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Friday, December 31, 2010

LADIES IN LAVENDER

A couple of nights ago the lovely little film Ladies in Lavender appeared on TV, so we recorded it and watched it, for perhaps the third time.  Directed by Charles Dance, and starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, featuring lots of beautiful Cornish seaside, and rich with folksy nostalgia, it is a gem.

Somehow, though, the plot seemed thin.  The beautiful country scenes, lovely shots of seagulls flying, and -- of course -- the wonderful acting, seemed very necessary to bulk out a very simple plot.  It was not a surprise to note in the credits that it was based on a short story.  So I did a little research, to find that "Ladies in Lavender" is the second story in a 1916 collection called Far-Away Stories by William J. Locke (1863-1930), a writer who featured in the NYT bestseller list a long time ago, but is now forgotten. 

Charles Dance, it seems, found the story by accident.  He was working on a film in Budapest at the time.  This book was one of a pile used as set dressing, and he picked it up and leafed through it, to fill in an idle moment.  And he very shrewdly deduced that with the right actresses and the right treatment, "Ladies in Lavender" could turn into a hit.

So what is the short story like?  Luckily for my curiosity, Far-Away Stories has been digitized.  My first reaction is that Dance paid great respect to the story and the author, capturing its special ambience, even using quite a lot of the dialogue.  It is one of the reasons the film works so well.

The ending is not true to Locke's intention, which was to draw a grittily sad conclusion (in the story, after Andrea flits off to London, the sisters never hear from him again), but he judged his audience well, because in the film the gently sentimental leavetaking, accompanied by Joshua Bell's superb violin playing, is a wonderfully warm-and-woolly conclusion.

There are a couple of other departures from Locke's story.  The "old maids" in the story are in their forties, so are not old ladies.  They both (not just Ursula) fall in love with the beautiful young man, and vie jealously for his attention, so suffer equally at the end.

And "beautiful" he is indeed, which I found amusing.  Witness the paragraph where Ursula finds out that the young man speaks in some incomprehensible foreign tongue.  She tries him out in her bad German -- at which "his face lit up with a smile so radiant that Miss Ursula wondered how Providence could have neglected to inspire a being so beautiful with a knowledge of the English language."

But as a hint of the rather brutal ending to come, it worked.  The style seems pretentious now, but William J. Locke knew exactly what he was doing. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summer nights on National Radio

It occurs to me that I really should announce that I will be on radio tonight, a guest of radio presenter Liam Ryan.  The program is called "Summer Nights" and is billed as the alternative to listening to cicadas.

I believe it will be streamed (or whatever the right techo word might be) for some time, so overseas listeners can catch up.  I might even listen myself!

What will we talk about?  Right now, I do not have a notion, but imagine it will have a lot to do with ships and the sea, and maybe even female pirates and other seafaring women.  And then there are Tupaia and Wiki Coffin ...

Will 25 minutes be long enough?  We shall see.

The Tanenbaum/Gruber ghostwriting saga

I came across this six-year-old story by accident, when I bought a book at the Wellington Public Library book sale.  It was a book called FURYby a writer I thought I might have vaguely heard of, Robert K. Tanenbaum.  The blurb assured me that Tanenbaum is a NYT bestselling writer, and the price was just fifty cents, so I was sold and the well-thumbed book was bought.

I took it home, and tried to read it.  I couldn't believe how awful it was; the writing was inept, the characters cardboard stereotypes, the main plot thin, and the many sub-plots bewildering.  There was also a constant nasty thread of racism.  It was like trying to read several comic books at once, all of them compiled by someone who watched Fox News too much.  I lost patience a third of the way through, looked at the predictable ending, and tossed the book into the trash.  How, I wondered, did this bloke make bestselling status, churning out this kind of rubbish?

So I looked up the book on amazon.com to see what other readers thought, and found out, to my amazement, that the bestselling books weren't written by Robert Tanenbaum at all!  I had just been dead unlucky, picking out one of the few that had been penned by the fellow himself.  If I had read one of the previous many that had been ghostwritten, I would have had a much more enjoyable experience.

Sarah Weinman, blogger of the Idiosyncratic Mind (see recommended blogs in the RH column) provided more of the story, and her links led me into a world of wonderful commentary, written by bloggers such as Jules Older.   To put it in a nutshell, Tanenbaum, an astoundingly successful lawyer, was asked by a publisher to write a legal thriller, a la John Grisham, and he accepted the job and set to -- to find that it was harder than he imagined.  He showed his efforts at opening chapters to his close cousin, Michael Gruber, who informed him (kindly, of course) that it needed a lot of work -- to be entirely rewritten, in fact.  Then he offered to do it for him, in return for half the advance.  It was a system that worked well, reaping megabucks from megasales (shared strictly fifty/fifty) for more than a dozen books.  And then the cousins fell out.  The partnership was broken, and books started coming out under Gruber's own name, while Tanenbaum either took to writing himself, or found another ghostwriter, with unfortunate results.

Then the secret of the collaboration was exposed -- by Gruber, who claims that it was due to the astute detective work of a reporter with (for heavens' sake!) Romantic Times, but could well have been a publicity stunt by Gruber himself, to help the sales of his books.  It makes an interesting discussion point -- should Gruber have gone public?  After all, it is the job of a ghostwriter to be just that, a ghost, something for which he is paid -- and splitting advances and (presumably) royalty payments down the middle was a very fair arrangement, particularly when the books sold as well as these apparently did.

To my intense amusement, Tanenbaum's latest effort -- which, judging by the editorial comments on amazon.com, is as bad as Fury -- is called Betrayed.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Welsh Poet Gillian Clarke awarded Queen's Gold Medal


It is quite an honor-list to join, one that contains names like WH Auden, John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, and RS Thomas (also Welsh).
Gillian Clarke admits that she feels "humbled" and "stunned" to be included.

The award recognizes her whole body of work, the latest of which is a collection called A Recipe for Water, published last year.

Cardiff-born Clarke was named Wales' third national poet in 2008.

That "Alix Bosco" theory

Greg McGee addresses the rumor that he is the enigmatic author Alix Bosco

Well, there's another theory blown out of the water.

In a very well-crafted column in the latest issue of Booknotes, (the newsletter of the New Zealand Book Council), well-known playwright Greg McGee reviews the crime fiction on his bedside table.

"I've been flattered by a rumour that I am Alix Bosco," he remarks, Bosco being the pseudonymous author of Cut and Run, and winner of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award.

McGee knows the book well, as he is one of the team that is working it up for TV, and, he says, "can vouch for it as a beautifully structured whodunit.  I thought," he adds thoughtfully, "I should read Bosco's follow up, to see if I should still be flattered."  And lo, he proceeds to review this second book, Slaughter Falls, in succinct, thoughtful prose.

Well, he decides at the end, he is still flattered, but not, alas, "as flattered as I'd be if I'd been mistaken for Justin Cartwright," author of To Heaven By Water.

Love that sense of humor!  And cause for thought, as well.  If you, dear reader, had a chance to be mistaken for some famous, infamous, or moderately known writer, which writer would you choose? 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ARCHITECTURAL BLUE

Catalogue of wonderful cyanotypes of India and Germany released


ROBERT A. SCHAEFER, JR. photographer
Zig-Zag wall of Roof Garden, New Delhi (2009)

I was honored to receive a copy of the catalogue of an exhibition of photographs that was held at the Goethe Institute in New Delhi late last month, following a show at the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh.

The artist is our good friend Robert Schaefer, who lives in Manhattan, but travels frequently to Germany and India.  Quite apart from its visual brilliance, his photography has historic significance.

The cyanotype process was invented in England in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, as an improvement on its predecessor, the daguerrotype.  The medium, which may be cloth as well as paper, is coated with light sensitive chemicals.  The negative is placed on top of the paper, then a sheet of glass to weight it down, and then placed in a source of ultraviolet light, usually the sun.  The result is the beautiful shade of monochromatic blue that you see in the illustration above.

You've seen it many times before -- it was the process used for architectural blueprints.

For a copy of the catalogue, contact the Goethe Institute, New Delhi.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BOOKLIST REVIEW OF TUPAIA

Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator



Author of maritime histories and the Wiki Coffin nautical mysteries, Druett resurrects a figure encountered on Tahiti by eighteenth-century British explorers Samuel Wallis, James Cook, and botanist Joseph Banks. Named Tupaia, he was recorded in the visitors' journals and in several self-portraits reproduced in this book, sources that Druett reinforces with Polynesian oral tradition to portray what manner of man he was. About 40 years old, he had fled to Tahiti after a war between his native island of Raiatea and attackers from Bora Bora. When Wallis dropped anchor in 1767, he gradually grasped Tupaia's significant status in incidents of parlay between the British and Tahitians, in which Tupaia emerged as intermediary, translator, and explicator of Polynesian society. At Cook's arrival in 1769, Tupaia's talents were remembered. Druett recounts the advantage the British took of them, even taking Tupaia on board for the continuation of Cook's voyage to New Zealand, Australia, and Java, where Tupaia died after falling ill. The only biography of Tupaia, Druett's astute portrait vitally contributes to annals of exploration and cultural contact."
-- Gilbert Taylor, Booklist.

Monday, December 20, 2010

THE NEW ZEALAND EDITION OF TUPAIA

Illustrating the down-under edition


British Library, 15508/12


There was some excitement last week when acquisitions editor at Random House New Zealand, Jenny Hellen, sent in the first draft for the jacket of the down-under edition of Tupaia, due to be launched in May.


The design is still under wraps, so I cannot reveal it. What I can say is that it is brilliant and wonderful and eye-catching and irresistible. I can also tell you that it features Tupaia's iconic artwork, Joseph Banks trading a piece of tapa cloth for a lobster, in a stand-off with a Maori fisherman.

This is how it is described in the text:

Tupaia, who had been entertained by the busy trade in lobsters, made a sketch of Banks trying to barter a piece of tapa for a particularly large crayfish, held firmly by its Maori owner. It is his most famous work, because of the emotions expressed in the humorous little scene. Both figures have their legs braced, and are glaring into each other's eyes; the Maori holds the lobster by a string, ready to snatch it back at the first opportunity, while Banks keeps his piece of tapa just out of reach. The outcome of the battle of wills is left to the imagination of the viewer.


Many years later, Banks noted that this sketch is a caricature, which was exactly as Tupaia intended. Then the scientist dismissed it by saying "all wild people" possessed a "genius for Caricature" -- for him, it was nothing remarkable. What he did not take into consideration was that the sketch is unique.


It is the only surviving portrait of Joseph Banks himself that was made on the voyage of the Endeavour.

MAN SENTENCED FOR SHOOTING BANANA

'Tis the season for odd headlines



Or else the so-called silly season has started really early.  The annual best and worst lists of books, television programmes, films, DVDs or what-have-you have been succeeded by frivolous quotes and headlines.  The latest was sent to me by a friend in Cambridge, England. 

To summarize, a Russian student has been sentenced to three and one-half years in an English prison for shooting a banana in what appears to have been a drunken spree in the student accommodation block of Bell Language School.  Dimitry Palikhata, 19, was subdued by security staff at about 1:30 am on July 21 after firing a revolver out of a window, and then aiming another sniper shot at a banana.

It may seem a rather excessive sentence, but what must be borne in mind is that Palikhata had smuggled the revolver into the country, plus at least 29 live rounds of ammunition.

Tut, tut, security staff at whatever airport he arrived.  They don't deserve the praise handed out to the brave and quick-thinking guards at the language school.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kissing and Albert Einstein

QUOTE FOR THE DAY

"Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves."
-- Albert Einstein

Quoted by the Dominion Post (tongue in cheek) in a story about a young man who crashed his car while kissing his girlfriend.

Who will Harry Bosch marry?

I'm serious.  Hieronymous Bosch needs to get married. 

Like everyone else who read Nine Dragons, the last mega-seller by Michael Connolly (pictured), I was agog to learn more about Harry Bosch's dramatically changed life, and couldn't wait for the next book to come out.

Let me explain.  Up to the tragic moment the mother of his only child was shot to death, Harry Bosch, homicide detective, specialist in cold cases, worked 27/7.  That is, except for once or twice a year, when he flew to Hongkong to spend time with his daughter, or took holiday leave to host her in Los Angeles.  I sometimes wondered how he did it on a policeman's pay, but he managed to give her lots of presents and other treats, and they built up what seemed a lovely relationship, with lots of texting and cellphone videos.

At the end of the Hongkong adventure, however, Bosch is suddenly a single father, in sole control and support of a fourteen-year-old daughter, who is traumatized by recent events.  It's a situation thousands of men (and women) can relate to -- he's in total control and yet totally vulnerable, having to do the tough stuff as well as the happy stuff.  Somehow he has to work fatherly interest and 24-hour support of a teenager into his action-packed life.  How the devil is he going to do it?

So I bought the next book, The Reversal, with huge expectations.  Now, I've finished the dratted thing (a long and rather bafflingly inconclusive court trial), and am not a jot the wiser. I don't even know the girl any better than I did.  She is turning into the problem that Harry expected, but he has done absolutely nothing about it.  Instead, he organizes babysitters.

So I am handing out advice to the creator of Harry Bosch.  Marry him off.  Not for love, but for convenience.  It has happened thousands of times before, believe me (and has provided plots for hundreds of romance writers, too). 

Indeed, it was quite common for whaling captains to arrive home after years-long voyages to find their whole families dead of some ghastly epidemic.  That was bad enough.  Worse still was when small children had survived the keeper of the domestic hearth.  The only solution was to provide them with a stepmother -- fast, as there were only weeks between voyages.

Sometimes it turned out well.  Captain Charles Fisher married the beautiful Parnell, and carried her off to sea, and they got along very nicely indeed, despite her constant seasickness and the 30-year difference in their ages.  And the fact that her stepson turned out to be a crook.

There's a soap opera there, Mr. Connolly, wonderful fodder for fascinating background to the life of your aging cop.  Take my advice, and use it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Facebook Friendships Map the World


A ghostly image of social networking on the internet

Facebook intern Paul Butler has created this amazing map in an effort to picture where facebook friends live, relative to each other.

Each thread connects pairs of friends, and the brighter the line, the more pairs there are.

The surprisingly accurate outline of the continents and islands was entirely unexpected -- as Paul himself declared in a blog post on his facebook page, where he also reveals how he went about creating this mindbending picture of an internet-using globe.

Note that China and Russia are largely invisible, a hint of government suppression of social networking, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The girl behind the 50-day odyssey

The face that launched a stolen dinghy

Her name is not Helen (as of Troy), and no literary agent, author, or publisher's representative will rush to Fakaofo atoll in the south Pacific, hot to create the next bestseller, but her story is as classic as a legend from ancient Greece.

Anita Iasona (pictured) could be the heroine of an enduring myth.

Back when New Zealand -- with the rest of the world -- was stricken by the tragic events in the Pike River mine, an inspirational story crept into the press.  Three boys who had been adrift in a dinghy for 50 days were miraculously retrieved from a watery grave by the New Zealand tuna boat San Nikanau, which was sailing hundreds of miles off the normal course.

The three teenagers looked sheepish as they were hoisted on board -- and well they might, for they were caught in the consequences of a remarkably silly venture.

As reported by the Dominion Post of Wellington, Filo Filo, Samuelu Peleha, and Etueni Nasau (none of them old enough to have a licence to drive a car), had sailed from Tokelau's Atafu Island on October 5, in a stolen boat and fueled with booze, heading for Fakaofo atoll and love.

It was just a day's boat-ride away, and they had a couple of sacks of coconuts, a crate of beer, and a spare fuel tank.  Sweet.

But the motor broke down.  They drifted 1300 kilometres.  The spare fuel was of no use.  One would guess the beer went first.  Then they survived on the coconuts and a snared seagull or two.  Meanwhile, in their home island, the people waited, lost hope, gave up, and held a memorial service.  In the atoll where they were headed, a pretty young girl thought she had lost them "forever."

The lad she had particularly in mind was Filo.  "He was so good looking," she said.  They had connected at an inter-island sports event.  They had spent the sports week "talking -- and kissing."

No wonder, perhaps, that Filo, aided by his friends, had stolen the dinghy to be with her again.

Filo and his mates, island-hopping since their rescue, courtesy of various authorities, have got as far as Samoa, and are now waiting for the next inter-island freighter to Tokelau.  Meantime, they are connecting with Anita by facebook.

Amazon hit by cyber attack

The technology section of the BBC News reports that the European sites of Amazon online retailer were down for about half an hour on Sunday, perhaps as part of on-going activism by pro-Wikileak-ists.

British, French, German, Austrian, and Italian Amazon websites -- all of which are hosted from Dublin -- went down during a peak pre-Christmas shopping splurge.

Amazon has made no comment, apart from observing that all servers were up and running after a short delay.

There were no clear indications that the group of cyber activists, known as "Anonymous," was responsible for the failure of services, and the group has not admitted making the attack.  It did, however, publicize plans to mount a denial-of-service (DDos) attack on Amazon, just a few days ago.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Petticoat Whalers" exhibit in the Russell Museum

Ron and I have just returned from a wonderful visit to the glorious Bay of Islands, where the charming Russell Museum is currently showing a special exhibit based on my book, Petticoat Whalers.

It was a great pleasure to meet the curator, Marsha Davis, and other staff, and to explore this small, but extremely well-done museum.  Particularly recommended is a DVD that tells the story of Kororareka, the "Hell-hole of the Pacific" that was the original shantytown on the beach.

The exhibit, using photographs from the book as well as one in their own collection, illustrates the strange lives of the gallant captains' wives who sailed for years at a time on small, Spartan whaleships, and how they spent their leisure weeks in the Bay of Islands.  It is a story of gallantry and courage in most peculiar circumstances, one that never fails to fascinate.

Paihia, where we stayed, is a bustling little town with lots of energy.  A couple of cruise ships were in port one day, and a market was swiftly organized, along with lots of activities designed to appeal to tourists en masse.  Some husky young Maori men in flax girdles, replete with tattoos (both traditional and modern) were wonderfully entrepreneurial -- launching a couple of large canoes, they carried paying passengers over the surf and into the waka, and then taught them how to paddle, with lots of shouting, waving and gesticulation.  What the ancient Maori would have thought of descendants who persuaded pakeha to pay to paddle their canoes for them, can only be imagined.  But a lot of fun was had by all.

Particularly recommended is the Cream Trip, a comprehensive tour of the Bay as far north as the Hole in the Rock.  The scenery was spectacular -- though of course the glorious weather helped.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The real reason THE HOBBIT is staying in New Zealand?

The Dominion Post ran a front page story today -- Warner Bros bosses travel in style, costing taxpayers $6000

As it happens, the total cost was $5948.  New Zealand dollars. 

Good lord, that is peanuts, when it is reliably estimated that the two Hobbit movies will bring 700 million (kiwi dollars) into the country.

The story is probably known to everyone.  Because of misguided union action emanating from Australia, the siting of the Hobbit movie-making action was looking precarious.  Australia was in the running, as was the United Kingdom.

The cavalry arrived, however, in the form of a jet-load of Warner Bros. executives, who were given VIP treatment (including the ferrying around in government cars, and swift clearance at Customs -- an even greater boon), as ordered by the Minister of Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee.

And it worked.  Negotiations with this high-powered pack of suits led to the Government rewriting the labor laws, agreeing to bigger tax breaks than originally envisaged, and resulted in the production of the two movies staying in New Zealand.

And who was the man at the forefront of said suits?  None other than an ex-pat kiwi.  The upcoming New Zealand Listener reveals in an article by Rebecca McAfie that 39-year-old Manhattan-based Mark D'Arcy (pictured) was one of the negotiators in the high-powered talks that resolved issues, and ensured that the outcome was great.

D'Arcy is one of the army of kiwis who are making it big in the great outer world. Raised in Auckland, he is now president of Time Warner Global, and senior vice-president of the Time Warner Media Group.

In short, he is an important bloke in a US$26 billion industry.  A good contact for our PM to keep in his i-phone address book -- very nice indeed.

Eric Jay Dolin's history of the fur trade honored in the west

featured in best books listFur, Fortune, and Empire

New West's list of 25 Best Books in the West, 2010, features highly recommended books either set in the West, or written by someone who lives there. Most of the books on the list are fiction.

The reviewer says:  "Eric Jay Dolin’s Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W.W. Norton & Company, 442 pages, $29.95) explores how American expansion into the West was fueled by the fur trade. Packed with intriguing anecdotes, Fur, Fortune and Empire serves as a fur-focused refresher course on American history that will have readers reconsidering the powerful role the fur trade played in swaying our nation’s history."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Astonishing price for bird book

Audubon's Birds of America
Record set for the world's most expensive book

Granted, it is visually stunning, with a wonderful history behind it -- but it isn't even particularly rare.  However, a single copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America sold a couple of days ago for a mind-bending seven-point-three million pounds.

The auction was a rare chance to own one of the best preserved editions of the 19th century masterpiece, with its 435 hand-coloured illustrations, seen as a key volume on US natural history.

The buyer was an anonymous books dealer, which is a little alarming.  A rare books dealer I used to know confessed to me that he established his business by buying a book of beautiful French art plates, and breaking it up to sell each plate individually.  It broke his heart to do it, he said, but he needed the money to set up shop.  This is a real danger with this copy of Birds of America.  Each individual picture is so valuable that the book could be sold on as 435 separate works of art. Experts believe that is unlikely, however, as the volume is probably more valuable intact.

Which is fortunate, as breaking up this particular book would be sacrilege.

Monday, December 6, 2010

WANT YOUR NEW MYSTERY REVIEWED?

Omnimystery, A Family of Mystery Websites

Lance Wright has contacted me, saying, if anyone is interested in having his or her mystery book reviewed on Mysterious Reviews, or promoting a mystery book on his family of websites, then feel free to get in touch.


Contact information:

Mysterious Reviews, MysteriousReviews.com, reviews@omnimystery.com

Omnimystery News, OmnimysteryNews.com, info@omnimystery.com

Follow us on Twitter: @mysteries


Illinois Address: 1164 Linden Circle, Beecher IL 60401

Florida Address: 1460 Gulf Blvd. Apt. 312, Clearwater FL 33767

BAD SEX PRIZE AWARDED

The BBC entertainment news announces that the winner of the Literary Review's bad sex in fiction award is Rowan Somerville, for steamy passages in his book, The Shape of Her.

Among the deathless sentences that attracted the attention of the judges was the line: "She released his hair from her fingers and twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself."

Accepting the accolade, Somerville said, "There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation, I thank you."

Alastair Campbell, one-time Blair's spin doctor, was another nomination for an "embarrassing passage of sexual description" in his novel, Maya. However, the judges felt that his open enthusiasm for winning the prize was not in keeping with the aim of the competition, which is "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel."

Tut, tut, Mr. Campbell.  Fame at all costs?  Any publicity is good publicity, even bad publicity?

Other contenders were Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (I wonder if Oprah will remark on that, when he appears on her show), and another critically acclaimed novel, The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas.

The BBC did not describe their reactions to the dubious honor.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ONLY TWO MYSTERIES!

So, the New York Times has produced the usual controversial list of the 100 most notable books of the year.

All these lists are fodder for argument, as anyone can tell in an instant by looking at the comments on the NYT books blog.  As Omnimystery News comments, there are only two mysteries in this collection of titles, which seems a mystery in itself, considering the huge popularity of the genre.

One is the last of the mega-selling Millenium series, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which I personally thought an awful book.  I've even forgotten the protagonist's name, which is a sign in itself, but I remember I spent most of the time trying to fathom her motives for treating that nice journalist so shockingly badly, before I gave up and gave the book away.

The second is a book I have never heard of, and must track down.  It is Mr Peanut, by Adam Ross (pictured).  The very thought of using a real life person who was accused and exonerated of murder -- osteopath Sam Sheppard -- as a major character is intriguing. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

DOES E-PUBLISHING PAY?

Hell, yes.

Friend and fellow blogger Rick Spilman of OldSaltBlog sent me a link to an absolutely gripping blog post by Joe Konrath (pictured) . . . who reports e-book sales topping one hundred thousand smackers -- for out of print books! -- and tells you how he did it.

Wrote Rick,  "Have you been following Joe Konrath's exploits with e-books by any chance? He is thriller writer I met a few years ago at a writer's conference. Nice guy. He has written a lot of thrillers, many of which were dropped by his publisher. He turned around and republished them as e-books and is doing remarkably well."

"Kindle sales are interesting," he goes on to reflect.  "Over the summer, Amazon announced that they are selling more Kindle books than hardcovers. I have been following Alaric Bond's sales of his three books on novelrank.com . He is selling roughly twice as many books in Kindle format than in trade paperback. Bernard Cornwell's latest book, "The Fort" is also selling better in Kindle format than in hardcover, though not by quite the margin as Bond's books."

Bernard Cornwell selling better on Kindle?  Lordie me, it sure is a changing world we live in.

It's fortunate that it is fascinating, too.



SELF-PUBLISHING AND BOOK DISTRIBUTION

My good friend Jacqueline Church Simonds of Beaglebay Inc. is interviewed today in the first of two blogs by The Book Designer

As blogger Joel Friedlander comments, people who have just self-produced their first book have a lot of trouble visualizing just how to (a) get that book out onto the market, and (b) get that book noticed.  Jacqueline, who began as a self-published author herself, and went on to publish books by other authors, describes her personal voyage, imparting many invaluable hints along the way.

What impressed me about this interview is that it was one-on-one, with Friedlander composing his questions in response to the previous answer.  With remarkable skill, aided by an honest, experienced, and candid interviewee, he elicited a discourse of tremendous value to anyone who contemplates self-publishing a book.  Better still, the information is as up-to-date as today's freshly baked bread.

And here (hot off the press) is the second instalment, which includes a commentary on the digital age.

Friday, December 3, 2010

THE NYT TOP TEN LIST

As of yesterday, the New York Times list of top 10 books of the year is no longer a subject of speculation.  It includes just three of their individual critics' top 10 lists, which makes one wonder who decides on the final line-up.  For the second year in a row, critic Dwight Garner's nonfiction-focused choices were left out of the overall top 10, which must cause him some reflection. The fiction list is surprising for its inclusion of two collections of previously-published stories, which is perhaps a comment on the quality of the top runners this year.

And here it is:


Fiction

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

The New Yorker Stories, by Ann Beattie

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Selected Stories, by William Trevor

A Visit from the Good Squad, by Jennifer Egan



Nonfiction

Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981), by Stephen Sondheim

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

Thursday, December 2, 2010

ANNE FRANK STORY RESTYLED TO REACH A GREATER AUDIENCE

The School Library Journal reports an interesting new outreach to reluctant young readers, a move that is backed by the Anne Frank House.

Together, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Col√≥n have been creating comics for nearly 50 years. Most recently, their efforts have focused on creating nonfiction graphic novels that go a long way to help a more general understanding of historical events and the roles that key individuals played.

Now, commissioned by the Anne Frank House, in Amsterdam, they have created Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography, a deeply researched but widely accessible account of Anne's life and death, and the world she experienced.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

THE IDENTITY BEHIND ALIX BOSCO?

photo Phil Doyle
We haven't heard from Spymouse for a while, but lo, my sleuth responded to my last post about the mysterious anonymity of the winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award.  And it seems my feeling that television scriptwriting is a pertinent clue just might be right on the mark.

"Think about Greg McGee," the sagacious rodent whispered, and pointed me to the embedded story, which appeared in the Sunday Star Times.

McGee, for all you American readers, is the writer of Foreskin's Lament, the 1980 rugby-based play that electrified New Zealand, and made its author famous at the age of thirty.

Like Mascagni (think "opera"), he probably felt as if he had been crowned before he was king.  He was facing a helluva hurdle for the rest of his writing life.

The SST story provides further corroborating evidence.  McGee (currently 58) is "tall, hefty, and modest, even perhaps a bit shy.  Certainly he doesn't like his photo taken," the writer confides.  However, though the day is cold, "the pub in Auckland's Ponsonby is warm, and soon he relaxes."

This is when the photo -- fingertips to lips, in suitably mysterious fashion -- was taken.

It is also interesting that as a child McGee was fascinated by the grotesque photos in his mother's nursing manual.

McGee is certainly a successful TV script writer -- he created or co-created  the hit series Street Legal, and was the writer for the award-winning Erebus, the Aftermath.

A conclusive argument?  Or is Spymouse only guessing?

A MYSTERY WITHIN A MYSTERY WITHIN A MYSTERY

Well, one mystery is solved.  At last we have a winner for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, founded by Craig Sisterson, the indefatigable and extremely hardworking fan of crime fiction, local crime fiction in particular.

The winner is Alix Bosco, for the extremely well reviewed Cut & Run.

Now the mysteries begin.  As books-and-publishing commentator Graham Beattie comments, no one knows who the hell is Alix Bosco.

The world doesn't even know if she is a she or a he.  The suspicion is "she" because the protagonist is female.  There is also a theory that s/he lives in Auckland, because according to an interview in Craig Sisterson's Crime Watch,  s/he appears to know the suburb of Ponsonby very well.  Her writing reveals that s/he also knows Brisbane very well, though, so his or her tip to drink wine at a certain cafe in Ponsonby could be just another red herring.

S/he is also an experienced and skilled writer, who is very successful in some other genre.  Or so the publisher, Penguin, informs us.

Theories abound.  But could the jacket design of the paperback be a deliberate clue?  For no one has mentioned the possibility that s/he might be a romance writer  -- and hey, Georgette Heyer semi-successfully bridged the gap between bloody murder and hazard-strewn courtship. I can think of at least one extremely successful romance writer who has won a few literary awards in the past.  And no one has picked up yet another clue -- that the writer "talks" about television and actress Robyn Malcolm with something that sounds a lot like familiarity.  So a successful television script writer should also be in the mix, and I have one of those in mind, as well.

Another mystery is why s/he hides his/her identity.  Because s/he is ashamed of crime writing? Oh, tut!

As it is, the anonymity has proved a great publicity stunt, and maybe that was in mind, as well.

The small problem of accepting the award was solved by having the director of Penguin Books to step forward.  Which leads us to another mystery -- why was it reported in the papers that it was accepted on Bosco's behalf by publishing director Geoff Walker, when the new hand at the helm is Debra Millar?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THAT HAUNTED LIBRARY

Fascinated by the story of the hidden chamber that has been located in Belvedere House, the National Library of India, I have been impatiently awaiting news from the Archaeological Survey of India, which is cautiously opening a peephole.

The mystery of what is hidden inside the chamber -- skeletons?  a trove of treasure? -- is still unsolved.  There is also the mystery of its reputation of being haunted.  How did this come about?

It is longstanding, or so I find from IndiaMike's blog.

"The footsteps of the Governor's wife can still be heard," a student researcher told him.

A taxi-driver waxed garrulous on the subject.  The security staff keep on changing their shifts, he claimed, as they don't like to keep post at night.  They haven't complained, however, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Apparently some workers have been killed during the building of a new edifice on site, adding their ghosts to the legend.

Librarians staunchly deny that Belvedere House is haunted.  They apparently haven't said anything about the secret room, either.

NYT BOOK REVIEWERS LIST THEIR FAVORITES

The New York Times posted lists of top ten books from their individual book critics, along with the NYTBR's list of 100 notable books:



From Michiko Kakutani:

Nonfiction

LIFE by Keith Richards with James Fox

CLEOPATRA: A LIFE by Stacy Schiff

LETTERS by Saul Bellow. Edited by Benjamin Taylor

FRANK: THE VOICE by James Kaplan

CRISIS ECONOMICS: A CRASH COURSE IN THE FUTURE OF FINANCE by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm

YOU ARE NOT A GADGET: A MANIFESTO by Jaron Lanier



Fiction

SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY by Gary Shteyngart

FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY by Zachary Mason

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET by David Mitchell



From Janet Maslin:

Nonfiction

JUST KIDS by Patti Smith

A GREAT UNRECORDED HISTORY: A NEW LIFE OF E. M. FORSTER by Wendy Moffat

FIFTH AVENUE, 5. A.M.: AUDREY HEPBURN, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, AND THE DAWN OF THE MODERN WOMAN by Sam Wasson

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: THE EPIC STORY OF AMERICA'S GREAT MIGRATION by Isabel Wilkerson

THE DEATH OF AMERICAN VIRTUE: CLINTON VS. STARR by Ken Gormley



Fiction

THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman

SAVAGES by Don Winslow

FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French

61 HOURS by Lee Child

MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson



From Dwight Garner:

Poetry

THE BEST OF IT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Kay Ryan



Nonfiction

HITCH-22: A MEMOIR by Christopher Hitchens

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot

SIMON WIESENTHAL: THE LIFE AND LEGENDS by Tom Segev

MOURNING DIARY by Roland Barthes

THE LAST HERO: A LIFE OF HENRY AARON by Howard Bryant

I.O.U.: WHY EVERYONE OWES EVERYONE AND NO ONE CAN PAY by John Lanchester

THE POSSESSED: ADVENTURES WITH RUSSIAN BOOKS AND THE PEOPLE WHO READ THEM by Elif Batuman

OPERATION MINCEMEAT: HOW A DEAD MAN AND A BIZARRE PLAN FOOLED THE NAZIS AND ASSURED AN ALLIED VICTORY by Ben Macintyre

PARISIANS: AN ADVENTURE HISTORY OF PARIS by Graham Robb.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Amazing Christmas story revealed in a suitcase of letters

Photograph by Bradley E Clift

The Smithson Magazine (link embedded above) carries a heartwarming story by Ted Gup, who learned the truth behind a 75-year-old mystery when his mother took him up to her attic in Kennebunk, Maine, and gave him an old suitcase full of letters.

Back in 1933, when the Great Depression clutched the western world in its chilly grip, a mysterious "B. Virdot" placed an advert. in the Canton Repository, inviting those who were down on their luck to write him a letter.  "B.Virdot," the notice advised, was not a real name, but the nom-de-plume of someone who was willing to help.

Letters poured in, in their hundreds, and five-dollar checks were sent out to the 150 most beleaguered families.  Five dollars was a small fortune at the time, more money than most people had seen in months.  Unsurprisingly, the story became widely known, but while the generosity of "B.Virdot" was lauded, his identity remained anonymous.

And so it seemed destined to remain -- until the day Ted Gup was handed the suitcase of letters.  They were the original letters written in response to the newspaper advertisement, all dated December 1933, and addressed to B. Virdot.

B. Virdot was Ted Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone.  He had gone to his grave thirty years before, content to take the secret of his generosity with him.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Eighty-five-year-old is the third woman to win Cervantes Prize

The BBC reports that Spanish novelist Ana Maria Matute (pictured) has won the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor.

Unsurprisingly, Mutute confessed that she is "enormously happy" to win the prestigious prize, along with the 125,000-euro purse.

I take it as a recognition, if not of the quality of my work, then at least of the effort and dedication that I have devoted to writing throughout my life," she added.

Three of her most popular novels, Los Abel, Los Soldados Lloran de Noche, and La Trampa, portray the era and atmosphere of the Spanish Civil War.

She is only the third woman to win the award since it was created in 1975.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The perfect Christmas gift for collectors

The Guardian newspaper has an intriguing item of interest to all book collectors.  Though not a likely wedding gift for Kate and Wills (assuming they are bibliophiles), the so-called "Wicked Bible" would merit pride of place on many a millionaire's bookshelf.

It was a printer's error ... or maybe not.

Back in 1631, Barker and Lucas, the royal printers, published a Bible with one of the most famous misprints (if it is that) in the whole of literature.

We all know the Ten Commandments, right?  (Don't all speak at once.)  In case you don't remember, you can find these rules in Exodus 20:14.  In Barker and Lucas's edition, Number Seven, which should scold one about sinning out of wedlock, reads, "Thou shalt commit adultery."  (My italics.)

Was it the work of some errant apprentice?  Or did Barker and/or Lucas feel like justifying some extramural fling?  Who knows?  What is on record is that the Bishop of London noticed and was deeply offended.  He immediately passed on the nasty news to the king, Charles I, who summoned the errant printers to the Star Chamber, fined them 300 quid, and revoked their licence.  (Pity it wasn't Charles II, who would have found it funny.)

Worse still, it put the whole of printer-hood into bad repute.  The Archbishop of Canterbury blamed it on shoddy standards. "I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned," he opined.

Naturally, the book became widely and popularly known as the Wicked Bible.  It was the kind of publicity modern publishers can only dream about.  The whole print run of 1,000 copies was supposed to be destroyed, but naturally some survived.  There are 11 Wicked Bibles officially in existence, but there are probably more.

So it is perfectly possible to find one -- but be prepared to shell out at least fifty thousand pounds, or the equivalent (about 90,000) in hard-earned greenbacks.

Finished copies of TUPAIA arrive


To my astonishment, my copies of the Praeger hardback of Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator arrived this morning.  I hadn't expected them before the end of the year! 
Meantime, it looks terrific.  Beautifully designed and produced.  I'm sure Tupaia himself would be both surprised and pleased.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Department merger seen as threat to democracy in New Zealand

Veteran archivists Ray Grover and Kathryn Patterson have published an op-ed in the Dominion Post of Wellington, arguing that Government moves to subsume Archives New Zealand into the Dept of Internal Affairs threaten the basis of a healthy democracy.

As they go on to say, Accountability is a cornerstone of a working democracy, where politicians and officials are held responsible for their actions.  But for this accountability to be possible the nation's memory must be reliable, intact and available. There must be an impartial public record of decisions and the implementation of policies by government that is safe from interference.

This is what the independence of the Archives of New Zealand guaranteed.

Now, the situation is going to change.

Before Christmas the State Sector Management Bill is expected to return to the House for its second reading. Once this Bill is passed, after 1February 2011, preservation of the public record in New Zealand will have more in common with Third World states than Western-style democracies.

As the two writers go on to demonstrate, this is a worryingly retrograde step.

BOOK TRAILER FOR TUPAIA

Amazing techno-wizard and OldSaltBlogger Rick Spilman has been working on a book trailer for Tupaia.   Here is the brilliant result:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

THE COMMISSIONER AND THE ARCHIVES

Archives faces the axe

Archives! The very word is redolent of dust and decay. Of pale-faced historians poring over faded documents as they fine-tune their latest theses. Human Rights Commissioner Jeremy Pope considers the effect of a bill to merge the New Zealand National Archives with the Department of Internal Affairs.

National Archives! The place where discarded government files go to die and receive a prolonged burial. Such, at least, is a widespread public perception. Unfortunately there seem to be those in positions of influence who share this view.

Unfortunately, because National Archives are very much more than a mere filing system. Yes, it has more documents than we could ever imagine, but the Chief Archivist is very much more than a grandiose filing clerk. Rather he or she has a role as an independent watchdog, presiding over the destruction of government records as well as the systems by which government departments store them. In a word, the Chief Archivist preserves the collective governmental memory, and in so doing protects us all.

If records are a shambles, Official Information Act requests cannot be met. If they can be destroyed willy-nilly by officials, misdeeds can be covered up and citizens can lose any chance of being able to sustain claims arising from breaches of their rights, human and otherwise. If members of the Executive have influence over what can, and what cannot, be kept, citizens generally are all at risk.

An effective Archives system, too, acts as a protection against corruption. Not for nothing has Transparency International accorded us the status of being the world¹s least corrupt country. Look at those less well regarded and you will see, universally, accountability systems in which effective government record-keeping is deficient. Archives New Zealand is a pillar of our national integrity system and of our constitution.

This is why there is considerable unease about a Bill now before parliament. True, this unease is mainly among historians and those few who are knowledgeable about Archives matters. It is, however, an unease that should be felt by us all.

Read on.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That New Zealand National Library and Archives New Zealand issue ...

Both the Labour Party and the Green Party think that amalgamating the National Library (together with the iconic Alexander Turnbull Library) and Archives New Zealand into the Department of Internal Affairs is a terrible idea.

The Government in March announced the two bodies would be integrated into the Department of Internal Affairs to save between $3 million and $9m, and assured critics the independence of their statutory roles would be protected.

Labour MP Grant Robertson strongly disagrees, saying it will undermine the independence and influence of both the Library and the Archives.

"The result of the bill will see the chief archivist and national librarian as third tier-managers who are not part of the leadership team at (the Department of Internal Affairs), with no guaranteed access to ministers," he says.

"All of this is being done for limited savings. The Government was not able to tell the select committee how much would be saved, or offer any real justification for the merger," he said.

"Labour will continue to oppose these aspects of the bill."
The Green Party said the change could have a disastrous effect on both the National Library and Archives NZ.
"We share some submitters' concerns that this process has been driven out of an ideological motivation to reduce the number of governmental departments rather than a desire for good archival or library outcomes," the party said.
"Sharing technology and digitisation, bureaucratic efficiencies and cost savings were presented as arguments in favour of proceeding with this bill.

"No evidence or robust analysis why this particular and very disruptive structural solution was needed to achieve essentially financial and technological policy aims was presented.
"The Green Party believes this is a retrograde step."

THE HAUNTED LIBRARY


A real-life, perhaps "true crime" mystery has unexpectedly come to light, with the renovation of India's National Library, historic Belvedere House, in Alipur, near Calcutta.

According to Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey, writing for The Times of India, Belvedere House has always had the reputation of being haunted. Now, architects working on the restoration of this great eighteenth century building have uncovered a good reason for it.  They have discovered a secret room -- a mysterious space about 30 metres square, with no openings into it.  Not even trapdoors.  Just the suggestion of a bricked-in arch.

Belvedere House was built in the 1760s by Mir Jafar, who gifted it to the first Governor-General of India, Lord Warren Hastings.  In 1854 it became the official residence of the Lt. Governor of Bengal, and remained so until the British capital moved to Delhi.  After Independence, the National Library was moved to the building, the librarians apparently taking stories of ghosts in their stride.

Recently, the books were moved out to temporary storage nearby, while the Archaeological Survey of India restores Belvedere House to something like its former glory.  And that was when the architects discovered this large blank space.

Lengthy negotiations are taking place, to secure permission to open it up.  Naturally, speculations are rife.  Was it a death chamber?  Did one of the British Governors have secrets to hide?  Eighteenth century politicians in India were rather fond of walling people up, according to legend.  Or was it a treasure vault?

"It could be just about anything," said D V Sharma, regional director of the Archaeological Survey.  "Skeletons and treasure chests are the two things that top our speculations because it is not natural for a building to have such a huge enclosure that has no opening."

But how to find out what secrets it holds?  The current plan is to open up a small hole, once permission has been granted, and poke in a searchlight and a camera.

"We are eagerly awaiting the first look inside," said historian Barun De.

And so are we all.  Watch this space.