Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday fillets

Summary execution

Private Eye this week says that President Bush has had, at last, good noose from Iraq; he was hoping that a big swing in Baghdad would help him in the mid-term elections (though it doesn't seem to have done); and that Saddam Hussein has asked Lord Hutton to be his lawyer (an incomprehensible joke unless you're English).

And the Times this morning has Gerard Baker commenting on the proposed hanging of Saddam as follows: 'Characteristically among most of the world's intellectual and political classes there seems to have been a good deal more sympathy for Saddam than for the man who toppled him. How terribly uncivilised of the Iraqis to put him to death!'

All of which got me thinking about the topic of doing away with your enemies. Personally I don't think Saddam should be hanged. I think he should be shot. In fact I think he should have been shot the day he was captured.

Such a method of dealing with your enemies goes by the name of summary execution. And in case you think that I am being particularly brutal and insensitive, you may wish to know (or be reminded) that the question of summary execution has a longish, and not entirely unrespectable, history.

In my novel Beautiful Lady, written under the pen-name Patrick Read, and which was set in WWII, I wrote the following: 'The British government favoured summary execution for captured Nazi leaders -- put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em. However, the view of other, more 'civilised' Allies was that legal methods should prevail; consequently the top men were tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.'

That was what I thought, then. Having been imbued, however, as a young man, with the firm idea that one should always check one's references, I looked this morning for evidence of that statement, rather than just rely on my memory.

I began with William L. Shirer's 1959 book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is still, I think, a pretty authoritative source. But I can find no trace of a discussion of summary execution. Mind you, the book is 1200 pages long, so I may have missed it.

And then I did a Google. And what I found, of course, was that the question of summary execution in WWII is much more complicated than I had thought. There is a lengthy and interesting discussion of it in Leon Goldensohn's The Nuremberg Interviews. And that book as a whole looks as if it would be well worth reading.


A commenter on my piece about Logan Pearsall Smith says that another writer with a similar approach was Piet Hein, the Danish poet, scientist, and architect. You can sample a few of his many thousands of 'grooks' here.

Narrative approach

The Seattle PI (link from Publishers Lunch ) carries a report on an example of the gift, or shared, economy in practice.

Three years ago, 'noted editor Tom Jenks solicited submissions from a few of his writer friends, then published six in the inaugural issue of Narrative Magazine, which was launched during 10 days of labors at a friend's sweltering house on Martha's Vineyard. There was no test marketing, no promotion, no advertising, no nothing other than a new Web site that had a two-page editors' note and six pieces with some formidable bylines, including Joyce Carol Oates, Tobias Wolff, Jane Smiley, and Rick Bass.'

Today this free online magazine, appearing three times a year, has 15,000 subscribers. It is, of course, a pretty highbrow enterprise (at least by my standards), but Jenks's approach seems basically sensible: 'The audience is on the Internet now and the understanding is that it is an open and free medium. To bring people to literary work these days, you can preach to the converted. Or you can bring literary work to those who are not reading it otherwise. Our theme is: Let's make it accessible.'

Operation Emu

Back in June I mentioned a conspiracy-theory web site called Operation Emu. On investigation, by a bloke from the Baltimore Sun, this turned out to be a cunning plug for a novel by R. Brandon Barker. Well, now the book's out, and you can buy a signed copy. Wave it at the aliens when they arrive and you should be OK.

Lone Creek

Publishers Lunch says that any recommendation from bookseller Bob Gray is worth looking at, and Bob is currently keen on an April 2007 issue (yes, you're going to have to wait) entitled Lone Creek.

Written by Neil McMahon, Lone Creek features, among others, a Native American woman who wears a t-shirt that says 'Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorists since 1492', which I reckon is a darn good start.

John Symonds

Today's Times carries an obituary of John Symonds, a writer whose chief claim to fame seems to have been as the biographer and literary executor of Aleister Crowley -- sometimes known as 'the wickedest man in the world'.

Crowley was involved in magic, drugs, quite a lot of sex, and various other kinds of sin. Opinions of him vary: some see him as an opportunistic charlatan and con man, others as a genuinely dangerous magician who could draw upon dark powers.

Symonds's book on Crowley was published in 1952, and was given quite a lot of attention at the time. In the early part of the twentieth century there was in England a strong interest in magic and all things supernatural: consider, for instance, the Golden Dawn. And literary figures were often involved, from Yeats to Dion Fortune. In due course this led to Harry Potter and a thousand others.

Always trust a French lady

Chantal Burton writes from France to take exception, in the nicest possible way, to my assertion (Wednesday) that you should never trust a Frenchman.

There aren't really 3,000 literary prizes in France, she says. There are only 890. And they aren't all awarded in November.

'I for myself,' says Chantal, 'love to look out for the prizes that "normal" people do give - for example after the selection for "Renaudot" and "Goncourt" (2 of the 4 main prizes in the autumn season) these books are being read in schools by children and their teachers - and the "Prix Goncourt des Lyceens" and "Prix Renaudot des Lyceens" often is different from the one's chosen by the jury - and therefore even more interesting.'

Quite right too. I grovel in apology.

Romance rules

The Book Standard reproduces an article from the Bookseller about sales of romantic fiction in the UK. Mills and Boon are doing well it seems. As I recall, however, from a recent Publishers Lunch, the M&B parent company's annual figures reveal a less healthy position in the small print.

Hope for former colonials

Writers, as we all know, are often desperate to find a publisher. So desperate, in fact, that they even write to me, thinking I might help. And if you live in the US, then you might not think that Macmillan New Writing, a profoundly English firm, would be interested in you. But you might be wrong. David Isaak got a contract, and David Thayer has the story.

Oy! What about us?

Now here's a classic sentence from an article in Publishing News: 'Those of us who are concerned about the future of the book trade -- and that ought to be every publisher, bookseller, wholesaler, library supplier and librarian in the land -- owe a debt of gratitude to the BA Board.'

No mention of writers there, you will notice. Writers? Who needs 'em? Nothing but trouble.

Anyway, the article goes on about digitisation of content, as described in the UK Booksellers Association report, Brave New World. You can download this report for free, or buy a copy for £20. And there must be some ironic comment that I could make about that, if only I could think of it.

Lawrence Lessig is noticed

The Independent (link from has an article by Boyd Tonkin about Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons. Most of the information you will know already, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time.

As for the implications of Creative Commons, I am not too impressed by Tonkins's interpretation. 'The old principle of literary copyright is fast fading away,' he says, which I think is misleading.

Tonkin does us a favour, however, by drawing attention to Lewis Hyde's 1983 book, The Gift, which has just been reissued by Canongate.

Stephen King sings

Stephen King was in London, and, as you would expect, Madame Arcati was there.

Madame, we gather, was not over-impressed by the Hodder and Stoughton arrangements for Mr King's mingling with the masses. 'Are publishers the most cretinous people on this planet?' Madame asks. Well yes, indeed. That is a topic which has oft been debated in these very columns. But then Madame gets really rude, in terms which I could not possibly reproduce here.

Madame also took exception to the fact that Mr King was improperly dressed. (You will find it hard to believe, but the chap was not wearing a tie; and in the Middle Temple, too.)

And then Mr King sang. Or tried to. It was all too much for Madame, who may, just possibly, judging by her comments, have consumed one orange squash too many.

The great and wonderful thing about Madame is that, whenever she goes somewhere, you're jolly glad you weren't fool enough to make the effort to go yourself.


Anonymous said...

My compliments to the editors of Narrative Magazine, which shows delightful quality. They can only be a bit daft to put in so much work for free. So I subscribed.

Summary executions? But what would the lawyers do? Perhaps we should start with them.

Kate Allan said...

Thanks for the heads up on the romantic fiction article. I've blogged about it today on my book marketing blog as I have a couple of things to add to their list of why - namely amazon and internet.

Anonymous said...

Leon Goldensohn's "The Nuremberg Interviews" was published in the UK this Feb. - £20 in hardback (available from "all good bookshops") : the paperback is due for release here in the UK next Feb - £14.99

I've always considered that Rudolf Hess got a rough deal : when all the appropriate documents are declassified we plebs might be in for some shocking revelations.

Maria said...

I've heard about King's musical aspirations before, usually accompanied by a groan or said in a whisper. At a writer conference one year I heard an agent claim that King often suggests taking his "band" to book parties/signings. She also said there was nothing his publishers could do to sway him. Having never attended one, I can't say if it is true, but the rumors are out there. :>)

Anonymous said...

As usual, well done, Grumpy. Here is a story about Stephen King. My wife, Penny, who is blind, reads books on tape from the Library of Congress -about five or six a week.

She has long been addicted to King's work. At one point she noted that she was finding errors in his writing. So, Penny wrote him a note and pointed them out.

To her amazement, she got a phone call one day and it was King. He thanked her for her close attention to his work. Was, in general, a really nice person.

Annette said...

I read with interest your article about Saddam Hussein.
It is natural, after all the hideous crimes he committed, to wish the death sentence on him.
However isn't there a better way of punishing him?
Keeping him alive!
But under very strict supervision.Imprison him in a place where there is no contact with anyone,and no-one can help him escape.
Imprisonment can be a cruel place, looking at the same four walls day after day out,year after year.You would feel like you are going mad, and there is nothing more cruel than mental torture.

Ms Baroque said...

Annette, I certainly hope you are not intending cruelty. Justice - to be fair - is one thing; I thought deliberate cruelty was what we were opposing.

I agree, the death penalty seems, at best, a backwards step. My heart sank when I heard the sentence. It can't possibly help. To that end a summary shooting would have been better, more sane, than the circus this is becoming. This is like pulling a plaster off really, really, really slowly.

And GOB, well I followed your trail of crumbs unerringly to Madame Arcati's blog, which I found to be like a Gingerbread House of Delight. And I'm a fan of the Alabama 3! But I have to say that event sounds jolly annoying - and as for the green T shirt. A LITTLE more effort than that wouldn't have hurt, would it? It's not as if King were a sulky teenager. He must REALISE that other people are making big efforts on his account.

Thanks for the heads-up, in other words! I'll now be reading both you and Mme A.

Anonymous said...

If we get around to charging Bush and Blair and their cronies with war crimes I'll be proud of my race.

Is it really Saddam? I remember them telling us they couldn't 'take him out' because he had so many 'doubles'.

Found in a little hole with a few hundred thousand dollars? He should have hired Bin Laden to convert his billions into a better plan.

It's all bullshit. This is the blackest time of man. We and the Americans have redefined slaughter.

The good guys may not even have to resign. Only Rumsfeld, the man who negotiated the sale of chemical weapons to Saddam, has been put to pasture by purple faced generals.

Tony will continue to tell us he did the right thing and we'll all live happily ever after.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Re the David Isaak contract: can David Thayer have got it right? I haven't heard of David Isaak, but Thayer seems to imply that Isaak has been previoulsy published, yet Macmillan New Writing make very clear on their website that they will not look at manuscripts by previously published writers.

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