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Penguin Books launched the first blog from a mainstream publisher on Monday 31st July. Having led the way in bringing publishing into the digital age with its award-winning podcasts, Penguin's blog is a destination where an editor will post the latest news from the company: new acquisitions, sneak previews from works in progress of some of Penguin's best-loved authors, industry gossip and advice on how to get published. The blog will give readers a glimpse into the editor's office, offering insight into the day-to-day running of the company and how books are made. The first blogger will be Venetia Butterfield, Publisher of Viking, the hardback imprint which counts Will Self, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Coe, Claire Tomalin, Jeremy Paxman and Rageh Omaar amongst its authors.
Statistics for The Penguin Blog
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 135
Author, actress and
freelance journalist, Giovanna Fletcher is married to Tom Fletcher from McFly. She grew
up in Essex with her Italian dad Mario, mum Kim, big sister Giorgina and little
brother Mario, and spent most of her childhood talking to herself (it seems no
one wanted to listen) or reading books. Giovanna is a firm believer in the
power of magpies and positive energy. To find out more about Giovanna, view her blog or
follow her on Twitter.
Her debut novel, Billy and Me, is out this Thursday (23rd May 2013).
Anyway, over to Giovanna as she tells us about a day in her life...
Every day varies, but my writing days are a fairly consistent array of
distractions that I struggle to knock on the head before getting on with the
pressing task of writing.
I get up at a respectable eight o'clock (I'm conveniently forgetting the times
I struggle to get out of bed before ten - they’re rare!), and potter around
having breakfast with the hubby, showering, getting into a
fresh pair of PJs or comfies, and then pottering around for an hour or so. I
then like to watch the beginning of This Morning for their
quick round up of the news. Now, this can sometimes work against me as
occasionally there'll be someone being interviewed that I think will be
interesting to watch. But, let's say this is a day I prise myself away
from the telly . . .
I then go
to the office and sit at my desk in front of my laptop. First task? Checking my
Twitter, Facebook and the Mail Online (I like the pictures), and then,
before I know it, it's one o'clock and its time for lunch. Not that I've earned
the break, of course!
After lunch (usually soup in case you're wondering), I start reading what I'd
worked on the previous day to get my mind focused . . . Occasionally I feel
tired and have a nap at this point (let's blame the Italian in me - I love
a siesta), although I've tried to stop myself from doing that - grabbing a
quick cuppa is much more time effective. I'm then ready to write for the
rest of the day and late into the evening, usually getting a solid six hours
distraction-free-writing in the bag.
Yes, reading back over this, my working day is pretty disgusting really. I
promise to rid myself of a few distractions and leap over obstacles with speed
so that I can get to work a little quicker in the future . . . This is
said from my PJs while I nurse yet another cuppa. I guess with writing it's all
about finding a way that works for you and gets the creative juices flowing.
Joanna Rossiter is the author of The Sea Change (her first novel). She grew up in Dorset and studied English at Cambridge University before working as a researcher in the House of Commons and as a copy writer. In 2011 she completed an MA in Writing at Warwick University. She lives and writes in London. Last week The Sea Change was announced as one of the Richard and Judy Summer 2013 Book Club titles. Here Joanna expands on some common misconceptions about the wonderful world of writers.
The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
1. Being an author is glamorous.
Before I had managed to write a book, I had an
image of what an author should be in my mind that was something akin to Ewan
McGregor in Moulin Rouge; sitting down melancholically in the middle of the
night at his type writer with the Eiffel Tower outside his window and, after a
sip of absinth, typing the words ‘This is a story about love’.
In reality, novels are rarely the results of
flashes of inspiration, although they may often begin this way. I like to think
of them as a long-standing marriage; the writer weds themselves to one
particular idea and then sticks with it through thick and thin, through romance
and conflict – times when they wish they could separate and times when they
feel like they want to do nothing else but spend time together. Sometimes
writing is a lonely business – to finish a book, authors must spend days and evenings
in a room on their own filling their head with made-up people. Often, there’s
little chance for genuine feedback until the book is complete and nobody except
the writer can see the full picture until the book is written. There is a lot of hard graft and very little
glamour, but it’s worth it for the satisfaction of a well-told story.
2. Authors are full of new ideas.
It has been said that all the plots in the world
can be summarized in one of two phrases: ‘A stranger comes to town’ or ‘a hero
leaves home’. Whilst I wouldn’t go this
far, I would argue that modern day culture places a lot of emphasis on
originality when, more often than not, stories are found rather than invented.
Shakespeare wrote most of his plays from stories he had come across elsewhere;
renaissance writers recognised that the talent of a writer lies not as much in
the chosen story but in the way that story is told.
3. Authors don’t read reviews of their own
Given than my first novel only
came out last Thursday, I have had very limited experience of this! However,
already I’m finding that the desire for feedback from readers has overtaken my
fear of reading a bad review. Authors spend long spells alone with their books
in order to get them written and it’s a joy when we finally get to meet people
who have read our books and hear what they have to say about them. Every writer
writes for a reader, whether they admit it or not.
Note from the Editor: You can read Richard and Judy's reviews of The Sea Change here.
4. Authors write word-perfect first drafts.
Novels are born out of an
enduring desire to persevere with an idea until it is fully realized on the
page. I spend far more time editing than
I do writing; for me, it’s the most satisfying part of creating a book. Once
the bones of the story are on paper, it’s a great feeling to be able to start
drawing out a structure and looking for the hidden meanings in each scene. I
often don’t know exactly what a story is trying to say until I have written a
first draft; the imagery and echoes and symbols that I want to build on
only become clear when I start to edit.
5. Authors never plan their books.
Even though a lot of a story’s nuances can’t
be determined until it is written, authors still put large amounts of time and
energy into planning their novels before they put pen to paper. The level of
detail varies from author to author but I would say that it’s almost impossible
to write an engaging novel without a plan to follow. Without a preconceived
plot structure, it is difficult to convince the reader early on in the novel
that you, the author, know where the story is going and have control over its
outcome. It’s like being on a rollercoaster; for the reader it’s great fun not
knowing where the twists and turns lie but the ride can only be enjoyed if the
reader is confident that the author has built a trustworthy track for the story
6. A book can be written in a month.
Initiatives like NaNoWriMo are a wonderful tool
for helping people get started on books and cultivating the commitment required
to finish them. However, they are also misleading in the perception they create
about novels. Contrary to what they suggest, I think it’s impossible to write
anything readable in a month (others may prove me wrong!). Novels, like wine,
need time to mature. They need to be laid to rest and then picked back up again
at a later date in order to be read and edited with a fresh, objective mind.
7. Having a story to tell is the only
ingredient required to write a book.
The most common response I get when I tell
people that I’m an author is not ‘what do you write about?’; it’s actually
something along the lines of ‘I’ve got a great idea for a novel myself; I’d
turn it into a book if I had the time.’
One of the wonderful things about writing is how accessible it is:
unlike paint or a musical instrument, language is a tool that the majority of
us use on a daily basis. As a result, there is an unspoken assumption that any
one of us could write a book if we had the time. I do believe that anyone can learn to craft a
good story, just like anyone can learn a musical instrument. However, there is
a craft involved and this craft takes more than time; it takes practice. You
wouldn’t expect someone who had never played the trumpet before to pick one up
and come out with perfect jazz. Similarly, stories require skill and
perseverance and they are as much a practiced art as music or sculpture.
8. If an author’s book is good enough, it will
There can be a lot of snobbery on
the side of published authors towards unpublished authors. And yet, the fact
that a certain author is published is not just down to the quality of their
writing; as a published author myself, I would be the first to admit that at
some point along the line, there is an element of chance involved. Editors are
inundated with manuscripts on a weekly basis. My own editor is sent ten
manuscripts from new authors via literary agents every week and, out of those
manuscripts, she publishes only three or four a year. There are far more
publishable manuscripts out there than there is scope for publishing them. A whole host of factors outside of a writer’s
hands go into the decision to publish a book: from the extent to which a story
resonates with the culture of the time to its appeal to a particular audience
to whether or not it complements the other books on that publisher’s list. As
much as editors want to nurture new talent, publishing is a profit making
venture and one eye always has to be kept on the ability of a book to generate
sales. Yes, there are plenty of
manuscripts that are turned down because they are poorly written but there are
also thousands that are rejected for reasons outside of an author’s control. A
large part of me does want to believe that a good book will always find a way through
9. Authors are creative types who don’t care
about the bottom line.
We all dream of making a living from the thing
we love to do the most and authors are no different. Whilst we can convince
ourselves that it isn’t about the sales, which writer would turn down the
chance to have a bestseller? With the move into the digital space squeezing the
amount of money a writer makes from each book, it’s not a career that is
entered into for financial security. In most cases, it’s a hand-to-mouth profession
that goes alongside a series of other day jobs.
However, writers, like everybody else, will (albeit sometimes secretly)
welcome the affirmation that good sales figures bring. Popularity is not always
seen as a good thing in the literary world: literature that is valuable and
literature that is popular are often viewed as being in contention with each
other. Yet, deep down, I don’t think any
author would turn their nose up at the prospect of more readers, a higher
profile for their writing and, yes, a royalty statement that doesn’t make you
want to weep into your green tea.
10. Novels are always, in some shape or form,
All authors ‘borrow’ aspects or experiences from
their own lives when they write. In order to create compelling characters,
writers often need to be able to relate to the characters themselves and this
can mean incorporating into them certain traits that we have seen in our own
lives or in others. Whilst stories have their root in the author’s personal
experience, they often grow into something else entirely. I’m a great believer
in readers forming the meaning of a story for themselves; it’s more about the
experiences that they bring to the page than it is about the author’s. In fact,
I as a writer can often only spot the resonances of a particular novel to my
own life once I have written it and become a reader myself. A good author can
present their reader with a carefully chosen set of ingredients that complement
each other; but, more often than not, it’s the reader who decides what to
Will Hammond is commissioning editor at Viking Books, and edited Rhidian Brook's emotional wartime thriller The Aftermath, out today. He assisted Brook during the process of turning his original film script and 60-page treatment into a novel; now, the journey is set to come full circle with the news that The Aftermath is to be adapted into a film. Here he argues why the story of The Aftermath is one that needed to be told as a novel, and examines why film-makers consistently look to the publishing industry for inspiration.
One way to
measure a novel’s success is to ask whether they’ve made a film of it yet. The Third Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Graduate: dozens of screen classics began life as Penguin
A film adaptation is a sign that a book has made its mark in the culture. And in
some exceptional cases, such as Rhidian Brook’s The Aftermath, a film is already in the works, despite the fact
that we are only publishing it today. Is this a sign that The Aftermath has some classic quality to it? What is this love affair between films and
When these film
adaptations hit the screen, the publisher will usually see a handy boost for
their author’s book. Hence Penguin’s tie-in editions of Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables,
Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Watch
out next for the tie-in edition of The
Great Gatsby alongside Baz Luhrman’s remake.
For some reason, the experience of watching a film inspires people to seek out
the novel on which it was based. If they’ve enjoyed the experience in one form,
the other form presents an opportunity to enjoy it all over again in a
different way. The book leads to a film, which in turn leads back to the book.
then, that book editors are continually scouring for news of forthcoming film
adaptations in the hope of acquiring rights in novels that have films in the
works. One particularly canny colleague of mine at Viking acquired the UK publishing
rights in two books that last year became the films Argo and Lincoln.
If push comes to shove, a publisher might even commission a novelisation of a
film, which results in good books such as John Briley’s Cry Freedom on the one hand, and far more dubious creations on the other.
It doesn’t take
a great leap of imagination to understand why book publishers greet news of
film adaptations with relish. Happy the publisher of Life of Pi when that chicken came home to roost. Indeed, it’s now
almost expected that a big book launch comes with a film-style trailer, and
some of these, such as John le Carré’s this week, have such high production
values that you might be forgiven for mistaking them for actual film trailers.
Online, meanwhile, publishers need ways to communicate their verbal or written content visually: hence the
remarkable rise of Cognitive Media, famed for their RSA animates.
interesting is that just as often, it’s the film industry who look to the book
industry to take the lead, and not the other way round. Film scouts are
continually asking book editors what’s hot so they can pick up the film rights
in a book in advance of its publication. What is it that draws the film
industry time and again to books -- even those that seem to defy adaptation,
such as Cloud Atlas? What is it that
draws film-goers, who know how the story pans out, back to the original prose?
novel that Penguin is publishing this week illustrates the situation perfectly.
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is set
in British-occupied Hamburg
in 1946, a city utterly razed by the Allies’ ferocious bombing campaign of
It tells the story of Colonel Lewis Morgan, whose job it is to rebuild the
devastated city, and it begins with an extraordinary choice.
At its opening,
Lewis is awaiting the arrival from England of his grieving wife and
only remaining son. Like all British officers of the time, a large house has
been requisitioned for him and his family to live in. But rather than turf out
its owners, a German widower and his teenage daughter, forcing them into
billets, he decides, in a spirit of reconciliation, that the house is big
enough for both families. He decides that they will live together – with the
brilliant premise, spring-loaded with tension, and the story that unfolds from
it is intensely involving. It was on this premise that Viking – and eighteen
other publishers around the world – entered into highly competitive auctions to
acquire the rights to Rhidian Brook’s novel. For at that point, Rhidian Brook
had written only its first 60 pages.
But he had also
written a film script, based on the same premise, which had been commissioned
by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions and was in development with BBC Films,
with the backing of one of the major global film distributors. It goes without
saying that, at this point, there was no guarantee that the film would ever be
made. But once a deal for the novel was in place, it would take exceptional
circumstances to prevent the book from being published. The possibility of the
film no doubt played a part in publishers’ interest in the novel, but no
publisher would acquire a book purely on the basis that a film of it might be
in the works. It was the brilliant premise, conveyed in 60 brilliant pages of
prose, that had everyone convinced – not the script.
his writing career as a novelist, Rhidian Brook had long wanted to write the
story of The Aftermath as a novel.
But having turned his attention to screenwriting over the last ten years, it
was as a film script that the opportunity finally presented itself. In the
event, Rhidian Brook’s agent convinced him to put the script to one side after
a first draft, and to tell the story in the form in which he had first
conceived it – to write those fateful 60 pages. So was this a case of a publisher
acquiring rights in the book of a film? Or was it actually a case of a film
producer taking an option on a novel in progress? Which came first, the book or
The answer is
neither. What came first was that extraordinary choice: a choice that Rhidian
Brook’s own grandfather made as a British army officer when he was himself
based in Hamburg
after the war, when he decided that his family would share their home with a
German family. It was a choice that had lodged itself in Rhidian Brook’s mind
many years ago as the beginning of a story that had to be told.
Palahniuk points out in his essay ‘The Guts Effect’,
prose has a power all of its own, as he found when reading his short story
which had the alarming effect of inducing vomiting and fainting in some of his
listeners. When reading (or hearing) prose, the action takes place in our heads
– not on a screen in front of us. It’s an invasion of our minds. When reading
of Colonel Morgan’s choice in prose, we feel that we are making it ourselves.
no doubt attracted, for quite straightforward commercial reasons, to books that
are made into films. But as with all readers, perhaps what attracts film-makers
to books is the experience of inhabiting a character’s mind entirely – the
experience, in fact, of experience itself.
The Aftermath is available to buy from today in hardback and e-Book formats.
Today (April 23rd) is World Book Night, a time for readers and publishers accross the world to come together to celebrate our favourite things: books.
As well as live events in London, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Liverpool, World Book Night, along with publishers across the country, will give 20,000 volunteers half a million books to give away to members of their community who do not or are unable to regularly read.
At Penguin we're proud to have contributed two books to this year's list of 20 World Book Night titles. The first book is an enduring classic, one of the most famous adventure stories of all time...
Penguin Press editor Simon Winder says of Treasure Island:
"Within moments of starting to read it you realize that Stevenson has set out very self-consciously to write as enjoyable and gripping a book as possible, and - because Stevenson was a genius - he pulls it off. He distills the essence of every pirate tale, takes the brilliant decision to see it all through the eyes of a boy, and simply lets rip.
Parrots, doubloons, curses, shanties, castaways, a map and of course treasure pour from the story. The villains could not be more villainous (surely Blind Pew must be in any rationally managed Top Ten), the forces of good more colourless. I envy anyone who has not read Treasure Island as they have something wonderful to look forward to. But, having read it myself off and on for some forty years, I can't say that it ever gets less good."
Also as part of World Book Night, we're distributing 20,000 copies of JoJo Moyes's heart-breaking Me Before You.
Julia Bookford, World Book Night CEO, had this to say about this best-seller:
"We all read for different reasons, and those
reasons will change by the day, the time, our mood and our perception of a book
and what we expect to get from it. It could be that I enjoyed Me Before You so
much because I wasn't expecting to (based purely on my judgement of it's
cover), but I completely fell in love with it. I was intrigued, I was gripped,
I was entranced, I was educated and in the end I emerged a little bit changed
by having read it.
is, of course, a love story (but aren't all our lives to some extent?) but it's
about as far as 'girl meets boy, they go through some complications but
eventually live happily ever after' as it can get. It's about playing the hand
we were dealt, however unfair it may be and what happens if we decide we simply
don't want to play any more and about how our lives can be utterly changed by
meeting the wrong person at the wrong time. There's a good chance, if you're
that way inclined, that you might cry your eyes out at the end (I did, but
please don't let that put you off if you're not quite so sentimental!), but
whatever your emotional state I challenge you not to be a tiny bit effected by
We'll be hosting hourly book bundle giveaways on our Twitter feed all evening tonight - be sure to follow us and look out for the links from 4pm to win a selection of fantastic books. From classics to cookbooks, and erotic fiction to hot literary prospects, we've tried to cater to something for everybody, and demonstrate the breadth of delights that await you in your local library or bookstore.
So why not close your laptop, switch off your monitor, put your phone on silent, and settle down with a good book this evening?
A very happy World Book Night from all at Penguin!
Rosie Project was originally a screenplay. What’s the story there?
always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t think I had the ability. When, at
50, I made a mid-life career change, I decided to enrol in a screenwriting
program rather than creative (prose) writing. I had previously written a
screenplay for a feature-length film made purely for fun, so I thought I could
do that. So The Rosie Project was my
school project over five years. Two factors drove me to adapt it into a novel:
the first was that with a story in place, I thought the jump to writing a novel
was not so great so I could achieve that ambition; the second was to get more
attention for the script to help fund the making of the film.
difficult was it to adapt it as a novel?
found the “reverse adaptation” very straightforward. In fact, I realised that
the story was perhaps better told as a novel. I was able to work quite quickly
– the first draft took only four weeks. I already had a clear plot, characters
and dialogue. The big addition was Don’s inner world – his thoughts. Although
these were not on the page in the screenplay, they were very clear in my mind,
so quite easy to add. They are, in the novel, an important source of comedy. In
a film, you can generate comedy from physical movement and expressions and from
timing – these tools are not really available to the novelist. So in the novel,
the main source of comedy moves from the external world to what’s happening in
you do a lot of research on Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism?
did read a couple of technical books and a couple of memoirs but their
influence on the character of Don Tillman was minimal. My first degree was in
physics – lots of science and maths! Then I worked for many years in
information technology and also taught and did research at several
universities. So I met many people who were technically very capable and often
had “left field” ideas, but who struggled with understanding and communicating
with other people. I guess today, many of these (mainly male) guys would be
diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, but that diagnosis really only became
popular in the 1990s.
Don Tillman based on anyone in particular?
say a character is a third someone you know, a third yourself and a third made
up. A particular friend, an information technology guru, had a dramatic
true-life story around his quite-focused “Wife Project” and this was the
original inspiration for the script. Initially I channelled his voice, but Don
soon took on its own character. I was also a bit of a nerd in my youth, and a
bit beyond. And I added in mannerisms and stories from others – “greetings” and
“I’m in human sponge mode” come from colleagues.
do you feel about using autism / Asperger’s as a source of humour?
is a person with big strengths (high intelligence) and weaknesses (poor social
skills). I see him as atypical rather than disabled. Most stories, drama or
comedy, require the hero to overcome a weakness to achieve their goal. Comedy
arises when the hero is seriously under-equipped for the journey. And sometimes
Don’s view of the world makes more sense than ours. So far, the novel has been
very well received by people with Asperger’s, their families and organisations.
Many have commented that they appreciate the socially-challenged person being
the hero and the person we identify with rather than someone for the real hero
to learn from (as in, for example, Rain Man). No doubt there will be other views
but if the book prompts discussion, all the better.
Don actually have Asperger’s? You never say he does in the book.
was a very deliberate decision. As soon as you say “Asperger’s” or “Autism”,
people, in my experience, focus on the syndrome rather than the character. Don
is not a bunch of symptoms – he’s a quirky guy who probably would be diagnosed
as being on the Autism spectrum – but I don’t claim to be an expert. The
citation for the Victorian Premier’s Award said Don had “undiagnosed Asperger’s”
and I say “undiagnosed except by the judges of a literary award.” If,
reading The Rosie Project, you note
that Don drinks alcohol, and you think (as one psychiatrist friend did) that
“aspies don’t drink”, then, in your diagnosis, he doesn’t have Asperger’s. Fair
enough. Read on.
did the Rosie character come from?
original story was titled The Klara
Project, and Klara was a nerdy Hungarian studying for her PhD in physics.
There was a plot around plagiarism and Don helping her out. About 2 ½ years
into the project, I decided that Klara wasn’t a strong-enough character – she
didn’t require such a big change and effort from Don. And he didn’t learn as
much as I wanted him to. So I replaced her with the antithesis of what Don was
looking for – to see how far he could go. I didn’t consciously base her on
anyone but there are elements of a couple of people I know in there.
you ever met anyone like Gene? I mean, really? At a university?
happened to the screenplay?
have had firm offers from production companies in UK,
Australia and the US.
I’m very confident we will do a deal and have every hope that the film will be
would you like to play Don?
don’t answer this question, because it puts an idea, and not always a good one,
of what Don is like in the heads of people who read the book. One of the joys
of reading is to use your imagination. But I want the film to be laugh-out-loud
funny – genuine comedy. So the most important factor is the comedic chemistry
amongst Don, Rosie and the director.
there be a sequel?
am working on one now.
wife writes erotic fiction. How does that work?
writes under the name Simone Sinna – and is currently working on a mainstream
novel. We work well together – we discuss story ideas, review each other’s
work, and know that if the other person is on a roll, it’s our turn to make
dinner. Or order in.
does it feel having rights for The
Rosie Project sold in 35 countries?
great that people in such a range of cultures – from China
- can relate to the story and particularly to Don. On the financial side, I’ve
been able to give up my day job to focus on writing.
was your day job? What exactly is data modelling?
was an information technology specialist focusing on data modelling, which is
basically specifying how data will be organised and represented in a database.
I wrote a couple of books on the subject – one is entering its fourth edition.
In the 80s I founded a consultancy that I sold in 1999 – and after that I
focused on teaching data modeling and consulting skills around the world. I met
quite a few people like Don.
advice would you give to writers?
written a few things about this on my blog, but basically I work with a plan,
which I update as I go. If you’re writing well without a plan, I’m not going to
suggest you change, but if writing without a plan isn’t working for you…
And good writing is re-writing. You can always make it better. Enrol in a
writing class or join a writers group or both – for feedback, knowledge sharing
and encouragement. Write for publication.
do you think The Rosie Project
compares with The Big Bang Theory
/ The Curious Incident of the Dog in
the Night Time / One Day?
haven’t seen / read any of them. Deliberately. Once I realised I was working in
the same territory, I avoided reading them so as not to be hamstrung by
worrying about copying. Sometimes different writers just end up at the same
place, coincidentally or because some things are just common to certain types
of people. Of course now people thrust Asperger’s-themed books at me to
do you read?
much fiction when I’m writing. In the past I read a lot – typically taking an
author and reading all of his / her works until I got exhausted – when I was in
teens / early 20s Hemingway, Camus, Solzhenitsyn, Kurt Vonnegut… later
Philip Roth, John Irving, Joanne Harris, Rose Tremain, John Fowles.
an adolescent, I read science fiction – lots and lots of it. The most recent
books I’ve read were Addition by Toni
Jordan (a book Rosie has been compared with) and Waiting for the Barbarians by J M Coetzee.
books influenced The Rosie Project?
years ago (I’d have been in my teens) I read a 1950s book that was a huge hit
– They’re a Weird Mob by Nino Culotta
(John O’Grady). It was the model of a humorous book, first person, about
a fish out of water, an Italian in Australia. I never consciously drew
from it, but in retrospect it probably provided the first model for Rosie. I like
John Irving’s ability to create character and plot that seem just a bit
heightened – but never actually incredible.
is a bit of a foodie – and a wine buff. Where did that come from?
I like to cook, eat and drink. I do a lot of travelling – in the past
with seminars, now with the book – and an interest in food and wine fits well
with travel. And I was keen to give Don some characteristics that were
not traditionally associated with Asperger’s.
Jennifer McVeigh's debut novel The Fever Tree, the
epic tale of a British woman embarking on a new life in
nineteenth-century southern Africa, has been critically acclaimed and selected for Richard and Judy's Book Club in March. Here, she reveals her 10 Tips on How to Stay Sane as a Debut Novelist.
Don’t quit your job before you have a book deal. Very sensible advice that I spectacularly failed to follow. I left my job as a literary agent and stepped into the terrifying world of no salary, no professional support and no real hope of achieving what I was setting out to achieve. It was a very rocky ride.
Do join a writing group – they will keep you sane, help you to stay on track, and remind you that there are other people in the world crazy enough to be battling all day with words on paper.
Don’t divulge your plot, or writing problems for that matter, to friends at dinner – they’ll say very unhelpful things like: Isn’t that a bit predictable? How can you not know what’s going to happen at the end? And – most gruelling of all - hasn’t Wilbur Smith written a novel just like that?
When you’re writing sex scenes, don’t imagine your parents looking over your shoulder – a passionate kiss will quickly disintegrate into a prudish peck on the cheek.
Don’t obsess over the perfection of other novels. Read them, learn from them, but don’t let them cast your own into shadow. I always wanted my protagonist to be as dynamic and real as Cathy or Emma, but it wasn’t until I had reached the end of her story that I felt I really knew her.
Don’t let yourself imagine all the unpublished authors in the world being turned down by agents, like the millions of lost souls waiting at the gates of heaven. If you have written something good, then someone will spot it – you just need to have faith and determination.
Don’t be your own judge. After I had written my novel I shelved it in despair, convinced that it was worthless. It was only by some stroke of luck – a chance meeting with a literary agent – that I was convinced to send it out into the world. Thank goodness I did.
Don’t demonise the agents who reject you. More than likely your manuscript fell into the hands of some poor, unpaid 17 year old intern with a hangover, desperately trying to reduce the size of the slush pile. Wait a few months, and send it in again. I was offered representation by an agent who must have afterwards let my manuscript fall into the slush pile. A month later I received an earnest typed letter from the agency: “Dear Miss McVeigh, many thanks for sending in your manuscript. I’m very sorry to inform you that…”
Once you are published - in the interests of sanity – try not to check your Amazon sales rank more than twice (OK – that’s not realistic – perhaps 5 times) a day. If sales are good your publisher will tell you, and a shift from 3050 to 2095 is almost certainly meaningless.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve got one novel behind you, the second will be easier. It won’t. Sweating over a novel is part of what makes it brilliant. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I do have a very frustrating writer friend who keeps telling me that her second novel is a breeze…
To celebrate the Oscar successes of Argo, Lincoln, and Les Miserables, we're offering 50% off the books at Penguin.co.uk for today (February 25) only. To claim your discount, simply enter the coupon code 'readthefilm' at checkout.
Doris Kearns Goodwin has loved history all her life. She has
focused her career on the lives and stories of presidents past: Lyndon B.
Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and presently
Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
For four decades, she has lived with dead presidents. She
wakes up with them in the morning, and thinks about them when she goes to bed
at night. She has imagined them in their youth, in the White House, with their
families and friends. She has spent significant time thinking about how their
voices sound, the cadence of their speech, their posture and stride. She has
sought to understand the inner person behind the public figure. For her, this
study brings the presidents to life and allows us to learn from their past
successes and struggles. Through her writing, she hopes readers will feel like
they, too, know these presidents in a new and intimate way.
A: I knew that they couldn’t deal with the whole book. The only
way to make the story come alive in a feature film was to make a story within a
story. So Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner decided to focus on Lincoln’s tumultuous
final four months in office, the ending of slavery with the passage of the 13th
amendment, and the Union victory in the Civil War. The only way to
tell the whole story is through a miniseries. Maybe that will be next!
Q: This is the first of your books
to be made into a feature film. How does that feel?
A: Seeing all the actors in their costumes, the
cinematographer, the lighting people, the technicians and dozens of people
working on the set, and knowing that somehow this book helped to inspire
Spielberg’s team to create an entire world is very exciting.
Q: And what thoughts did you have upon arriving
in Richmond and visiting the sets as Lincoln’s world was
coming to life in this old pinball factory?
A: What Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner have
been able to do so masterfully is tell a big, historical story in such an
intimate way. It’s an up-close and very personal, detailed look at the life Lincoln led and the
people closest to him during this most important time. For the 10 years I spent
writing Team of Rivals, everyday I
imagined the world Lincoln inhabited.The loving fidelity the filmmakers paid to
recreate his life, his world, is astonishing. I felt magically transported back
in time to the 1860s.
Q: One of the
most important locations in the film is Lincoln’s
office, which was essentially the center of the Lincoln White House. Was it
comforting or unsettling to be in that room that you must have imagined time
and time again.
A: As I
walked in the Lincoln
office, I had a sense that I was really there. I could see him there, sitting
in his chair, picking up his pen. It was so much like what I had imagined while
I was writing my book, that I could almost smell the cigar smoke lingering in
the draperies! It was an extraordinary experience to see the attention to
details: from the genuine Belter piece to theold maps on the wall and the
portrait of President Andrew Jackson.
Q: Lincoln’s desk is a
beautiful and important piece of furniture. Set designer Jim Erickson said he
added all those cubbyholes for authenticity. Please tell us about the particular
meaning the desk holds.
A: I suppose it’s
because Lincoln’s office is at the heart of the movie.He would sometimes
write little fragments of his speeches and tuck them away in the drawers and cubbyholes. People thought he wrote his speeches at the
last minute, but he had thought about themes and sentences for weeks. The desk
drawer is also where he would put his hot letters, the letters he would write
in a moment of anger or frustration. He would not send the letters, but would
wait for his emotions to settle. Especially near to me are the first-edition
books atop the desk; books that he would have read at the time – The Poetical
Works of John Milton and The Bigelow Papers.
Q: The attention to detail, as you mentioned, is
extraordinary. How do those details impact or enhance the storytelling?
A: The research that went into replicating the
furniture, the gas lighting, carpeting, and wallpapers is exceptional. I loved
hearing about how they found a place in England to hand-weave the carpet and in
Richmond to make the wallpaper using silk screening. But yet, even with the beautiful sets and
furniture, costumes and linens, clocks, candelabras, china and crystal, and
books, bringing Lincoln to life is the most important
thing in the whole movie. Obviously, the story matters and the 13th Amendment,
but people adore this man Lincoln and he fascinates them. And if you can better
create him through his surroundings and the people who mattered, then all of
that makes a profound difference.
tell us, what did you ultimately think of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as
Daniel Day-Lewis has brought this iconic figure to life in a way that I could
not envision before seeing his performance on the big screen. I was told that
when he arrived to start filming, he completely embodied Lincoln – and didn’t
break character. His performance was remarkable in every way - from the way he
looked to his posture and gait. His storytelling ability, and way his face lit
up with those sparkling eyes, to that voice that could carry throughout the
land were spellbinding.
you see the movie, there is something so particular about his posture and the
way in which he walks. How would you describe it?
Lincoln at 6-feet-4-inches tall had this singular way of walking, which gave
the impression that his long, gaunt frame needed oiling. He seemed toplod
forward in a slightly awkward manner, his hands hanging at his sides or folded
behind his back. His step had no spring; he lifted his whole foot at once
rather than lifting from the toes and then he would thrust his foot down on the
ground rather than landing on his heel.
us about Lincoln’s voice. There had been some online chatter that people were critical
of the high pitch.
voice was thin and high pitched, but I think you’ll see in this movie that his
voice also had tremendous range. In his day, Lincoln’s voice had much carrying
power, allowing it to be heard from the far reaches of the crowd. He would also
become increasingly impassioned as he spoke, gesturing with his head and body
rather than with his hands. His speaking went to the heart because it came from
the heart. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction
in others because of the conviction he possessed.
Q: When he speaks, it seems to me his
face changes dramatically. Do you agree?
A: Yes, when Lincoln would begin to
speak, his expression of sorrow dropped immediately. His face lit up with a
winning smile – a genuine, deep and knowing smile. It was through his words and
his facial expressions that one could know his keen intelligence and genuine
kindness of heart.
me what surprised you most in your own research of Lincoln and how is that
demonstrated in the movie?
vitality of the man, the magnetism of his personality, and the life-affirming
sense of humor were much greater than I had realized. His sense of humor was one of the ways in which he combatted his own melancholy. Those who
knew Lincoln described him as a very funny man. Lincoln himself recognized that
humor was an essential aspect of his temperament. He laughed, he explained, so
he did not weep. He saw laughter as the joyous, universal evergreen of life.
His stories were intended to whistle off sadness.
Q: You have mentioned that Lincoln’s
storytelling was key to his personal and professional success. Can you tell us
how it helped him and brought him closer to the people of histime?
A: He had hundreds of stories that he could
all on at any time. The stories often had a point relevant to the moment, but
sometimes were just hilarious. His humor would today rival that of Stephen
Colbert and Jon Stewart. I think he could have matched them one for one.
There’s a moment when somebody says to him, "Lincoln, you're
two-faced." And he looks right back, he said, "If I had two faces, do
you think I'd be wearing this face?" So many people say that he couldn't
possibly be elected in today’s time. But I disagree. With his strength of
conviction, with his humor, with his intelligence, with his lovability, our
country would really be in trouble if we couldn't elect him today.
Q: At the core of your book and presumably
this movie, is Abraham Lincoln’s political genius.
A: Both movie and the book focuson the
political genius of this man at a time when we're so distrustful of
politicians. The movie demonstrates that it takescompromise, attention to
detail, willingness to bargain and masterful timing to get something done, but
the system can work. And that's an important lesson for today.
Q: What is it about Lincoln that continues to
interest and excite people generations later?
A: People feel a deep emotional attachment
to Lincoln than perhaps any other president. In part, it is his life story, the
trail of losses and failures before he reached the presidency. And
of course, the soaring words that have been studied and memorized by
generations of students.
Q. What do you hope
readers will take away from your book and the movie?
A. I would like people to
realize that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we normally
associate with decency and morality—honesty, sensitivity, compassion and
empathy—can also be great political resources.
Jennifer McVeigh's debut novel The Fever Tree, the epic tale of a British woman embarking on a new life in nineteenth-century southern Africa, has been critically acclaimed and selected for Richard and Judy's Book Club in March. Here, she discussses he inspiration for the book and reveals her top five favourite stories set in Africa.
People always ask me – so what inspired you to write The Fever Tree? And of course there are lots of answers: the Victorian diary on which the story is loosely based, the landscape of southern Africa, my fascination with a character – a girl who cannot recognize love until it is too late. But there is a different answer; one I have talked about less.
I grew up as a tomboy, happier making blood brothers in the woods than painting my nails scarlet. I longed for adventure – real adventure, and spent my weekends camped in an old army tent in the garden, where the dawn light filtered through holes in the canvas (were they bullet holes or cigarette burns?). When I was twelve my dreams came true - my father took me to East Africa on safari.
We rode horses for ten days across the Masai Mara, camping at night under a sky glittering with stars, listening to the low grunts of a lion carry far across the grasslands. We galloped with herds of zebra, clouds blackening into storm. The plains lit up underneath to an iridescent gold, and I remember thinking as the horse pounded beneath me that there could never be anywhere in the world as beautiful as this. We chased ostrich, and – on a hot day – stripped the saddles off our sweat soaked horses and pushed them deep into a lake until their feet left the ground and they were straining and blowing, and it felt as though we were flying. I fell madly in love with the simplicity of the life and the exhilarating dangers of the bush.
One afternoon towards the end of the trip I felt acutely light headed. An hour later I was in the grip of a high fever. I remember the local hospital – a small, flat concrete block with the toilets ankle high in urine and water, and a man with a muddy looking bowl of instruments submerged in water who pricked my finger with one of them and took a blood sample. Malaria they said. There were no planes available to fly me to Nairobi hospital and by the time my father managed to charter one I was hanging on by a thread.
I recovered in Nairobi but the trip left me changed. The exhilaration, the adventure, the vast, remoteness of the landscape, and – at the end – the terrible sickness, had a profound effect on me, and these experiences lie at the heart of The Fever Tree.
Jennifer McVeigh's Top 5 Africa Stories
“In the biggest, brownest, muddiest river in Africa…” The Enormous
Crocodile waded into my four year old life with a terrifying snap of his jaws
and a reckless disdain for morality as I knew it. He wasn’t just eating
children because he was hungry. He was eating them because it was fun.
And I was thrilled. So began a lifelong love of the wild spaces and wild
creatures of Africa.
It was Jock of the Bushveld – the most famous dog in South Africa –
who brought this wilderness to life. Has there ever been a more loveable,
loyal companion? My childhood hero – Jock, the runt of the litter, who was
almost drowned at birth in a bucket of water – grows up to be the bravest
dog on the veld. His adventures opened up to me the landscape of Africa –
the lives of transport riders travelling across the great plains, the hidden
dangers of the bush, the nights huddled around the camp fire, the roar of the
lion, the open skies, the early mornings and the bush teeming with game.
Later, came Out of Africa, the story of my teenage dreams. ‘I had a
farm in Africa.’ I couldn’t speak the words out loud, I so desperately wanted
them to be true. My father had taken me on safari in Kenya. We had ridden
horses across the rift valley, galloping alongside zebra and ostrich, and
camped out under the stars at night. I was in love. Karen Blixen – God how I
envied her. I wanted to buy a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills; to lie in
bed at night listening to the rain drumming on the earth outside; to ride out
with a herd of cattle many hundreds of miles across the bush to meet my
husband, fighting a war with Germany. And most of all I wanted a white
hunter who would take me on ‘safari’, just the two of us, for months at a
It wasn’t until I went to Oxford that I engaged with Africa as a real
place, and began to learn a little of her history.Heart of Darkness
opened my eyes. Here were Europeans in spotless white suits, and Africans
in chain gangs. The dream was tainted. Africa was not a place about which
one could spin fantasies. There was something terrible and degenerate at the
heart of the European experience which Blixen and Hemmingway had
omitted. And I felt ashamed and a little foolish for ever having wanted a
farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills.
At last, when I had spent some time in various African countries,
humbled but still enamoured, I began reading A Grain of Wheat. Ngugi wa
Thiong’o’s story of Kenya’s fight for independence was, and remains, one
the most arresting and beautifully crafted novels I have read. It showed me a
different side of Africa. I learnt a little of what life was like for black
Kenyans living under British rule, and – for the first time – I was reading an
African novel which wasn’t from an imperial, European perspective. The
difference was radical.
To celebrate Valentine's Day, this week we held a poll to find the nation's favourite Penguin love story, asking our Facebook fans and Twitter followers to vote for their favourite from a shortlist of ten of our most enduring romantic classics.
After much discussion and in-fighting among the Austen aficionados, Bronte-botherers and Hardy die-hards, the results are in:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Austen's romantic comedy-of-manners will top pretty much any book list it is eligible for; and so it proved here, winning the vote in the end at a canter with a 24% share. The perennial favourite was perhaps still fresh in the public's imaginations after the recent 200th anniversary celebrations.
There was little to separate the Bronte sisters however, with just six votes to separate Charlotte's Jane Eyre (18%) and Emily's Wuthering Heights (15%). F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was by far the most popular non-English title on the list, also garnering 15% of the vote.
To celebrate the results of the poll we're offering a Valentine's Day 50% discount on Pride and Prejudice at Penguin.co.uk - to claim your discount, simply enter the coupon code 'Love' when prompted.
On Sunday 27th January 2013, we launched the first Penguin Chat (#PenguinChats) with Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, authors of the fabulous Beautiful Creatures series. #PenguinChats was launched to offer the chance to get an author's undivided attention on Twitter - to ask them any burning questions you just needed to get off your chest.
The Beautiful Creatures Penguin Chat lasted 30 minutes, and so many of you participated that Margaret and Kami couldn't even answer all the questions in time! We really wanted to share some of the questions and answers for you, so we created a Storify to capture just some of the conversation.
Watch this space for more #PenguinChats coming soon - we'll annouce the latest over on the #PenguinChats blog page, so do keep checking back.
In the meantime, did you take part in the Beautiful Creatures Penguin Chat? We'd love to hear what you thought. And, if you have any suggestions for who you'd like to have a Penguin Chat with, let us know in the comments below.
It’s an odd and wonderful thing as a bibliophile to be able to work with authors and books. Getting ‘behind-the-scenes’ and helping books find their audience, as a marketer, is often about finding ways to extend your own enthusiasm and passion for a book and get the message across.
So when you get to work on a book that you like with a great author, it’s good fun – and a real privilege.
But when you work on THE book that served to remind you exactly why you work in publishing, that makes all the long hours, blood, sweat and tears utterly worth it and has the power to inspire a whole new generation of readers – there are, ironically, no words.
John Green is already an icon in American YA literature, known equally for his mastery of social media, particularly via the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. With almost 1,000,000 subscribers and 300,000,000 video views, John and his brother Hank are living legends in the video community. This is where I found him, and then I discovered his books.
Teen and YA fiction has come a long way since I was technically the right age to read it. There wasn’t much beyond Judy Blume, Point Horror and Sweet Valley High back then, and although they were great, they’re nothing to the choice on offer now. With limited high street shelf-space and the advent of self-publishing, the genre has opened up even further, so making a mark and really resonating with readers is harder than ever.
Enter The Fault in Our Stars. You can often look back at someone’s career and clearly recognise their big break – their defining moment. It slammed onto the New York Times bestseller list at number 1 in January 2012, then stayed on the list for the entire year; selling in excess of 1 million copies in the USA and being voted as TIME magazine’s Number 1 book of 2012. This enabled John to sell out his one-off show last week at New York’s Carnegie Hall in under 48 hours.
One of the 80,000 five star ratings on Goodreads.com (and yes, I’ve trawled through most of them!) sums it up beautifully:
‘I don't think any other book has impacted me in ways which I can't even describe myself.’
And so, as John Green arrives on our shores to begin his 2013 UK and Ireland tour, I’ve got a feeling this is another defining moment.
For me personally, I’m finally meeting my favourite author, the one person growing up that I never thought I’d meet – given that the title was previously held by Jane Austen. For everyone else, welcome to the world of John Green. This is just the beginning.
Despite being 200 years old today, the story of Pride and Prejudice resonates as strongly as it ever did. To those who believe that love will prevail, the love affair between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy has become an archetype for everything a romance could be. To mark the anniversary, here are some classic covers of Jane Austen’s most famous work.
That's it. FINISHED!! We have finally Done Dickens. Over the past year-and-a-bit the tireless trio of Becky, Sam and I (with a few other hardy readers joining us occasionally) have braved 16 novels, countless late nights and over 10,000 pages to finish our mammoth quest to read all his novels. To be honest, I'm exhausted. It's just magazines until Christmas now. Or maybe just drooling in front of the television.
Our final novel was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which Dickens died halfway through writing - leaving its mystery (who caused the disappearance of Edwin one stormy Christmas Eve?) unsolved. I was relieved to discover, however, that the culprit is so obvious a claxon almost sounds every time he appears, and that Dickens told practically everyone he knew the ending anyway. Phew. The joys in this book come from it feeling both reassuringly like Dickens's earlier novels in its pastoral setting and manageable number of characters, yet also rather experimental and modern with its Agatha Christie-like structure, its racy opening scene in a drug den, and the respectable choirmaster-slash-sexually obsessed, opium-addicted maniac, John Jasper.
We were very satisfied by Edwin Drood, but also left very, very sad that Dickens was cut short in his prime. There's no sign of a dropping off in talent. Instead his novels seemed to be getting darker, weirder and more experimental every time, and each one was utterly different from every other. He could have gone on to write a dozen more masterpieces. But we'll never know what came next.
I remember saying when I read our first novel, The Pickwick Papers, that I felt I was going to make a friend for life, and I did. Dickens is like the loudest, funniest person in the room at a party. True, he might get drunk and maudlin and go on a bit, but he's really the only one you want to talk to. I'd defend him to anyone.
Why? Firstly he is HILARIOUS. I genuinely didn't realise how funny his writing would be. Whether it's Betsey Trotwood and her donkey fixation, the Fat Boy in Pickwick storing food in his mouth overnight or, of course, cheeky cockney Sam Weller, Dickens creates characters of comic genius. Secondly, no-one does dialogue like Dickens. Apparently he used to practice his characters' verbal tics in front of a mirror, and you can always tell. Whenever I read a piece of dialogue by another writer now, it just blends into one voice. Thirdly, there is no such thing as a bad Dickens novel. Even the ones we liked less (step forward, Oliver Twist), had a hundred times more invention, imagination, memorable characters, scenes, descriptions, speeches and pure fun than most other books of the time - and today. I could go on all day but you might fall asleep, so instead I'll finish with the novels in order of our favourites.
Behold, our festive Dickens hit parade!
1. David Copperfield is our top book. Moving, memorable, hilarious perfection, with more great characters than most other writers could create in their whole career.
2. Dombey and Son. We can't understand why this gripping, heartbreaking story of a dysfunctional family isn't more loved or popular.
3. Great Expectations. I wanted this at number 2, but Becky and Sam overruled me. Still, we all loved its elegiac, grown-up sadness and fairytale beauty.
4. A Christmas Carol. A story so perfect it feels as though it's always existed, and couldn't possibly have popped out of one person's head.
5. A Tale of Two Cities. A rollicking, blood-soaked weep-fest.
6. Nicholas Nickleby. We'd put this above the Big Beasts for its theatrical exuberance.
7. Little Dorrit. Now on to the serious ones. Best last line ever.
Sitting in a café in Istanbul, eating baklava and drinking coffee whilst reading Orhan Pamuk. I am, as a tourist, distinctly unimaginative. But that is how I chose to spend my days off, having spent three days meeting publishers and visiting the İstanbul Kitap Fuarı, or Istanbul Book Fair, on my very first sales trip.
Before leaving, I was fairly convinced that no amount of preparation would be enough. Reading profiles, looking at past submissions and trying to become fluent enough in Turkish to be able to understand publisher’s websites (Google translate only goes so far) somehow didn’t seem enough. It turns out however that one of the greatest pleasures when meeting foreign publishers is not wowing them with what you do know, but rather admitting what you don’t. This gives the publishers – the obvious experts in the field – the chance to tell you about their market. And the picture painted by the Turkish editors I met was a refreshingly positive one.
The Turkish market is growing. According to some, it has quadrupled in the last five or six years. New publishing companies are springing up and building their lists. Book shops with floor to ceiling shelves, wooden floors and a healthy supply of interested customers are open until late. The number of foreign publishers visiting the yearly book fair in Istanbul is growing and grants are on offer from the Turkish government to help agencies cover the cost of making more international trips.
There is also however a fair amount of trepidation. While publishers such as CAN, Siren, Yapı Kredi and Everest are producing literary fiction, historical romance remains the most popular genre by far. One editor speaks of a disparity between what editors will buy and what sells, suggesting that not everything in the book shops is to the public’s taste. There also appears to be a lack of a Young Adult market, although Twilight and before that Harry Potter managed to overcome the competition from video games and other media to go on to sell well. Time will tell how the new publishers will fair. As one editor from an established house put it, ‘we’re all in the same boat.'
The ebook market in Turkey is still small but people appear confident that it will grow here as it has done elsewhere. The despondency of one non-fiction editor who told me that this meant that in ten years we’d all be out of the job was tempered only by his editor/translator colleague chiming in that he’d been hoping to retire to a small place by the coast anyway.
Lots of the people I’ve met seem to have come to publishing after working somewhere else first. Working in a bank, for the government or as a translator, the effect is one of perspective –publishing doesn’t feel like an isolated industry but rather part of the country’s identity, its history and its language. Academics edit, editors translate, banks own publishing houses and literary agents study for Masters Degrees in their spare time. A history editor happily translated my name into Ottoman Turkish, whilst chain smoking and discussing which of our titles might work for their list.
If Turkish publishers are all in the same boat, then it certainly seems that the waters they’re sailing on are calmer than our own, for the time being at least. While publishers in the UK nervously watch to see whether arrows will be green or red, pointing upwards or downwards, talk in Turkey is of growth. Visiting a new publisher in an office consisting of five chairs and three desks and discussing their vision for their list gives the impression that something exciting is going on; long may it continue.
I've always wanted to say "We're gonna have to pull an
all-nighter!" in the manner of a 70s journalist breaking Watergate whilst
eating Chinese food from cartons. Staying up until 3am to finish Our Mutual
Friend, the second-to-last novel in our
Dickens marathon, almost felt as
This is a long, murky devil of a book, but I'm glad I persevered. Our
Mutual Friend is dark, fantastical,
mysterious, uneven, often frustrating, but I loved it. This story of a fortune
made from 'dust heaps' (according to the notes, mountains of waste!) has the
weird humour that the Big Monsters Bleak House and Little Dorrit sometimes lacked, but with all their grimy
atmosphere and obsession with money. It has fantastic melodrama, murders, doubles,
disguises, sexual obsession, disappearances, blackmail and con artists. It has
a psychologically fascinating villain in repressed schoolteacher Bradley
Headstone, possessed by lust, grinding his fists against walls until they
bleed. And it has the dark, swirling Thames, which runs through the story and
sucks everyone into its power.
Best of all are the women. Yes, the familiar creepy father/daughter
relationships are still here, yet I felt something had shifted. The women are interesting
and (mostly) non-saintly. They are stronger than their fathers; they make their own
livings, they change and develop, and the central heroines Bella and Lizzie
both, in different ways, save the men they marry. Jenny Wren, a crippled doll's
dressmaker of childlike appearance, is a strange presence, but also has a sharp
brain, seeing through the 'tricks and manners' of the men around her.
I don’t think the upper-class characters in the novel work so well, but
perhaps that's because it's the weak, the humble and the odd that really
interest Dickens. Please, please don't be put off by the gargantuan size of Our
Mutual Friend, and give this strange and
brilliant book a try.
Next time, we shall be wearing black armbands for our very last Dickens,
The Mystery of Edwin Drood...
So now we’re into the final day of the Chicago TARDIS
convention and last night was the Masquerade in which all the fans who love the costuming element of Doctor Who strutted their funky stuff, to the
adoration of the crowds.
Judging then took place with guest fashionistas Ian
McNeice (who played Winston Churchill in the series) and Simon Fisher-Becker (who
played Dorium Maldovar) deliberating alongside “cosplay” experts from fandom to award certificates of merit.
As usual, I was amazed by the levels of creativity on show
for not only do cosplayers make precise replicas of onscreen attire, they also
make wild departures from the televised versions to adapt costumes, creating a
sub-genre called “Fem”.
In this category, women will take the costumes worn by men (and
especially the Doctor himself) and tweak them into feminine outfits of dresses and corsets. There was even a Fem Dalek ballerina and a TARDIS ballroom gown.
And it’s not just the grown-ups; children love to play dressing
up and younger Doctor Who fans are no exception.
To me, these costumed fans are an excellent example of what
the show is all about. Because, no matter what anyone might tell you, Doctor
Who is not a children’s show. It’s a family show that everyone can enjoy.
And these guys really do wear their (two) hearts on their (meticulously-crafted)
survived the madness of the Black Friday sales, the Doctor Who convention
Chicago TARDIS is now in full swing. But
what, you may well ask yourselves, happens at a Doctor Who convention?
uninitiated, a Doctor Who convention is the mutated offspring of a television
chat show and a fancy dress party with renegade DNA elements of a stag or hen
party. The stars of the show along with us lesser mortals are interviewed on
stage or sit on panels discussing the finer points of writing, or acting, or
the rich history of the TV programme itself.
One panel even asks is Doctor Who is a religion (well, enquiring minds
want to know)!
course there is the dealers’ room (pictured, right) where every possible
merchandising opportunity has had a Police Box slapped on it – from t-shirts to
teacups and posters to coasters – along with the more usual DVDs, books, comics
and action figures.
hundred fans attending the “con” mingle and chat, queue for autographs, watch
the aforementioned panels and interviews, view their favourite episodes on the
big screen and compete for the most outlandish or intricate costume. I will be
blogging about the costume pageant tomorrow with a few images of this amazing
spectacle, but the most important aspects of these conventions is the
camaraderie, the sincere friendships that people – professionals and fans alike
are great fun and a wonderful way to meet one’s readers, listeners and viewers.
And, as you’ll see tomorrow, the creativity of the professionals is equaled by
that of the “cosplayers” who go to such extraordinary lengths to make their
costumes the best and most accurate.
such a lovely atmosphere at these US conventions. Everyone is upbeat and out
for a good time. The cliché of the reclusive, awkward Doctor Who fan is blown
away by the gregarious gathering of people here.
the end, that’s what we’re really here for: to meet up with old friends and maybe make
a few new ones along the way. Although, it does helps if you know your Hath
from your Eldrad…
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
If you missed out on a trip to Shakespeare’s ‘wooden O’ this summer, you’ll be pleased to learn that its unique swelling scenes can now be yours to behold from the comfort of your local cinema, as the brand new Globe on Screen season begins this week. Cinemas across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and America will be screening three plays originally staged at the Globe during 'The Word is God' 2011 theatre season, including All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, and Doctor Faustus. Last week, the Penguin Classics team was treated to a sneak preview of some of the upcoming shows and how they’ll look on screen.
We spent a fascinating hour discussing the uniqueness of the Globe experience with some of the actors, directors and the team at the Globe, and the fantastic opportunity this new season represents for a new worldwide audience to get a taste of that magic usually contained to a sunny (or not so) spot on London’s Bankside. Ross MacGibbon, Screen Director of The Taming of the Shrew – which was recently filmed for a future Globe on Screen season - talked us through the long, careful process of editing and fine-tuning that takes place after the plays are recorded live, and Charles Edwards, who played Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (which begins showing in UK cinemas on 10th October) admitted to being a little nervous but ultimately excited to see how his performance would translate to the big screen. We also discussed with that play’s director, Jeremy Herrin, the potentially discomfiting idea of a theatrical experience, usually such an intimate, singular moment in time, being immortalized forever on film and broadcast around the world – it’s this frisson and conversation between a live and mutable thing, a play, and something recorded, a film, that makes this season so brave and exciting.
The season is the perfect compliment to another tribute to Shakespeare’s time and experience currently gracing London – the wonderful new British Museum exhibition ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’.
Like the Globe on Screen season, this exhibition celebrates the pivotal role of the playhouse as a window to the world, and offers a unique view of London as it was around 400 years ago. And we can’t recommend the beautiful accompanying book highly enough: Shakespeare's Restless World (out this week).
All’s Well That Ends Well kicks off the Globe on Screen season on September 26, and you can find your nearest venue here: onscreen.shakespearesglobe.com.
In 2012, as the world’s gaze turned on London for the Olympic year, the British Museum explored this capital city from a slightly different viewpoint – by trying to get inside the heads of the people who lived here over 400 years ago.
In Shakespeare’s Restless World, a series presented on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year and now accompanied by the book (released 27th September), we explored the stories of 20 objects – some grand, some everyday things – that help us imagine what the world looked like to the groundlings inside the Globe theatre around 1600.
I talked to Shakespeare scholars, historians and experts on the fascinating issues these 20 objects raised – everything from exploration and discovery abroad to entertainment, monarchy and even the deadly threat of plague closer to home.
As well as objects from the British Museum, many are from collections across the UK. I have travelled across Britain to get a closer look at what these objects, such as a fork found on the site of the Rose Theatre, a book of royal murder plots, and sunken treasure from Morocco, can reveal to us about daily life, national politics and global economics at the turn of the 16th century.
Throughout the book, there is something else that allows us to picture these turbulent times so vividly: the works of William Shakespeare himself. In the chapters, we delve into his plots and characters, his speeches and soliloquies, to seek glimpses of the uncertain times in which he lived.
Right now, the British Museum is presenting a major exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world, bringing together a vast and eclectic array of Elizabethan and Jacobean objects, including the 20 featured in the radio series and book. This exhibition provides a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city four hundred years ago, interpreted through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. Featured alongside these objects are digital media and performance created in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Well knock me down with a weighty tome, we are officially
three-quarters of the way through our mammoth attempt to read all of Dickens! I
can’t quite believe so many words have gone into my brain. Our latest is the
ironically-titled ‘Little’ Dorrit, a
monster at 860 pages. It’s the third in Dickens’s ‘condition of England’ novels
(after Bleak House and Hard Times) and, in our group’s view, easily the
Set partly in the notorious Marshalsea debtors’ prison (which,
fact fans, you can still go and see the remains of), the story of pint-sized
Amy Dorrit, her imprisoned father and their family’s rapidly changing fortunes
has all the darkness, dirt, mystery, meatiness and obsession with money of Bleak
House, but combined with the humour and
memorable characters of earlier novels. It’s gone straight into my top five so
far. These are just some of the reasons why:
• It has proper, complicated, psychologically damaged
characters with rich interior lives. Arthur Clenham, ostensibly the hero, seems
indelibly scarred by his miserable upbringing. Amy, while unfeasibly good and
wise (and whose childlike appearance is somewhat icky), had a serenity that
made her very moving to me. Even Flora Finching, Arthur’s ex, once a coquettish
beauty and now a faded embarrassment, could have been grotesque, but is
portrayed with subtlety and humanity.
• It made me snort with laughter on several occasions,
particularly at Mrs Plornish of Bleeding Heart Yard, who convinces herself she
can speak Italian in the same way I ‘spoke’ Danish after watching The
• It has one of the strangest, most unnerving and ambiguous
chapters I’ve read in Dickens’s novels – ‘The History of a Self Tormentor’,
where an emotionally disturbed woman tells us how she got that way.
• It has an utterly fantastic death scene. I won’t give too
much away, but the description of a body in a bath, the ‘white marble veined
with red’, is surpassed only by the murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist.
• It has one of the loveliest, most moving last lines of a
book, ever. I defy you to read it and not get choked up.
Next, we race on to the blood-stained streets of
revolutionary Paris and A Tale of Two Cities …
“Each of us has skeletons in his
soul, as the English say.”
fellow challengers. Well, if you’re anything like us, you’ll have had a busy
few weeks, and reluctantly experienced a little bit of a lull in your reading
because of it. But don’t worry – we set ourselves plenty of time for this
challenge precisely to allow for a set back or two.
a quick look at what’s been happening up to now (we’re only up to page 250 but what
we have managed to
read has been eventful to say the least!)…
health has been failing since her humiliating rejection by Vronsky, and she is
advised to go abroad to recover.
in Saint Petersburg, Vronsky continues to pursue Anna, who, despite an initial
attempt to reject him, eventually gives in to his attention. The narrative
jumps forward a few months, to a point at which their relationship has been
consummated, and Anna is pregnant with Vronsky’s child.
Vronsky falls from his horse during a race, Anna is unable to hide her distress
and when Karenin reminds her of the impropriety of paying too much attention to
Vronsky in public, which is fast becoming the subject of gossip, Anna confesses
it like this, it seems pretty simple, doesn’t it: Anna and Vronksy have committed
adultery and done a terrible thing? But what’s struck us most in these last few
chapters is that morality for Tolstoy isn’t that clear cut...
narration is such that at no point amid all of the gossip, guilt and lying
around their affair is judgment passed on any one character. In fact the
narrative, which shifts from character to character in attention and focus,
seems engineered precisely to generate opposing views - even Anna herself
describes the sensation of loving Vronsky as a “criminal joy”.
to this is the idea of emotional self-knowledge, the conflict between inner and
outer lives - something we picked up on at the very beginning of the novel, and
something that’s kept coming up since.
and Levin represent the extremes of self-knowledge. Vronksy explains their
predicament with absolute resignation: “Whatever our fate is or will be, we
have made it.” As a result of this they seem (whether we consider it shameful
or not) very public with their affair - so much so that when Vronsky falls from
his horse during his race, the strength of Anna’s feelings for him make it physically
impossible for her to hide her horror.
fact, it’s the public nature of their affair seems to bother Karenin more than
Anna’s adultery itself, and Tolstoy’s portrayal of him is very much as her
cold, restrained counterpart; “not a man, [but] a machine” – someone who
believes that “Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that might
have lain unnoticed” and who finds his own feelings “illogical” and
Anna does confess, we feel that surely it’s is a truth he can’t ignore? But his
response is only that she must maintain the status quo until he can find a
suitable solution, ensuring that her admission, her attempts at truth (which is
fast becoming the currency of morality in the novel), change nothing about her
situation. Meanwhile we see Karenin, whose conscience is theoretically clear of
any social wrong, as guilty of a preference for deceit.
That’s quite a cliff hanger to end on so we’re dying to read on! Expect
more from us next week and until then happy reading.
Crying while reading Dickens's novels is getting to be a
regular thing with me. Maybe it's because I know we're getting near to the end
of our mission to read all his novels, or maybe it's because number 13, A
Tale of Two Cities, is such and exciting
and moving yarn. For sheer storytelling brio, this is up there with the best.
You may well know the set-up: two men, one woman, blood on
the streets of revolutionary Paris and, of course, LA GUILLOTINE (as well as
terrible family secrets, baby-killing aristocrats and lashings of revenge).
The set pieces are sensational: a cask of wine breaks and
everyone laps it up from the streets, mothers squeezing it from handkerchiefs
into babies' mouths. The murderous crowd sharpen their weapons on a huge
grinder, whipping themselves up into a frenzy of bloodlust. So much blood is
spilt that it poisons the water supply (apparently this is true!). There's even
a fantastic bitch fight between the devilish knitter Madame Defarge and a
doughty Englishwoman. As if these treats aren't enough, A Tale of Two Cities also features one of my favourite heroes, the lawyer
Sydney Carton: worn-down, world-weary, drunk, despairing, tortured by what he
could have been, made noble by unrequited love.
If you took away the boring bits from Barnaby Rudge, Dickens’s other historical novel (also featuring
plentiful mob violence) you might come near this for excitement, but not for
the emotional intensity of Carton’s heartbreaking story.
As Becky says:
I loved A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton, the dissolute lawyer, is one of my favourite Dickens
characters (along with David Copperfield from David Copperfield and the horse from The Old Curiosity Shop). Not all the characters in this book have that much
depth, but who cares when there is such an excellent narrative arc, and so much
galloping, and so many rivers of blood. A great adventure story, but also a
book that should be read by anyone who's planning on starting a revolution to
overthrow an evil dictatorship, just to make sure they've thought it through.
Next time, there will definitely be more weeping as we move on to Great
Expectations. I'm filling up at the thought
I've finally discovered a greater pleasure than reading
Dickens – and that's re-reading Dickens. Great Expectations, the 14th in our epic Dickens readathon, was,
shamefully, the only one of his books I'd read properly before (at school), and
visiting it again was an unalloyed joy. George Orwell said that once Dickens
has described something you see it for the rest of your life, and here the
images of Pip looking at the little graves of his family, the lawyer Jaggers
obsessively washing his hands, Wemmick posting his dinner into his letter-box
mouth, were just like flashback.
Yet there were surprises too. I'd forgotten just how quickly the hero
Pip goes bad, becoming an unbearable, snobbish idiot even before his life is
changed by coming into money. In fact, he's a complete tool for pretty much most
of the book. Yet the changes in his character are turned into something so
psychologically true, so gripping, and rendered with such unbearable honesty
that it's car-crash compelling. When Pip describes his shame as his childhood
protector Joe comes to visit him in his new life as a London gentleman ('If I
could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have'), it's like a
stab through the heart.
I'd also forgotten just how dark, mysterious, ghostly, weird and violent
the novel is. Dickens describes how the feelings of guilt and fear that
accompany childhood trauma (in this case an escaped prisoner threatening to eat
your heart and liver) can taint your entire life and warp everything that comes
afterwards. It's such a haunted book. Perhaps I still love David Copperfield slightly more, but it's very close. This book is
like David Copperfield's sad,
dark, grown-up and heartbreaking shadow. I cried like a baby at the end. What
more can I say?
Next time, the last Big Beast and the second-to-last novel
in our list – Our Mutual Friend …
Every November for the last few decades, Doctor Who fans have gathered in Chicago to celebrate the world's longest-running Science Fiction TV show. The current incarnation of the event is called Chicago TARDIS and coincides with both the broadcast of the first episode on 23rd November 1963 and the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
This year the convention is marking the 7th Doctor' era with main man Sylvester McCoy (about to appear on the big screen as Radagast the Brown in Peter Jackson's new version of The Hobbit) and the lovely Sophie Aldred who played his companion, Ace (now voicing Tree Fu Tom, the hugely successful computer animated series on CBeebies).
Of course, most people in the UK will be familiar with the concept of Thanksgiving from US films and TV, but one thing I never knew about until I came for the first time last year is the mysterious shopping event known as Black Friday.
Every year many retailers in the USA slash prices by huge margins and open their doors at midnight on Thursday 22nd November and let the punters who have often been queuing around the block and in their hundreds storm the aisles.
This is nothing like our own rather tame January sales or the myriad mid-season sales that litter the high streets of the UK like Autumn leaves. No. There is a feeling of Mardi Gras to a Black Friday event. Last year I donned a Viking helmet to wait in a freezing line of jovial, upbeat Americans and enter into the merchandising madness, running up and this year was no different. Except for the headgear.
That's not to say this was any less crazy, with those who had waited patiently at the front of the line coming away with shopping trolleys full of electronic goods (huge LCD TVs being the highest badge of honour). Later arrivals then strip the shelves of lesser but still impressive bargains like a plague of locusts on retail therapy.
It's fun and frenetic and everyone has a good time (pictured above are the queues at Target, Westin, circa 11pm last night). The closest I can think of an equivalent in the UK is the pictures we used to see of Harrods Sale in which hundreds of bepearled ladies would vie for the finest furs and crash crockery into baskets in a peculiarly British frenzy of bargain hunting. Only, Black Friday seems so much more good natured.
This morning the Doctor Who convention begins in earnest and I'll be bringing you edited highlights as the weekend progresses. And if you think black Friday looks and sounds strangely eccentric, then you ain't seen nothing yet! Wait for the Doctor Who costume pageant on Saturday night...