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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is the Poet Laureate job an anachronistic elephant?

Should the job of court poet go?

Popular poet Wendy Cope, known for her dry wit and keen ironic eye, and the favorite for taking up the cap when current British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (pictured, looking pensive), steps down this year, definitely thinks so.

Writing in the Royal Society of Literature Review, Cope has called for the position to be abolished, saying that there are too many expectations attached to the job.

After ten years of virtually writing to order, Morton agrees. Last year, he said that the job of writing verse for the Royal Family -- such as verse for the Queen's diamond wedding anniversary, and Prince William's 21st -- was "thankless" and a source of writer's block. As Wendy Cope pointed out, Morton has done a good job by dint of hard work and managing not to make a fool of himself. He has also used his prestige to found the online Poetry Archive. However, a poet should be a free soul who writes whatever poetry comes to mind at the time.

The Poet Laureate's job was first introduced in 1668 -- as an alternative for the unenviable post of Court Jester? Because it sounds an awful lot like it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dr Who wins Shakespeare Award

What? What, what? Gor Blimey, but Dr Who has saved the World again.

David Tennant's depiction of Hamlet has earned him a best Shakespearean performance trophy at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards.

And that was despite injuring his back. He took up the role at Stratford-on-Avon but missed most of the London shows due to the problem.

He shares the award with Derek Jacobi as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

Critics said it was a particularly strong year for Shakespearean performances. Well, the Force was with them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top editor fired

Tidings from the US publishing industry becomes more dire by the moment.
Breaking news from the Los Angeles Times book blog is that Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, the main trade magazine of the book industry, was laid off this morning. She is the latest victim of restructuring, in this case of the owners of Publishers Weekly, Reed Business Information Services, which is laying off 7% of its staff.

Pundits agree that this is a bizarre decision, because Sara Nelson, 52, has worked hard and forcefully to become a major advocate for books.
Could it herald an even stranger future? Could Reed possibly be thinking of combining PW with the other two publishers' and editors' bibles, Library Journal and School Library Journal? Brian Kenney, editor in chief of School Library Journal, will now be editorial director of all three.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The future of the book

TIME Magazine has published a marvellously upbeat vision of the publishing industry, present and future. Considering the awful state of the present -- meticulously detailed near the start of the story - the future, through the eyes of the writer, Lev Grossman, looks exciting, innovative, and maybe even profitable.

"What will publishing look like?" he asks. Certainly not dead -- "A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn't dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it's done. Literature interprets the world, but it's also shaped by that world, and we're living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since--well, since the early 18th century. The novel won't stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It's about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever...."

What has triggered the change? Electronic publishing, plus the new respectability of self-production of books, what until very recently used to be called "vanity publishing." While the novel is becoming divorced from the dollar, with so many people publishing off- and online at their own expense, there is still a lot of money to be made. Recently there has been a spate of self-published books (think The Shack and The Lace Reader) that have been snapped up by regular publishing houses for huge sums.

And the books themselves are evolving - rapidly. "Novels will get longer," he says. "Electronic books aren't bound by physical constraints--and they'll be patchable and updatable, like software. We'll see more novels doled out episodically, on the model of TV series or, for that matter, the serial novels of the 19th century."

So, are there New Age Dickenses and Austens waiting in the wings? Grossman certainly thinks so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration Bible

When Barack Obama makes history, he will be using the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used on March 4, 1861.
It was not the family Bible, because the Lincoln family possessions were still packed up and en route to Washington from Illinois, but one that was specially purchased on the eve of the inauguration by the Clerk of the Supreme Court.
And it wasn't even new, having been published by the Oxford University Press in 1853.

A handsome volume, it is bound in burgundy velvet and edged heavily in gilt. The two covers are both protected on three sides by a narrow metal edge, which accounts for what is described as its "tolerably good condition" now. Held at the Library of Congress, it even has provenance -- a handwritten testimonial by the Clerk who bought it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Keyboard or Quill?

The Washington Post features a charming study by Joseph J. Ellis (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary Generation, pictured). It is called The Writing Life, and sub-titled "Why the pen is mightier than the laptop."

I know several authors who swear by the pen. They write their manuscripts in longhand, and Mr. Ellis, it seems, is of the same mind. People, he says, call him old-fashioned, even anachronistic, and strongly recommend that he dump his beloved pens in favor of a laptop.

The spirit is willing, or so he says, but habit prevails. It begins with taking notes in writing as he goes through his research material -- something which no research assistant can do, as there is not a research assistant alive who can pick out the little gems from the mass of manuscript -- the little golden nuggets that are going to breathe vigor into the final book.

That is usual enough. I know from my own experience that there are not many people a historian can trust to find exactly the apt little tidbits needed. But Joseph Ellis then settles down to write the first draft of his manuscript by hand.

The "symmetry between the muscular movement of my hand and the flow of ideas in my head," he says, would be "destroyed by a keyboard," which, poetically he adds, "becomes an alien intruder in the dialogue within myself."

H'm. Does he finish up with scratched-out scribbles, pages torn and pasted in a different order? He doesn't say, but that would be the inevitable state of anything I tried to write by hand. And I would be forced to use a pencil. With an eraser on the end.

So I have to confess it: from the very first word of the very first draft, I am wedded to the computer. The keyboard functions as a smooth conduit between what passes as my brain and the unfolding story, and more often than not as I consult my own research notes my awkward writing baffles me and makes me angry. I abbreviate at whim, and half the time I can't decipher the result. I know without a shade of doubt that if I tried to write the draft, everything would be in the wrong order, and I wouldn't be able to cut and paste to set things right and make the damn thing flow. The keyboard is so much easier.

But then, I was taught to type properly, at the right age, which I believe is a huge advantage. I can touch type, which I notice very few people can do. It always amazes me that in this computer-driven age children and teenagers are not taught to type. Surely it should be a skill as basic as learning to write by hand?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The privateer barons of old New York

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York uncovers the story of New York City merchants engaged in a forbidden trade with the enemy before and during the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War).

Ignoring British prohibitions designed to end North America's wartime trade with the French, New York's merchant elite conducted a thriving business in the French West Indies, insisting that their behavior was protected by long practice and British commercial law. But the government in London viewed it as treachery, and its subsequent efforts to discipline North American commerce inflamed the colonists.

Through fast-moving events and unforgettable characters, historian Thomas M. Truxes brings eighteenth-century New York and the Atlantic world to life. There are spies, street riots, exotic settings, informers, courtroom dramas, interdictions on the high seas, ruthless businessmen, political intrigues, and more.

The author traces each phase of the city's trade with the enemy and details the frustrations that affected both British officials and independent-minded New Yorkers. The first book to focus on New York City during the Seven Years' War, Defying Empire reveals the important role the city played in hastening the colonies' march toward revolution.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

American Indians discovered Europe first?

Raising controversy already is Jack D. Forbes's The American Discovery of Europe, which speculates about Native American crossings of the Atlantic before the time of the great European discovery of the Americas: in effect, he says that Native Americans toured Europe before the time of Columbus.

The aboriginals of the Caribbean, it seems, were the Polynesians of America. Sophisticated boat-builders and mariners, they had the benefit of favorable winds and currents.

In the Middle Ages, there were rumors of "redmen" in Portugal.

Columbus himself noted Indian-like men in canoes off the German coast in 1410.

Inuit harpoon heads have been found in Ireland and Scotland.

Forbes is the professor emeritus of Native American studies and anthropology at University of California at Davis, so knows how to juggle terminology and logic convincingly. Whether he succeeds is debateable. That harpoon head business reminds me of my reaction when I was phoned by a radio station for comment, after the skull of a European woman who, according to carbon dating, had been killed sometime in the mid- to late-1700s, was discovered north of Wellington. Did this mean that women traveled on American whaleships to New Zealand before 1800? Nope, said I. The skull had been carried here by some Victorian traveler, or maybe even by a theatrical troupe with Hamlet on their playlist, and then had been lost or dumped.

So who knows when those harpoon heads arrived in Ireland and Scotland? Or can prove that they were carried there by Inuit travelers?

For a precisely argued review by Mark Meuwese of The American Discovery of Europe, read on.

Rumpole's creator Mortimer dies

Dramatist and author Sir John Mortimer, who created enduring character Rumpole of the Bailey, has died aged 85 after a long illness.

Sir John, who began working as a barrister in the 1940s, went on to becomeone of the most prolific writers of books and screenplays.

He first radio play was broadcast in 1957, and later wrote a TV adaptation of one of my favorite books in all the world, Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie.

Sir John, whose daughter is actress Emily Mortimer, was knighted in 1998.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Those romantic shortlisters

A comment left on my post about the shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the year made me realize that the nominees were not done equal justice. So here are all the fine writers, in a medley that covers a surprising amount of the globe:

First, Judith Lennox, whose nomination is her third, and whose enthusiastic fan I thank for the comment. Her book, Before the Storm, reveals what may be dark secrets in an apparently perfect husband's past. Judith lives in Cambridgeshire.

Susanna Kearsley is Canadian, but her time-slip book, Sophie's Secret, is set in Scotland. (Can she be following in the footsteps of mega-bestseller Diana Gabaldon?)

Lesley Downer's book has been described as "Gone With the Wind set in Japan." The author has an intriguing background, being half-Chinese with a passion for Japan, and has written a well-received travel book. The Last Concubine sounds even more intriguing, being the story of a shogun, a princess, and three thousand women, overtaken by civil war. (So my fears about another Jewel of Medina are laid to rest.) She lives in London.

Julia Gregson follows three women as they go to India for a wedding. (Which sounds as if it will make a splendid movie.)

Linda Gillard is nominated for her lyrical story of a blind woman and the stranger who arrives on her doorstep. Linda lives in Glasgow.

Cecelia Ahern, whose hero is American, comes, naturellement, from Ireland.

Have I left anyone out?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist

'Tis the season for the shortlist, apparently. The Romantic Novelists' Association has announced the all-female nominations for their prize, which recognizes excellence in romantic fiction writing.

Bestselling author Cecelia Ahern (daughter of an ex-prime minister) is listed for her "mind blowing" romance based on the unexpected outcome of a blood transfusion, Thanks for the Memories.

Lesley Downer is "thrilled and flattered" at the inclusion of her book, The Last Concubine (which hopefully has nothing to do with Mohammed).

I last listed Julia Gregson's book East of the Sun in the post on Richard and Judy's summer reads.

Susanna Kearsley, Linda Gillard, and Judith Lennox are also on the list. The winner will be announced in London on 10 February.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Waterstone's Children's book prize shortlist

In announcing the finalists for this year's Waterstone's Children's book prize, manager Sarah Clarke said, "We are incredibly excited by the quality and range of this year's short list.

"It includes everything from adventure and mystery to a page-turning horror story featuring vampires and werewolves."

Well, the vampires are predictable, considering the supernatural success of Stephanie Meyer's YA series, but to find that the list includes an airline pilot who scribbles fifteenth century fantasies between flights really is unusual. One has to hope that his mind clicks back into the 21st era when he seats himself in the cockpit. Even the title of his book seems kinda ominous. One can't help but wonder, does he have problems with flight control?

Rob Stevens' The Mapmakers' Monsters is one of a list of eight. The other seven:

Elen Caldecott, How Kirsty Jenkins sold the Elephant
Vanessa Curtis, Zelah Green Queen of Clean
Steve Feasey, Changeling
Michelle Harrison, Thirteen Treasures
Ceci Jenkinson, Gnomes are Forever
Marie-Louise Jensen, Lady in the Tower
Rachel Ward, Numbers

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Well stacked, and other riverboat phrases

A delightful site managed by Jerry Hay features a lexicon of colorful nineteenth century riverboat phrases.

A couple of examples:

Well Stacked: Men will often use this term to describe the admirable attributes of a female, but that isn't its original use. As steamboats evolved from modest packet boats to multi-decked vessels of grandeur design, some had the appearance of giant wedding cakes going down the river. Some were stacked with five to six levels of cabin and lounge decks. These boats were considered well stacked. Another use for the term was in reference to the tall, ornate smokestacks of the fancy boats.

Outlandish Behavior: The origins of this phrase have some similarity to the word "hillbilly." In the 1800s all lands west of the Mississippi River was called the outland. As with boats on the Ohio River, steamboats hired local residents to serve as roustabouts. The men coming from the states of Arkansas and Missouri had a reputation for being hard to manage. These rough and tough fellows from the outland were rowdy and fights would often ensue. Over a period of time, anyone misbehaving was considered to be having outlandish behavior.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spider-Man nabs Obama as a co-star

What was that I said about trivialization of the US presidency? To my vast amusement, I read on Huffington Post that the inauguration edition of the Marvel comic Spider-Man will feature the president-elect.

Said Joe Quesada, Marvel's editor-in-chief, it was really cool to find that "the commander in chief to be is actually a nerd in chief," who used to collect Spider-Man comics as a child -- "It was really, really cool to see that we had a geek in the White House."

They are so thrilled, they are putting out a bonus issue with Mr. Obama as Spider-Man's side-kick. The story opens when Spider-Man's nerdish alter-ego, Peter Parker, spots two identical Obamas while taking pix at the inauguration. Deciding on the instant that "the future president's gonna need Spider-Man," he leaps into costume and action, deduces which is the real Obama using clues known only to real basketball players, and punches out the fake.
Obama thanks him with a fist-bump.

Mr Darcy Portrait up for Auction

A portrait of actor Colin Firth as Mr Darcy is to go under the hammer at Bonham's London auction house on 21 January, according to the Arts and Entertainment section of BBC news online.

Together with a signed letter from the star, the portrait is expected to raise about seven thousand pounds for charity. The letter alone sounds as if it is worth the money, because it amusingly describes the editing of the portrait to achieve heart-throb suitability.

It started as a painted copy of a rather terrible photograph, which pictured Firth "as a shabby, insubstantial, derelict looking actor." Everyone, including the actor himself, hated it intensely.

"A very talented production designer managed to take him on a transformative journey into something bearable ... and eventually into someone who could actually pass the audition."

Firth himself was long past the audition stage by then. The painting features in the fourth episode of the hugely popular series, which was watched by over ten million people when first broadcast in 1995.

Vampires out-sell Wizards

Stephenie Meyer (pictured) sold over 15 million books in the US in 2008, and that's just in outlets tracked by Nielsen Bookscan, where various editions of her books claimed 9 of the top 50 spots for the year.

That total sale is millions of copies more than JK Rowling's tracked sales from books in the top 50 last year, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tracked 7,740,000, and two other titles on the list gave her sales of 8.6 million copies. (NB, that doesn't include other backlist editions that did not sell enough to make the top 50.)
Meyer occupies 6 of the top 15 slots, as books for children (at least in part) dominated the top of the list. Christopher Paolini and JK Rowling both made the top ten, and two of Jeff Kinney's "wimpy kid" books made the top 20.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Banana republics and capitalistic terrorism

A couple of weeks ago, browsing through the tables of leftovers from the Wellington Public Library book sale, I found a book by a favorite writer, Julian Rathbone, which I hadn't read. Hugely delighted, I paid over a one-dollar coin and bore it triumphantly home. I had first discovered Rathbone through his brilliantly written thrillers set in Turkey. The setting of this one couldn't be more different -- Zdt is set in Costa Rica, on the central American isthmus, a little country squeezed between Nicaragua and Panama that sounds (in 1986, at any rate) like a botanical paradise and remarkably well run and peaceable, compared to its contentious neighbors.

In the story, a huge international fruit conglomerate called Associated Foods International is determined to destroy this paradise, callously wiping out anyone or anything that stands in their way. Humans are stalked by hired killers, and coffee and maize plantations run by peasant cooperatives are sprayed with toxins from above. The operation, in this case, is to maintain a monoculture of maize, as monocultures reap profits more quickly. A gripping and thought-provoking scenario, embellished with striking characters, black humor, and wonderful descriptions of the primeval forest, makes this book a compelling read. If you haven't read it, hunt it down.

Coincidences happen. In Huffington Post, Johann Hari, a columnist for the London Independent, raves about a "brilliant history," Dan Koeppel's Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. It could have been the inspiration for Rathbone's thriller, only it deals with bananas instead of maize. Until 150 years ago, there were many varieties of banana, a lush product of nature that was eaten locally. Then a corporation named United Fruit took one banana variety, the Gros Michael, and mass produced it. How? By finding a poor, weak country, putting an amenable dictator in control, burning down the rainforest, and planting thousands of acres of Gros Michael. Any flicker of rebellion from the peasantry was swiftly and viciously put down, just as in Rathbone's Zdt. This is how poor, weak countries came to be called Banana Republics.
Then came a fungus. It's called "Panama Disease." It turns Gros Michael bananas brick red and inedible. So the corporation dumped thousands of tons of chemicals on hundreds of vast plantations, which proved to be a fruitless exercise. So they turned to another variety, which wasn't quite as good for your average lunchbox, being rather bruisable, but what the hell, the consumer takes what he or she can get. And guess what happened. Yup, that Panama Disease adapted. And so the quiet contest goes on, aided and abetted by the servile dictatorships. Rathbone's thriller, come to life. I can't wait to read it.

Costa Book Award nominees announced

The shortlist for the Costa Books Award (formerly the Whibread) has been revealed.

Unusually, all five names are already winners, in individual categories. It is only the overall prize that is yet to be announced, a big event that will come about on 27 January.
Sebastian Barry -- who missed out on the Man Booker -- has seized the prize in the novel category for The Secret Scripture. Described by the judges as an "exquisitely written love story," The Secret Scripture is the bookmakers' favourite to win.
Diana Athill -- at the age of 91 the oldest category winner in the history of the awards -- won the biography category with her memoir Towards the End. The judges described this one as a "perfect memoir of old age ... beautifully, beautifully written."
Michelle Magorian took the children's book award with Just Henry, considered by the panel to be a "soaring, uplifting warm bath of a book."
Sadie Jones won the first novel award for her "assured" debut, The Outcast, and Adam Foulds took the poetry prize with The Broken Word, a "delicate and powerful" work that details a young man's experiences with the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How bizarre can huge book advances be in hard economic times?

In today's Wall Street Journal, a story by Anita Elberse, "Blockbuster or Bust - Why struggling publishers will keep placing outrageous bids on new books," describes how publishers continue to fall back on their old business model of paying large advances for blockbusters, even in these difficult economic times.

Says Richard Spilman, of OldSaltBlog, "It brought to mind the cliché about generals that are always preparing to fight the last war. That is exactly what the publishing industry seems to be doing now."

Read the rest of his pungent and very interesting commentary in Huffington Post.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Richard and Judy release their book list

Ten books have been chosen by digital TV hosts Richard and Judy for their book club discussion list, 2009.

It is the sixth time they have done this, a move that has a dramatic impact on book sales in the UK. Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, was chosen in 2006, and went on to become the all-time fastest selling paperback. Celia Ahern's PS, I Love You, unveiled in 2004, was turned into a film.

"The public faith in the Book Club is overwhelming, and I take that very seriously," said Amanda Ross, who heads the four-person team that chooses the books. "As consumer confidence dips with the credit crunch, we hope to help people not to waste their time or money."


Kate Atkinson, When Will There Be Good News?
Beatrice Colin, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite
Andrew Davidson, The Gargoyle
David Ebershoff, The 19th Wife
Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo
Jesse Kellerman, The Brutal Art
Joseph O'Neill, Netherland
Frances Osbourne, The Bolter
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Elizabeth H Winthrop, December

The Paparazzi President

Well, talking about "ordinary" people on the covers of popular magazines, it seems that an extraordinary politician has made that leap already.

According to Daniel Libit and Jeffrey Ressner in the internet magazine politico, ABC's Jake Tapper predicted this week that Barack Obama will be "the Britney Spears of 2009."

It is a sea-change in the area of political news reporting, and newspaper publishers are taking note.

It all began when a resourceful paparazzi sneaked some beefcake shots of Barack on the beach, and sold them to the mainstream media. "FIT FOR OFFICE: Buff Bam is Hawaii Hunk," headlined the New York Post. Even the analytical political internet sites succumbed, with Huffington Post running one of the swimsuit photos prominently on its homepage. Politico itself ran stories about the pix.

As media critic Jeff Jarvis observes, that the Washington press agreed not to photograph the president-elect on holiday and the paparazzi cashed in changes the rules of the game. "If one person breaks away from the pack, there is no pack." Barack Obama is suddenly going to have a lot less privacy than he might have expected, and the coverage of the presidency is going to change in unprecedented ways.

Is going to trivialize the presidency? You bet. Is it going to be a good thing? Democratic strategist Chris Lehane believes so. "The number of eyeballs that read People magazine are enormous compared to political publications," he says. "If you're able to communicate through those outlets, you're able to reach more people more quickly, without your message being 'translated' by the historic gatekeepers."

If it means that the ordinary reader gets important economic or foreign policy tidings along with revelations about Michelle Obama's dining table settings and the school the girls attend, thenit will be not a bad outcome at all.

But will it also trivialize mainstream reporting of the presidency? And leave the real political commentators battling for the newspaper space that was theirs by right, in the past? That, I predict, will be the problem.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Can the future of books and publishing be predicted from public trends?

Richard Watson (pictured) is a futurist -- a predictor of trends, that is, not an astrologer -- who foresees ten shifts in public sentiment this year.

To sum them up briefly:

1. Greenies will become unpopular, as people rebel against being told how to think.

2. Businesses will become more businesslike.

3. Real friends will replace internet connections.

4. Being in debt will no longer be trendy.

5. Wrinkles are in, botox is out.

6. People will support local enterprise vs. global brands.

7. Families and neighborhoods are in, lavish parties are out.

8. Children's treats won't be delivered on demand.

9. Bankers and executives will bottom out in popularity.

10. People will become nastier as anger takes charge.

Richard Watson has already had a stab at predicting future trends in newspapers, but what about publishing and books in general? What ideas can be gleaned from his predictions of public trends?

Well, this is the way I see it. Books on hobbies and handcrafts will take off as people find their own useful things to do at home. Quilting, knitting, and dressmaking magazines with easy-to-follow guides will find a good market, and women's magazines will feature recipes and homemaking tips, and have "ordinary" people on the covers.

Those fancy cooking books with glossy pictures and recipes that one just might follow if one was putting on a special dinner party will be replaced by homely books containing recipes for twenty-five ways with hamburger mince, and little iced cakes for all those family visits and neighborhood get-togethers.

And gardening! There was never a better time to produce a vegetable gardening guide, with a section for every season.

And because hobbies, like gardens, differ from area to area, and region to region, local - meaning small - presses will flourish.

Am I right? Would Richard Watson agree with me? Only the future will tell.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Titanic letters to be auctioned

Letters from Titanic passengers up for auction

Two letters from Titanic passengers are to be auctioned in New York this month, one of them featuring an excited description of the doomed ship just moments before setting sail.

Letters on White Star Lines stationery inscribed with "On board RMS Titanic"are "extremely rare and are among the most prized artefacts from the disaster," said Robert Litzenberger, a specialist at Spink Smythe auction house. The sale will be held on January 16, and the letters are expected to sell for between ten thousand and twenty thousand dollars each.

One is a hurried note scribbled by businessman Adolphe Saalfeld to his wife just before the Titanic left Southampton on her 1912 maiden voyage. "I just had an hours roaming abt on this wonderful boat," he wrote. He approved highly of his cabin, which was "like a bed-sitting room and rather large."

Saalfeld survived the sinking in lifeboat number three, which was crammed mostly with women and children.

The other letter was written by George Graham, a department store salesman,who perished. In a brief letter sent just before embarking, he apologized to a business associate that he had been too busy to make contact earlier, and added, "I hope that you will accept my good wishes now even if they are a bit late. I hope to see you next year."

Terry Pratchett Knighted

Terrific news -- the BBC reports that author Terry Pratchett, whose novels have sold millions of copies worldwide, has been created a knight in the New Year Honours list, for services to literature.

As previously reported, Sir Terry received the terrible news earlier this year that his erratic memory has been diagnosed as a symptom of Altzheimer's disease. He has since campaigned vigorously to raise public awareness of the condition.

He is known throughout the world for the 36-volume Discworld series, which has been translated into thirty-three languages. The first, The Colour of Magic (1983) appeared as a truly colorful television film last year, and was enjoyed by an audience of thousands down here in New Zealand, where we know what to look for, New Zealand being the home of special effects.