Sunday, August 05, 2007

Portents and examples to us all

I have remarked here more than once that the unpublished writers who plaster their work with large copyright signs, and warnings that their precious manuscript must not be xeroxed without permission, are simply labelling themselves as rank amateurs.

There is a serious copyright problem, and I would not wish to underestimate it, but it doesn't concern the unpublished. And for an inkling of how big this problem is, see the report in the International Herald Tribune, about various fake Harry Potters in Chinese. (Link from Seoul Man and David Isaak.)

The article concentrates on young Harry, but my guess is that there is an equally big problem about the piracy of textbooks, particularly in science and technology.

Piracy on this scale can only be tackled by big-time publishers with enough money to pay for big-time international intellectual-property lawyers. The average writer can safely forget all about it.

The average writer's main problem is obscurity, not the theft of copyright.

If you're interested in the Old West and the Wild West, then Celia Hayes has just the book for you. Based on real-life events, To Truckee's Trail tells the story of an early group of pioneers on the California wagon-train trail.

More news on Celia's other books can be found on her web site.

Dr Tanya Byron is a UK Clinical Psychologist, specialising in the care of children. Unlike many 'experts' she is eminently respectable and sensible with it, imho.

Not the least of her virtues, again in my estimation, is the fact that, having hosted a number of very successful TV programmes about handling difficult children, she has recently decided not to do any more, on the grounds that they really aren't very helpful to the children. She will, however, continue to offer advice to parents and others in the columns of the Times.

Meantime, Tanya Byron has a book out soon: Your Child, Your Way appears from Michael Joseph on 6 September. Better then Spock, I would lay odds.

London-based Virgin Books has just opened a new outpost on Bleecker Street (New York). They are about to start publishing original US titles. Their mission, they say, 'is to publish authors -- be they novelists, memoirists, humorists or former hooligans -- who have something new and engaging to say about popular culture. And, being Virgin, we have a special affinity for the up-and-coming, the underdog, and the unconventional.'

The catalog(ue) is available online, of course. (Actually quite a few aren't -- see Mark Thwaite -- thus demonstrating that some publishers have a death wish.) So you can decide for yourself whether Virgin Books US is your thing or not. Personally I just wonder how anyone can find anything 'new and engaging' to say about Princess Diana. But who knows -- maybe the guy has.

Scott Stein is the author of the novel Mean Martin Manning (published by ENC Press), and I must say he is pretty adept at getting himself web and press coverage. He has recently been interviewed by Ed Pettit, who writes book reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia City Paper.

Pettit reviewed Mean Martin Manning in the City Paper back in March, and the interview with Scott Stein is now posted on his blog. It covers the reviewed novel and other subjects that might be of interest -- including the surveillance society, dystopian novels, the writing process, literary influences, and the tyranny of 'public health.'

You may have noticed last week that Cambridge University Press announced that they were withdrawing a book which they had published in 2006. The book in question, Alms for Jihad, by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, had recently been the subject of a libel writ in the UK.

Not only have CUP withdrawn the book, but they have also agreed to pay damages, and have issued a formal apology on their website . This states that the authors of the book made 'defamatory allegations' to which there was 'no truth whatsoever.'

The person objecting to this book is Sheik Kalid bin Mafouz, the son of the banker to the Saudi royal family, and you can read about him on Wikipedia.

Well, we have many a time noted here that the UK libel laws favour the rich and so this announcement didn't do much to raise my own blood pressure. Been there, seen it before. Many times. When faced with a litigant who has bottomless financial resources, few publishers can afford to do anything other than cave in. Consider, for example, poor little Arcadia.

While I was unsurprised by the CUP affair, and frankly gave a shrug of the shoulders about this latest proof that money doesn't just talk but screams its bloody head off, Jeffrey Stern, President of US publisher Bonus Books, was very exercised indeed.

You can read Mr Stern's statements on the matter in a press release put out by his company. He takes a very dim view of 'libel tourism', and asks, rather plaintively, 'Whatever happened to freedom of the press?'

Well, pardon me while I indulge in a hollow laugh. But freedom of the press has never really existed in the UK, and certainly doesn't today. Not only are there stringent libel laws, but there is political correctness to contend with, and 10,000 busybodies of one sort or another peering over your shoulder and jumping in fast to complain if you step over what they take to be a line set in concrete. If you criticise anyone, chances are that it interferes with their 'human rights' and they can take you all the way to the European courts about it.

While watching the end of a Poirot TV episode the other day, I found myself wondering whether Poirot was gay. Did Agatha intend him to be thought of as gay? Or is it just that David Suchet, who has played him more often than anyone, seems to suggest (at least to me) that he is?

As I read the performance, Suchet plays Poirot as if he is gay by inclination, but almost certainly too fussy and particular ever to actually do anything. (Cf. Kenneth Williams.) After all, you never know where young men might have been, and one might get stains on one's shirt.

In search of elucidation on this vital issue, I typed "is Poirot gay" into Google, and came up with zilch. "Was Poirot gay" gives the same result. But a search for the two words Poirot + gay produces, as you would expect, some earnest discussion.

David Suchet himself has things to say on the matter. He claims that Poirot is a typical bachelor of his time, the 1930s. Hmm. Maybe. Typical of some, certainly. But to me he is very reminiscent of Kenneth Williams: gay by inclination, but usually far too nervous and fastidious to do anything about it.

* is a web site 'focused on providing compact pieces of fiction for young professional women.' This month, the attention is on mystery stories. Gentlemen who visit should be warned: there's a young woman on the site who is keeping an eye on you.


Anonymous said...

I would hope that, given her success, Rowling isn't dithering too much over "Harry Potter Meets Chairman Mao in the Forbidden City."

And given the cost of textbooks, is there any wonder there's piracy?

Anonymous said...

"Is Poirot gay"
I doubt it. I rather think Agatha wanted to have her detective unsullied by sexual matters so as to concentrate on the job in hand - so to speak.

Gladys Hobson

Elaine said...

If I remember rightly Poirot had a bit of a yen for a flamboyant Russian Countess.

Anonymous said...

A comment about the high cost of protecting intellectual property: there are boutique IP firms (both legal/law firms and investigative firms) that provide excellent services for reasonable fees.

Anonymous said...

i once anxiously asked a friend if i should copyright a screenplay before putting it on Triggerstreet - he said i'd be lucky if someone stole it & sold it, because then i could sue them, or at least get some publicity & agents lookng at my other stuff, that that indeed would be a pretty good outcome.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a heap for the "libel tourism" heads up and the links. I am bolstered in my love of America and the freedoms that we enjoy paid for with the lives of our servicemen. The next time I think about Arlington Cemetery I'll mentally place another rose on all the headstones.

Martin said...

I wonder why so many people have the copyright signs etc on their pics and texts. The copyright belongs to them anyway immedeately when they produce the content...right?

Anonymous said...

On the Poirot comment, I have often wondered about the gay issue, and found this thread by googling Poirot + Gay. I have only read one Poirot story, so my main conception of him derives from Suchet's portrayal in the BBC show, which I have seen nearly every epidsode of. One can't help but wonder at his fastidious dressing, manners and gorgeous art deco pad and think, is he or isn't he? My personal theory is that he is gay, but due to his strong disciplinarian side and his Waloon Belgian Catholicism (plus the cultural mores of the time)he represses it and sublimates it into his work, therefore becoming essentially asexual. His work is what gives him meaning, satisfaction, and release (note his passionate buildups in the way he does his "big reveals" at the ends of the stories. Metaphorically, they are his form of orgasm.) His admiration for glamorous women always seems to me to be without underlying intent. Rather like admiring a sculpture or flower arrangement. So in short, this is my take on Suchet's skillful and complex Poirot portrayal. As for Christie's original intent, I am not well read enough to say. But to me, Poirot is and always will be embodied by Suchet. Thanks for bringing up the issue. I am glad I'm not the only one to think about this!

Anonymous said...

On Poirot and being gay, I too have wondered this. My mom was a big Agatha Christie fan and she insisted that no he was not gay, that Christie was writing for the era she lived in.

I read an interview with Suchet where he stated that he did not think Poirot was gay. That he was essentially not sexual. And that he was playing a bachelor from the 30's.

I have also watched a show called Monk with Tony Shaloub. I think Monk is supposed to be a modern day version of Poirot. All of the neurosis and OCD is the same. For today's audience they make him a widower. I think that had Christie suspected that people would see Poirot as gay that she may have written him the same way, a widower.
And just as an aside, Tony Randall had portrayed Poirot in a movie and Christie was NOT amused. So much so that when Suchet was picked to play Poirot he was told adamantly by the Christie family that he was to not play Poirot as a clown. Suchet said that they pointed out Randall's performance as being especially disturbing to Christie herself.
I take from this that Christie figured Randall was gay and played Poirot as gay and did not like it at all.

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