The nights are drawing in and it’s book prize season – Nobel, Man Booker et al. This is the moment in the year, as the Flat draws to a close and as the National Hunt book publishing season gets into full swing, when literature becomes a horse race. That just might be the good news. John Steinbeck once observed that “the profession of book publishing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business”.
Many people who care about books are not so blithe. They worry that the turf accountants of our culture (tipsters who know the price of everything but the value of nothing) are reducing art to a crude cash value to publish a book. That’s one consequence of the credit crunch.
Every bookie is quoting literary odds now: Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and Unibet are all at it. I can see some sense in giving the betting on Peter Carey or Howard Jacobson – they’re on a book publishers shortlist – but the whole point of the Nobel prize is that its shortlist is confidential. It beats me how anyone could come up with starting prices for it. According to its website, the Swedish academy makes its choice based on submissions from “professors of literature, book publishers and language, former Nobel laureates” and members of similar bodies, the Académie Française for example. The Swedes usually get about 350 nominations, all secret. How on earth can any bookie make sense of that?
Yet, such is the power of the market, and the importance of the prize, in a prize-conscious culture, that before the announcement of the great Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa as the long-overdue winner for 2010, both Ladbrokes and Unibet were quoting odds of Les Murray (8/1), AS Byatt (18/1), Vaclav Havel (35/1) and even Bob Dylan (150/1).
Mad as this seems, it is no more improbable than the founding of an important literary prize by a would-be poet who happened to invent dynamite. Alfred Nobel published a verse tragedy, Nemesis, inspired by Shelley’s The Cenci, just before his death in 1896.
Man Booker also has its roots in trade. Britain’s premier book prize was initially sponsored by a food conglomerate and is now backed by a hedge fund, the Man Group.
At this year’s Booker banquet in the Guildhall, there will be an awkward moment when a middle-aged bloke in a suit rehearses the trading achievements of his company to the assembled literati, makes a segue to his commitment to the arts and sits down to polite, slightly mystified, applause.
At such moments, it is hard not to recall Dr Johnson’s definition of the patron: “Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery.”
Under the coalition, it’s back to the 18th century. According to some, this is the worst crisis in books since Paternoster Row was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. To paraphrase Macaulay, contemporary writers sometimes know luxury, and often face penury, but they never know comfort. Writers and self-publishing artists in austerity Britain will be grateful to sponsors such as Man and Costa.
The future may be Orange, but it’s hardly bright. The Arts Council, the British Council and the BBC, to name three traditional patrons, all face outright government hostility or death by a thousand cuts.
In this climate, writers may have to take their lead from George Gissing’s indigent hero Jasper Milvain who, more than 100 years ago, declared in New Grub Street: “I am the literary man (of 1882)… I a
The long ordeal of the 33 trapped Chilean miners is finally at an end – and the buzz about book deals and film rights to the men’s dramatic story has already begun.
The miners themselves are reported to have made a pact to collaborate on their own book, but in the UK the first book was signed up on Monday, before the rescue had even begun. Freelance journalist Jonathan Franklin, who has covered the dramatic story for the Guardian from day one, is to pen an account of the saga, provisionally titled 33 Men, for book publisher Transworld.
Franklin, who is an American but has lived in the Chile’s capital Santiago for 15 years, spoke about the book on his mobile phone from Chile, after 48 sleepless hours covering the emotional scenes as the miners emerged.
“This is one of the great rescue stories of all time,” he said, admitting he himself had wept as the first miners were released on Tuesday night. “It’s the reason we all want to be reporters: a remarkable story of the world coming together for a good reason. It taps into human altruism, the desire to work together, perseverance, faith that good things happen, never giving up.” The early chapters of the book, he said, were already written.
As a journalist, Franklin had had “a backstage pass to the whole thing. I was allowed to tape record the psychologist talking to the [trapped] men, I spent last night in the hospital talking to the [newly freed] miners.” He intends his book to reveal the characters of the miners themselves (“You could probably do a book on every one of them”) and reflect their black humour: one of the men played dead, for a joke, during the first 17 days spent in the collapsed mine without food, while another attempted phone sex with the nurse who was attending to him 700m above.
Transworld book publishers, a division of Random House, which bought 33 Men at last week’s Frankfurt Book Fair, said: “As far as I’m aware, Franklin is the only print and publishers journalist in the inner circle at the mine, party to a lot of the strategy and to the stories of the relatives at the top, the wives and girlfriends.” He added: “What I think is really interesting, apart from the drama of the story itself, is the miners’ lives in this isolated outpost in Chile, which is a bit like the Wild West. People seem to live by their own rules, and it’s a very rugged existence – tough people living in a tough place.”
The publication date for the book is still to be confirmed. “It’ll be sooner rather than later, but I don’t want Franklin to compromise the depth and breadth of the story by making it a rush job,” Scott-Kerr said.
Literary agent Annabel Merullo at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, who is handling the book, said it had also sold to France and Germany, with self publishing film interest from the US.
“It’s happened so quickly,” she said. “When the story broke, we talked about it at the agency and said, ‘Is there a book in it?’ We decided there only was if we could get someone really good to write it. Jonathan’s coverage was so much better than everyone else’s. He has incredible access at the mines and he’s covered the story from day one.”
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McClelland & Stewart Book Publisher (Fiction) and Executive Vice President Ellen Seligman announced Michael Ondaatje’s highly anticipated new novel, The Cat’s Table, will go on sale on August 30, 2011. It will be published in the fall in the US by Knopf and in the UK by Jonathan Cape.
“I am completely blown away by Michael Ondaatje’s stunning and original new novel,” says Seligman. “The Cat’s Table is a surprise and a sheer delight — a brilliantly told story, with unforgettable moments and characters the reader comes to care deeply about. It is perhaps Ondaatje’s most thrilling and moving novel to date.”
The Cat’s Table has received enthusiastic and exited responses as well from Ondaatje’s book publishers around the world including:
“The Cat’s Table is written with wisdom and poignancy, filled with the superlative storytelling we’ve come to expect from Michael Ondaatje. I was completely moved by the way he inhabits the voice of his narrator and conjures the innocence of childhood and the challenges of making one’s home in a strange land. The novel resonates on many levels.” – Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor in Chief, Knopf Publishing Group
“What a book it is! In my view, the best thing Ondaatje has done.” – Robin Robertson, Jonathan Cape UK
“It is so beautiful, the way it unfolds and becomes more and more complex and becomes many types of a novel — memoir, Bildungsroman, adventure novel and something like 1001 Nights…” – Anna Leube, Hanser, Germany
Michael Ondaatje is the author of four previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. His most recent novel Divisadero won the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award and was a finalist for the Giller Prize. The English Patient won the Booker Prize and was an Academy Award-winning film; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.
By: Celia Rees
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Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.
I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:
'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'
So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:
'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'
Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.
The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.
There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.
In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit