Monday, August 13, 2007

Oh woe

What have I always said? Hmm? Writing is never easy. When faced with the urge to write something, you should always do what Sir Billy Butlin used to do when feeling the urge to take some exercise: lie down until the feeling wears off.

If you live in England, the writing of anything is complicated by the laws of libel. As indicated here in more posts than I care to contemplate, writing either fiction or non-fiction is a hazardous business from that point of view.

Peter Carter-Ruck was England's most famous and successful libel lawyer. His advice to writers was simple. To be certain that you will never be liable to pay damages for libel, you should 'refrain from writing, printing or publishing or distributing any written matter of whatsoever nature.'

You may have thought, in your innocence, that if you stuck to non-fiction you wouldn't have any trouble. After all, a fact is a fact, right?

Wrong. As usual. In America the laws on libel are less stringent than they are here -- or so one has been led to believe; hence libel tourism -- but apparently there is now a growing movement towards being super cautious and careful and checking everything and getting permission from everyone, and... Oh, forget it.

For a prime example, visit M.J. Rose's blog, where guest writer Dr Susan O'Doherty describes, in painful detail, what it feels like to be messed around by people who have been reading the health and safety handbook and taking it seriously.

That way lies madness. As I say, lie down until you feel better.


I get an email telling me that I might like to look at, which offers the opportunity to download term papers, essays and the like. Presumably this is a service for students who want someone else to do the work for them. Those who write the term papers, essays, et cetera, earn some income from the site, varying according to the popularity of what they have written. The home page says that 109,077 writers are earning royalties already.

So, OK, not too impressed so far, but I go to the page which offers essays on novels. And the first item which comes up (on my visit) is an essay about Tolstoy's War and Peace. And the extract, which is supposed to entice me to read more, goes as follows:
In the novel what has been done for our present and future generations are a great asset for human civilization for peace and conflict resolving.
Hmm. Shome mishtake here, shurely, I think to myself. So, mad impetuous fool that I am, I click to read more. And it really doesn't get any better.

I decide to sample the History section, and I come across a piece on Germany and the Second World War. I am not kidding when I say that I've read essays by twelve-year-old boys which were better than this. Much. English is evidently not the author's first language. Neither is anything else, by the looks of it.

In the old days, what did you do if your business went bust? You started again in your wife's name.

Something similar seems to have happened to Aultbea Publishing, mentioned here many a time, usually with a sigh. The operation seems to have resurfaced as Script Publishing Ltd.

Libby Rees is still listed as one of the authors. She, you may recall, wrote a 'book' about how she coped with her parents' divorce. Six-year-old Christopher Beale, on the other hand, seems to have vanished, as has the young lady who started it all off, Emma Maree Urquhart. Charles Faulkner is again listed as Owner.

Funnily enough, the firm's latest publication, by three brothers, hasn't attracted the national publicity that many other Aultbea authors enjoyed. Can Mr Faulkner be losing his touch?

Not that I mind being called a pompous ass, but I am intrigued as to who might be organising a little campaign in defence of John Twelve Hawks. People, you see, are still writing comments in response to my less than impressed review of The Traveller, even though it appeared nearly two years ago.

Or perhaps I am over-sensitive. Perhaps these comments are not being orchestrated at all. Perhaps it's because of Google. I just typed "John Twelve Hawks" into Google, and my 2005 post came out fifth in a list of 142,000 references. Go figure.

A similar situation applies in relation to Kathy O'Beirne. Type her name into Google and my post of 20 September 2006 comes out top of 61,100. I think this is probably a function of the fact that Blogger is owned by Google.

The Sunday Telegraph advises you to sell your WH Smith shares. 'The retail sector is not a good place to be at the moment... Although WH Smith management, under chief executive Kate Swann, has an excellent track record of delivering profit, observers point out that UK high street sales remain weak.'

Dale Slamma tells us that the Australian Society of Authors is none too amused by the actions of Angus and Robertson (see last Thursday).

In the late nineteenth century, Professor Meiklejohn wrote An Outline of the History of English Literature. My copy is the twentieth edition, 1905. In a general clearout of old books, I am about to get rid of it.

Before dumping it, however, I noticed that I had particularly marked page 51. This tells the story of William Collins (1721-1759), a poet and friend of Dr Johnson. His Odes, says the Professor, appeared in 1747. 'The volume fell still-born from the press: not a single copy was sold; no one bought, read, or noticed it. In a fit of furious despair, the unhappy author called in the whole edition and burnt every copy with his own hands.'

And yet, Meiklejohn adds, this book was, with the single exception of the work of Burns, 'the truest poetry that had appeared in the whole of the eighteenth century.'

There must be a moral here somewhere. If only I could work out what it is.


Anonymous said...

Dear Grumpster:

Re: Google, John Twelve Hawks, and your website.

After evaluating all the evidence, I am now convinced that either:

(1)YOU are John Twelve Hawks or...

(2)You working for him in some capacity. (Maybe he lives in your garden shed)

Of course, there is a third option: perhaps The Traveller is well-written book with some dedicated readers. Go ahead, Grumpy. Take a second look.

Your Neighbor.

Anonymous said...

After evaluating all the evidence, I am convinced that Kathy O'Beirne posted the comments on The Traveller.

Susan Harwood and Lucy Corrander said...


My name is Susan Harwood.

I am looking through the blogs to see who might be interested in 'THE BRICKS IN THE CAVE'.

'The Bricks in the Cave' is a children's adventure story with an illustrated episode posted every day in August.

It can be found at

If you do take a look at it, I would be very interested in your comments.

Dave Fragments said...

Dear Grumpy old Bookman,
Your comments on libel and slander laws in the US are so true. These laws do require a higher level of proof for the plaintiff to prevail.
However, there are cases where things just get REALLY GOOFY - - take the latest report by Matt Apuzzo of Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — Five journalists must identify the government officials who leaked them details about a scientist under scrutiny in the 2001 anthrax attacks, a federal judge said Monday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered the reporters to cooperate with Steven J. Hatfill, who accused the Justice Department and FBI of violating the federal Privacy Act by giving the media information about the FBI's investigation of him.

Now that's the Haunted House on Halloween making an appearance in August. Five big name reporters get to screw with sources in a libel and slander case.

Ya gotta admit, It's better than Paris Hilton.

Anonymous said...

Re: Term Papers for Sale

If the papers were well-written, they'd immediately give themselves away as fakes not done by the students submitting them. At least in the U.S. Not that that's considered such a bad thing to do over here. I mean, it is the kind of thing any number of our politicians--ahem, that is, statesmen--have gotten caught doing. Years later.

Jon Jermey said...

Sorry, but there is a certain humour in Jeremy Fisher's response to the A&R letter:

It seems they only want to stock books from publishers (and authors) with guaranteed saleability. ... their proposed policy is such an insult to Australian authors.

We know Australian authors don't write saleable books, Jeremy -- no need to rub it in.

Anonymous said...

There's just something about not being impressed with a novel. There's nothing that brings angry emailers out of the woodwork faster. I've given out only two one-star (out of five) ratings in the review of nearly 70 novels, and yet I swear I get more emails about those two reviews than any others. I'll be posting my third one-star review later this week, so I fully expect to get more hate mail. Rabid fans can be... exciting.

So while it's entirely possible there's some orchestration going on, it's oddly likely that these people simply find you by the compass-like throbbing of that angry vein in their foreheads, the one that requires them to heap abuse upon at least one person daily.

Anonymous said...

ah, i flicked through that Traveller book the other day in a charity shop, as the blurb interested me. i can usually get a feel for if i'll like a book in about 1 minute of flicking & skim-reading, and it didn't draw me.

as for the unsellable poems, the 18th Century wasn't that great for poetry as i recall. Maybe the poems were just shit.

Mark Thornton said...

Apparently A&R's COO Dave Fenlon has responded (on an Australian media website called Crikey). Mr Fenlon's response is robust in his defence of their approach, but at least he's acknowledged that the "tone of the correspondence was inappropriate".

Read more here

Good coup for Crikey (whoever they are!). I wonder if he's going to respond to the Australian Society of Authors though?

Mark Thornton said...

Sorry, the debate on Crikey has moved on.

There's also a great summary of the story so far on

I guess this is all part of the bigger debate about the effect of capital investment and the effect of the Wal-Marts and Tescos of this world on culture in general. Cracking stuff.

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