14 September 2008

Book ’em Danno

1. Peter’s Pence
This 1977 book leapt off the shelf at the library during the week. A curious specimen, as it admits in the blurb, “not an easy book to classify. Some of it is fiction, set partly in the near future; there are also many exciting, factual episodes …” Adrian Hayter was ex-career Army, and an accomplished international yachtsman (I feel a conspiracy coming on), who ended up working at Outward Bound (very useful, when you’re outward bound).

A page falls open at random (honest). Deciphering it may be difficult. The scene: a National Party meeting, only about 15 elderly people out of the 800 party members in the valley. Someone takes the floor:

‘National has entered the competition with Labour of buying votes with the promise of material rewards, what they call free benefits. National still shouts about free enterprise and individual freedom, but in fact it has left us with neither a check on advancing socialism nor an alternative to it.’

Okay, let’s turn the page:

‘It would take too long to pass the one copy around,’ continued the president. ‘But I’ll read out the main items.’ The income from subscriptions and donations came to about $2200 (in modern jargon). ‘Expenditure,’ he continued, ‘goes under the usual heading of hire of halls, postage, travelling expenses of executive members, salaries, and a few casual items under sundries.’

The salary of the paid party organiser, which is was rumoured took most of the income, was not mentioned or requested. He was a touchy individual who always threatened to resign when annoyed, and no one else was prepared to take on his job.

‘How much under sundries?’ I asked. Immediately a party stalwart leapt to his feet. ‘Mr Chairman, I’m sure we have sufficient confidence in the executive to accept the accounts as read. Discussion can be endless on this subject …’

2. The Living Daylights
Writer’s block? Isn’t that something that happens when there are no distractions? The Independent has a piece this weekend asking various people if they’ve ever suffered from it. In 1977 Time magazine ran a humorous essay on this, and suggested that one of the cures was to bail out of the office and take yourself to a James Bond movie, they’re so full of mad ideas. James Bond at the time was played by teak-in-a-safari-suit, Roger Moore. The screenwriter who worked on the Bond flicks in the 1970s wrote back to Time and said, thanks for the compliment. But what do I do when I get blocked?

Here’s what war historian Anthony Beevor told the Independent, which seems recognisable:
It’s certainly different between historians and novelists. Novelists have an excuse, whereas historians don’t. There’s always other work to be getting on with. There are moments when structure, say, can present a problem, but you just have to get on with something else, and the solution will come to you in an alternative moment. There can be times when the material you’re working on seems so appalling that you become psychologically depressed, but when it’s going well you have to follow the winning streak, often working very late to make up for the times when it isn’t going so well.

3. Remainders
Publishing in the golden age, before they banned the long lunches … now it’s not so much Mad Men as Marketing Men (or women). In the New York Times Book Review Bruce Jay Friedman considers The Time of Their Lives, Al Silverman’s memoir of US publishing in the 1950s and ’60s. When WH Auden turned up at Random House in carpet slippers, manuscript in hand, and said, “I’d like to have my money right now.” When the founder of Doubleday suffered from flatulence, so none of the characters in Doubleday books were allowed to fart. When sexism ruled:

Jane Friedman, who became president of HarperCollins, began as an assistant at Random House in 1967. “Bennett Cerf . . . would come over and pull my ponytail,” she recalled. As a board member at Harper, Ursula Nordstrom, a noted children’s book editor, was asked at an all-male meeting to make coffee and said she didn’t know how. Despite the roadblocks, women made their mark. Judith Jones, a secretary at Doubleday’s Paris bureau, was asked to write rejection letters for a pile of manuscripts. One caught her attention. In tears, she mailed it off to Doubleday in Manhattan. The Diary of Anne Frank was published in 1952.

And there are also The Ones That Got Away:

In turning down The Godfather, all three editors at Atheneum concurred: “The Mafia is coming out of our ears.” What was Mike Bessie of Harper thinking when he found his interest “flagging” and rejected Lolita? Still, one feels some sympathy for New American Library’s Victor Weybright when he learns that he might lose the reprint rights to The Catcher in the Rye and “breaks into a cold sweat.”

1 comment:

homepaddock said...

Jon Cleary wrote a book called Peters Pence - it's about a plot to kidnap the Pope.