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Archive for March, 2007

March 31st, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

From Heaney to Hazlitt

Heaney’s Redress riffs off Hazlitt’s On Poetry in General. Here’s what William has to say “…for the end and use of poetry ‘both at the first and now, was and is to hold the mirror up to nature,’ seen through the medium of passion and imagination, not divested of that medium by means of literal truth or abstract reason….the impressions of common sense and strong imagination, that is, of passion and indifference, cannot be the same, and they must have a separate language to do justice to either.”

March 31st, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

for those who love the written word more than paper and ink.

Here’s a recent article on what’s happening with the Sony reader

March 31st, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

Usefulness of Poetry

Very good post by literary tradesman rob maclennan here discussing the usefulness of poetry, women and the writing life (note that there is a comma between poetry and women). Several days ago I re-read Seamus Heaney‘s Oxford Lecture The Redress of Poetry. Here’s what Seamus said about ‘usefulness’

“…Yet Plato’s world of ideal forms also provides the court of appeal through which poetic imagination seeks to redress whatever is wrong or exacerbating in the prevailing conditions. Moreover, ‘useful’ or ‘practical’ responses to those same conditions are derived from imagined standards too: poetic fictions, the dream of alternative worlds, enable governments and revolutionaries as well.”

The reason I decided to read rob’s post was his mention early on of Basil Bunting [I have an edition of his Collected Poems with dust jacket (B&W version of Voice of Fire) designed by Barnett Newman]…who’s always worth the read. Try The Well of Lycopolis for a start.

March 29th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

How Publishing Works

· Around 70,000 titles are published a year in Britain, of which 6,000 are novels

· Any large UK publisher will receive 2,000 unsolicited novel manuscripts in a year

· The average sale of a hardback book by a first-time writer is 400 copies

· Many publishers use this rule of thumb to work out advances: they pay 50 per cent of the royalty earnings expected from the first print run

· According to the latest edition of Private Eye, first novel The Thirteenth Tale by ex-teacher Diane Setterfield (author’s advance £800,000) has sold 13,487 copies to date. Only 516,129 to go and the book’s paid for itself…
Full article here

March 29th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

THE TOP TEN: Writers Pick Their Favourite Books, Ed. J. Peder Zane

I absolutely love these kind of books, ‘barkers’ voices seeking to draw you into the tent of great literature.’ Interesting how the ‘top lists’ of many of the 125 contributing writers remain so similar to the one below chosen by Somerset Maugham 50 years ago.

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  3. Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal
  4. Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  6. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  9. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky
  10. War and Peace by Tolstoy

In case you’re looking for a list from this list: my top 3 are: #s 10, 9 and 3.
Only two authors from the past 50 odd years seem to have cracked the pantheon: Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov for Lolita and Pale Fire, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for 100 Years of Solitude.

March 29th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

I’m Pulling for Conrad

According to Richard Lederer in his introduction to The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate, there are 615,500 entries officially enshrined in the OED, an extraordinary number when you consider that German only has about 185,000 at it’s disposal, Russian 130,000, and French 100,000.

One of the joys of possessing a big vocabulary, according to Lederer, is the opportunity it offers to insult your enemies with impunity. So here goes, you grandiloquent popinjay, venal pettifogger, nefarious miscreant, flagitious recidivist, sententious blatherskite, mawkish ditherer, arrant peculator, irascible misanthrope, hubristic narcissist, feckless sycophant, vituperative virago, vapid yahoo, eructative panjandrum, saturnine misanthrope, antediluvian troglodyte, maudlin poetaster, splenetic termagant, pernicious quidnunc, rancorous anchorite, perfidious mountebank, irascible curmudgeon.

Watch for these and other angry mouthfuls to spill out over the coming weeks during the Conrad Black trial in Chicago. Hard not to love a guy with his vocabulary. His writing is a joy to read. Full of condescension and humour. My signed copy of his autobiography went AWOL some years ago. Have been searching to replace it ever since, without success. Apparently our Conrad used company money to acquire a lot of Rooseveltania whilst scribing Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom.

I suppose the legality of this and other manoeuvres shall be determined forthwith.

March 28th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

Getting that first Novel published

Robertson Davies once observed: ‘There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.’ He might have added as a PS: a novelist’s troubles do not end with publication. Getting a first novel published – and publicised – is harder than ever before. Here’s what the Guardian has to say on this matter

March 28th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

So you want to develop Literary Taste…

Here’s what you have to do, at least on the poetry side, according to Arnold:




1. Forget all your present notions of verse and poetry.

2. Read Hazlitt’s essay On Poetry in General

3. After a week’s interval, read the essay again.

4. Open the Bible and read the fortieth chapter of Isaiah.

5. Go back to Hazlitt, and see if you can find anything which throws light on the psychology of your won emotions upon reading Isaiah.

6. Read Wordsworth’s The Brothers. Forget that it is a poem. It’s a short story. Once read examine your sensations. ..I’d call them ‘disturbing.’ To disturb the spirit is one of the greatest aims of art. One of the highest pleasures a highly organized man can enjoy. This truth can only be learned by repetitions of experience.

7. Between Wordsworth and Hazlett you will learn all that it behooves you to know of the nature, aims, results of poetry. 85

8. Re-read as much Wordsworth as you can assimilate (don’t attempt either of his long poems). Read them in light of author’s defence and explanation.


Interest yourself in the story of Browning’s Aurora Leigh. In it you will encounter pretty well all the moods of poetry that exist: tragic, humorous, ironic, elegiac, lyric, everything.


Note which passages give you the most pleasure. Wordsworth held up Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton as supreme examples.


Only now can you commence an inquiry into questions of rhythm, verse structure, and rhyme. 90


You can download a copy of Bennett’s Literary Taste (from whence Arnold’s advice was culled) for free from the Gutenburg Project’s website here.

March 28th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

Great Books convey…

Have been on a bit of an Arnold Bennett jag this morning. Despite how stodgy he looks, I love the guy. Here’s what he has to say about great books:

Great books do not spring from something accidental in the great men who wrote them. They are the effluence of their very core, the expression of the life itself of the authors. And literature cannot be said to have served its true purpose until it has been translated into the actual life of him who reads. It does not succeed until it becomes the vehicle of the vital. Progress is the gradual result of the unending battle between human reason and human instinct, in which the former slowly but surely wins. The most powerful engine in this battle is literature. It is the vast reservoir of true ideas and high emotions – and life is constituted of ideas and emotions. 125

March 26th, 2007 • Posted in Authors and Books

Off the Page onto the Screen

Pleasant 15 minute discussion about converting books into screenplays/documentaries, and vice versa. Is it a case of starting from scratch or do the same story-telling, entertainment and instruction rules apply for each medium? Do different audiences have different expectations? Watch producer Pippa Harris and writers Alexander Masters, Kathryn Hughes and Simon Singh here

The Internet Movie Database lists more than 6,000 titles of films “based-on-novel.”