Friday, 20 June 2008

'The Modern Successor to Gilbert White'

In Bruce Forsyth terms, all my authors are my favourites. In George Orwell terms, some books are more favourites than others, and one of those, Ken Burnett's The Field by the River, is published next month. When the manuscript originally came in on submission, it was one of those books that didn't quite fit in any of our established categories, but I felt immediately that it was plenty good enough to break the rules to publish. In a way, that's what publishing should be all about -- leading and not following the industry obsession with genres and pigeonholing.

But don't just take my word that this book is a cracker. Indra Sinha describes the author as 'the modern successor to Gilbert White', and Paul Henderson in last week's Bookseller, described it as thus:

'I'm lucky enough to live in a house with a garden by a river (stream), and I spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time in the garden, watching and listening to the wildlife around me, wondering if there is a snake under that piece of corrugated iron, why there are so many slugs, and occassionally: 'F**king Hell! A Kingfisher!' Coupled with knowing that publisher Tom Bromley lives locally, is often on my train and is very keen on the book, it was easy to imagine The Field by the River by Ken Burnett might be up my street. And it was. A year of closely observed nature from a Scotsman living in France -- a cross between Peter Mayle and Gilbert White -- it follows the natural history of his field over the course of a year, together with three bloodthirsty dogs. It's very charming and although his humour didn't really do it for me, he conjures the sense of awe in the miniature well, and the day-to-day lives of spiders, mice, mushrooms and so on. You can feel his love and enthusiasm for the place -- it sits happily with contemporary natural history and should have broad appeal.'

Monday, 9 June 2008

Take that You Luddite

Here's how the Observer books pages saw the digital debate I took part in last week. Wish I'd been there, it sounds a touch more exciting than the one I took part in.

Tempers were running high at the V&A last week, when a debate on the future of books in the digital age turned into a very public scrap between Daniel Stacey, editor of Bad Idea, and Times Online books editor Michael Moran. A surprising addition to the Luddite corner, Moran claimed he didn't like e-book readers because his children would spill Ribena on them and, worse, you can't display them in your house like books. Striking a blow for the technophiles, Stacey swiftly countered that 'stacking books on shelves is a gauche way of displaying cultural credentials'. A full-blown duel was prevented by the quick thinking of literary agent Charlie Campbell, who poured oil on troubled waters by donating wine strictly reserved for the speaker's table to the het-up assembly at large.

Poured wine on troubled waters, surely?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

‘A Granta for the MySpace Generation’ (Observer)

From Gladstone and Disraeli to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Last Friday, the latest of the museum’s Friday Lates events took place, hosted by literary magazine Bad Idea (and whose anthology we have just published). As well as the launch for the book, there were numerous happenings dotted around the museum organised by the editors, as well as a Question Time style panel which I found myself sat on. Alongside the extremely nice Mil Millington, Times Online Journalist Michael Moran and agent Charlie Campbell, I discussed and answered questions on publishing, the internet, and all things digital. Despite the breakneck enthusiasm for electronic books, my sense was that both the panel and the audience seemed more reserved about the whole thing. This was echoed in a recent Zogby poll that found that only 3% of Americans had a e-book reader, and only a further 4% were considering buying one in the near future.
The Bad Idea editors Jack Roberts and Daniel Stacey are the latest in a long line of that most important of literary institutions: the champions of new writing. These champions are to be cherished, and it felt fitting to me that among the many wonderful writers in the anthology, was another long standing champion, Nick Royle. Ten years ago this month, I was lucky enough to have my first ever piece of writing published in a similar anthology edited by Nick. So it was nice for me not only to be able to repay the favour, but to oversee the passing of the baton to the next generation of literary champions.

Some things don’t change

In the past few weeks, the papers have been full of Cherie Blair, Lord Levy and John Prescott washing their tawdry linen in public – sorry, promoting their heavyweight political memoirs. As books go, they’re all something of a disappointment. One thinks of previous political memoirs – Denis Healey, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle – and how well-written, revelatory and ick-free the genre used to be. As a way of raking in the cash, though, they continue an extremely time-worn tradition. I’ve just finished Richard Aldous’s The Lion and the Unicorn, a fascinating dual biography of Gladstone and Disraeli (I know that sounds like the worst kind of wanky Summer Reading pull-outs in the Observer, but bear with me) and when Disraeli leaves office for the last time, he is offered the then megabucks sum of £10,000 to write a novel. Considering how this was more than the heavyweight novelists were on at the time (Dickens and George Eliot were the biggest earners on £9000 a book), and you can see that in 150 years, very little has changed.