herald Tribune would have us believe that book publishers are not going to make the same mistakes as the music and film industries. Springer is simplifying digital access and copying facilities for its substantial academic and scientific output, and mainstream publishers are, er... having a think. (Link from booktrade.info.)

Wisdom from Cheltenham?

The Times, I gather, is sponsoring the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and hence is giving the proceedings rather more column inches than would otherwise be the case.

Yesterday, for example, 'one of the country's leading writers' said that bookshops were failing to promote modern literature. The leading writer making this charge was Patrick Neate, of whom, sad to say, I had never previously heard a whisper.

However, as some blogger pointed out (and I regret that I cannot now remember who), Susan Hill was also at Cheltenham, and she told an entirely different story:
At Cheltenham on Saturday we had yet more complaining about how hard it is for writers, how no one wants to publish them and when they are published how no one wants to stock them and... Oh give me strength.
Quite right too.

April Ashley survives

You won't remember, because you're far too young, but April Ashley was one of the first Brits to have a so-called sex-change operation. Once famous, and beloved of the tabloids, she has faded from view somewhat in recent years, but now she has her own web site, and gallery, and so forth. (Thanks to Madame Arcati for the link.)

April is going to write another autobiography, dealing with 1980 onwards, and this time including stuff which had to be left out of the first one. Now that I really would like to read.

Cliff Richard also survives

Galleycat alerted me to the fact that Headline is going to publish a Cliff Richard memoir.

That one I definitely won't bother with. There is no way in the world that it will tell anything even remotely like the truth. Pure vanilla, from start to finish.


Mention of Madame Arcati reminds me that she ain't on the blogroll yet. And neither are some others who ought to be. But I will get there. Eventually.

The bomb

If you want the inside story on how the South Koreans are reacting to the bomb, my son Jon can help. Complete with stock market tips.


Apparently it's the Booker thingie tonight. I hadn't noticed, but a blogger (and again, I'm afraid I have forgotten who) reminded me yesterday.

The big revelation used to be broadcast live on one of the UK TV channels, but this year it's just going to be announced on the BBC ten o'clock news. Lead item, no doubt, taking precedence over anything to do with bombs.

I find, on reflection, that I am successfully managing to contain my excitement.

The Book People

The Book People's catalogue is beginning to drop out of magazines again. Well, it is nearly Christmas, after all.

I must say I find it all rather garish. The catalogue is mostly red, but the web site is mostly blue. Strong, either way.

There's lots and lots of stuff for kids. Paddington Bear is still popular, I see. And so is William! Good grief. He has joined the immortals. I wonder if it's been updated?

Simenon is recycled, and you can buy all six of the Booker shortlist for £29.99! Crumbs. I bet the authors are all thrilled about that.

Amy's View

On Friday last, by the way, to the Theatre Royal, Bath, to see Amy's View, starring Felicity Kendal. This play is by David Hare, who has a long and distinguished track record. The production is directed, without much fanfare, by Sir Peter Hall, and is going to tour in anticipation of a West End transfer.

You probably recall that Amy's View was very successful, just under ten years ago, in both London and New York, with Judi Dench in the lead. It's a play all about relationships, the mother/daughter/son-in-law thing, and I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it much. There are also some ideas lurking in there: is the theatre dead type of thing.

All in all, it struck me that, had it not been written by a man with a long list of successes, Amy's View would never have been put on in a month of Sundays. Except possibly by the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society. However, it is undeniably well acted.

McGillivray on censorship

Speaking of Farndale Avenue, I had forgotten that David McGillivray was one of the parties responsible for that. David doesn't seem to have a web site devoted solely to his exploits, which is a pity, because he has an unusual set of achievements. Here are a few things that have come to my notice.

If you want an entertaining account of some of the less respectable corners of the British film industry, try Doing Rude Things, which is a history of the British sex film from 1957 to 1981. I find, to my astonishment, that I have a signed copy. Not only that, but Pamela Green, who wrote the foreword, has signed it too! Crumbs. Ah, Pamela. If only we were both young again. Now she does have her own web site.

I'm pretty sure that it was also David McGillivray who wrote a short biography of the UK actress Madeline Smith. I had a copy of that too, once, but it seems to have disappeared.

On a more serious note, you can find David's learned and valuable 1999 essay on censorship on the Melon Farmers web site. Subtitled 'Why obscenity legislation is the pornographer's best friend', it contains a lot of useful information and much good sense.

Robin Hood

If you live in the UK you would be hard put to avoid knowing that the BBC has revived Robin Hood for a new series on Saturday nights. Timed at 50 minutes an episode, it is obviously intended to be sold to commercial stations, so it will probably go everywhere in the end.

The mythical figure of Robin has had a long run in show business. Errol Flynn did him for Hollywood, as did Kevin Costner. But what most people my age remember is the 1950s television series, produced, curiously enough, in the UK. It was, as I recall, cheap, cheerful, and gave employment to, among others, a couple of blacklisted Hollywood writers.

The executive producer was Hannah Weinstein. I remember one day in about 1960 when I was walking through Kensington with an American friend. He pointed out a Rolls Royce. 'That's Hannah's,' he said, and explained how she had come by it. 'I knew her,' he added, 'when she was so poor that she had to write letters with a burn matchstick.' A slight exaggeration, but I took his point.

The new BBC version is not to everyone's taste, but I liked it. Robin, it turns out, is a bit of a shortarse, but what he lacks in stature he makes up for in supernatural powers. When he gets annoyed he does a bit of an incredible hulk thing; light shines out of his eyes and so forth. He's a dab hand with a bow and arrow too: he can fire two arrows at once and save not just once chap from hanging but two, by cutting the ropes with his deadly aim. I don't think Errol Flynn could do that.

The programme is worth watching for Maid Marian alone. I have to choose my words carefully here, but she is, shall we say, distinctly juicy. I don't think Robin's man enough for the job, actually, but we shall see.

Frankfurt 'frenzy'

Am I alone in sighing wearily at yet more tales of frenzy at Frankfurt? This one comes from the Bookseller, which is too damn mean to let you read it on their site, so you have to go to the Book Standard.

The 'hottest book of the year' is reportedly the best of its kind since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which isn't saying much, in my estimation. Then Faber have snapped up this, and there's huge interest in that, and there are 'massive six-figure pre-empts' and so forth.

God it's boring.

Pratchett rules

Last Saturday's Times shows Terry Pratchett at the top of the bestsellers with 32,348 copies sold. But the Sunday Times chart, for the same period, doesn't list him at all. Am I missing something? Is it because Wintersmith is allegedly a kid's book? I've bought one anyway, so there.

A good laugh

If you are in search of comic relief, the best I can offer you this morning is a piece in the Law supplement of today's Times. Written by David Pannick, it concerns a couple of judges who were shagging each other, and a few other people besides, and got themselves into the newspapers. Highly entertaining, always provided, of course, that you are not one of the parties involved.

The truth shall out?

And finally today, another reminder that the nature of obituaries has changed. Once the rule was de mortuis, but not any longer. Some time ago I referred to the obituary of Peter Carter-Ruck, in which the dead man got a thorough (albeit thoroughly deserved) kicking from a former colleague. And today's Times offers an obit of Professor Arthur Marwick which is franker than most.

Marwick was a historian, and I remember him because he wrote The Deluge, a study of the impact of the first world war on British society. I found it useful when planning a never-written novel about that period.

After the usual life summary, the obituary (unsigned, as is the Times regular practice) says that Marwick's interests were 'wine, women and football'.
He was, in truth, too often drunk, and when drunk a boor and a bore. He made enemies and hurt friends. But he was also a shy, generous and deeply kind man. He had an unswerving commitment to history’s social purpose. He never married, but had a daughter and granddaughter, on whom he doted.
Well, I don't think he was drunk when he wrote The Deluge. That was pretty good.


Anonymous said...

Pamela was built in the days before
the "Heroin User Anorexic" look came into fashion.
No plastic or filler just 100% good ol' nature!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you are criticising Cheltenham Literature Festival or not - you haven't made yourself entirely clear - however surely one of the purposes of such a festival is not only to promote book sales (as sadly so many festivals now are) but also to provide a strong platform for new work and debate. Debate I might add which is not shy to say what it means. I have no hestitation is saying that Patrick Neate (http://www.patrickneate.com) is right when he says that bookshops are failing to promote modern literature. We are seeing more and more of fewer and fewer titles. There may be modern literature on sale in bookshops but the choice available to the consumer is rather poor - the range is limited - but as Scott Pack pointed out, this is the fault (ultimately) of the consumer. If you don't want to buy the latest media endorsed title, celeb autobiography, etc, then don't.

Madame Arcati said...

It's odd that Douglas Thompson's biog of April Ashley has disappeared on her site - it's also peculiar that there's no index mention in his book of the writer Duncan Fallowell with whom April had penetrative sex, though he's gay. I may put up some more about this curious menage (on Madame Arcati, that is).

Anonymous said...

If a BookFest is going to foster the notion (via debate) that it is difficult both to get a book published and that bookshops merely stock the obvious bestsellers then it is perhaps time that those attending were more actively encouraged to visit some of the quite excellent (indie) bookshops with their catholic selection of recently published titles.

Scott Pack stated on his blog that some of the criticism might have been over-stated by the Times - well, now there's a surprise. Fancy the Murdoch media looking for alarmist sound bite headlines !!

Anonymous said...

A propos Richmal Crompton's William Brown stories: On Sept 27 the Spanish freesheet adn (yes, lower case)used pretty much its entire front page to announce the results of a survey based on the notion of 10 Books Everyone Should Read Before They're 18. The paper asked the question of a panel of 7 esteemed persons including 2 writers; 2 editors; a philosopher, a journalist and the current Spanish minister for culture, Sra. Carmen Calvo. The aggregated top ten read as follows:
1- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2- Treasure Island
3- Peter Pan & Wendy
4- Alice in Wonderland
5- The Odyssey (Homer)
6- Gypsy Ballads (Lorca)
7- Complete Stories of Hans Christian Andersen
8- The Catcher in the Rye
9- Wuthering Heights
10- The Outsider (Camus)
In the double-page spread which detailed each contributor's personal list I was amazed, though heartened, to see that 2 of the 7 panellists (Jorge Herralde - the very well regarded editor at Anagrama and the well respected writer Ana MarĂ­a Matute) had placed Crompton's hero in their top tens - Herralde opting for William the Outlaw and Matute for the complete William Brown series. It is interesting to note too, I think, that of the possible 70 contenders only 15 were originally written in Spanish - and of those 15 five were selected by the minister for culture (just doing her job I s'pose). Yes, ok, these lists are usually very shallow exercises, nonetheless I did find it fascinating. Only one mention of Harry bloody Potter...and P.G.Wodehouse? and absolutely no Enid Blyton. Fascinating. I was fascinated largely because I too was a devoted reader of the William series, even though at the time (early 60s)it was seriously frowned on by many adults. My interest in serious writing began with my writing sequels and prequels to William's adventures. Such was my evident skill at capturing William Brown and his mates for my own updated to the mid-60s versions I was given special dispensation by my then English (and cricket)teacher to use contracted forms like can't, don't - (yes! I was given special permission to use apostrophied contractions! )- I was also permitted to use mild slang. Incredible when I think of it now. Unheard of in my school until then. "Keep writing" he (Mr Carver) wrote at the end of every episode I submitted. "More, you must write more." And so I did. And I have continued writing. And now, in 2006, to read that a couple of well regarded Spanish literary types think the William stories should be read by everyone before they are 18...well...I always thought the William stories were so quintessentially English. Just thought I'd share that with you. And, a propos Robin Hood the 50s/60s TV series (absolutely essential viewing), the late, great film director Lindsay Anderson (This Sporting Life; If..; Britannia Hospital etc)directed a couple of episodes. Just thought I'd share that with you too.

Simon Haynes said...

The last time I picked up a Just William book they'd changed all the nostalgia-evoking half crowns and shillings into pounds and 50p coins. This, despite the fact it was still wartime and ration coupons were in evidence. (That's WWII for those who forget, or didn't know.)
I don't like this messing with old books. We have SF books with credits and so on, so how hard is it to learn a 'new' currency in, say, half a page?
And if the pound succumbs to the Euro, will they rewrite the books all over again?

Simon Haynes said...

And in reply to 'a certain sinclair' - I have most of the Just William books, read them myself in the 80's as a teen and my own kids (now 8 and 11) were encouraged - nay, beaten - until they read and damned well enjoyed them too.
The editions without the pounds and pence, that is.

Mr Paul said...

I thought the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood was pretty good barring the cheesy music. Morgan Freeman was particulary good although not as good as he was in The Shawshank Redemption

Anonymous said...

I'm fortunate to live in the Colonies and, with luck, the new Robin Hood won't reach me. Perhaps I can hope for a New Davy Crockett staring down two b'ars at once.

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pundy said...

I loved the William books when I was young and encouraged my two kids to read them too, which they did with pleasure. Later on I discovered that Richmal Crompton turns out to have been a pretty amazing person in her own right.

Steve said...

I really really enjoy your blog. thanks for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Hi, really enjoy reading your blog. Although living in Spain I've been able to watch the new Robin Hood series on BBC. Unfortunately too young to remember the original series.

As for Maid Marian, have to admit she looks like a younger version of Anna Friel (who is not exactly old even today).

Yes enjoyed it a bit, but will see what the rest of it is like before making a final decision.