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Friday, August 29, 2008

Problems over Medina mount for Random House

The Langam Charitable Trust has issued a statement deploring Random House's cancellation of Sherry Jones's novel. They feel so strongly about it, they have decided that "until The Jewel of Medina is actually published, [we] will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates."

So bang go the prospects of Random House authors for the $1,000 David J. Langam Prize in American Historical Fiction and the $1,000 David J. Langam Prize in American Legal History or Biography.

It seems more than a little unfair that innocent authors should be penalized for what was basically a tactical decision, rather than outright censorship. As Stanley Fish observed in The New York Times, Jones is free to have the book published elsewhere. Considering the amount of free publicity Medina has received, that seems an absolute certainty.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Peter Jackson involved in yet another film project

Brussels' Herge Studios confused the world yesterday by announcing that Peter Jackson would direct the first film in a planned Tintin trilogy for Dreamworks.

A representative for Steven Spielberg said that he still intends to direct the film, and a representative for Jackson agreed. Jackson will be a producer on the first film and intends to direct the second one.

Meantime, he somehow has to complete Lovely Bones (in post-production) and write scripts for the two Hobbit movies. (And mow the lawn in his spare time?)

The first Tintin is based on two books, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, with a screenplay by "Doctor Who" writer Stephen Moffat.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biden book rushed into paperback

Random House will have a 100,000-copy first printing of a new paperback edition of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Joseph Biden's book Promises To Keep: On Life and Politics arriving in stores by Thursday, August 28. (The hardcover appeared on the NYT bestseller list for one week at No. 15 last August.)

As the publishers describe it, the book "shows us how the guiding principles he learned early in life--the obligation to work to make people's lives better, to honor family and faith, to get up and do the right thing no matter how hard you've been knocked down, to be honest and straightforward, and, above all, to keep your promises--are the foundations on which he has based his life's work."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Recent amazing sales

From auction and elsewhere.

Copy of the Magna Carta, made 1297, signed by King Edward: $21,000,000, domain name: $9,500,000

Letter written by Abraham Lincoln, dated April 5, 1864: $3,400,000

Civil War surrender document, signed by Robert E. Lee: $537,750

American pilot chart book, 1794: $408,250

Two-page meditation on God by Albert Einstein: $405,000

Photographic volume of Michelangelo sculptures: $155,000

The Arctic Regions, by William Bradford, illustrated with 141 albumen prints, 1873: $144,000

First edition of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein: $122,000

Original drawing for Peanuts comic: $113,525

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, signed pre-publication copy, 1952: $96,000

Inquiry into Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith: $90,000

First Marvel comic, 1939: $89,625

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Lafayette: $84,000

Life of Napoleon (4 vv.), by William M. Sloane, 1896: $50,400

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling (first edition): $33,460

The Heart of the Antarctic, by Ernest Shackleton (first edition), 1909: $31,200

Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (first edition), 1851: $17,925

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (first edition) 1897: $14,690

Voyage to the Pacific, by Capt. James Cook (first edition) 1784: $14,000

A cornflake shaped like the State of Illinois: $1,350

Medina to be published in Denmark

Danish publishers association Trykkeselskabet has approved the publication of Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel Of Medina in Denmark.

A spokesperson told a Danish newspaper, "Fear or threats should not keep a book from being published. It would be principally and entirely a renewal of all that Denmark has already been through with the Mohammed cartoon affair."

Jones's agent Natasha Kern wrote to the society, "When you consider what's happened in your country, I admire your readiness to ensure that freedom of expression is not obstructed."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Leaders seeking readers

Mark Lawson meditates in The Guardian that with candidates posting videos on YouTube and Barack Obama pledging to tell supporters his vice-presidential choice by text, Campaign 2008 has been a new-tech election. But one piece of old technology has proved an unexpectedly powerful player: the book.

Obama is the first candidate to have had two bestselling books - not manifestos, but memoirs, which he seems to have written himself - before even gaining the nomination. Unfortunately, the phenomenon has proved to have a nasty aftermath. Currently the top non-fiction slot he held is filled by Obama Nation, a title that is meant to be spat out fast, sounding like"Abomination".

In Britain, the busy schedule of a prime minister has not prevented Gordon Brown from a rate of publication that would have impressed Agatha Christie - Wartime Courage: Stories of Extraordinary Bravery in World War II, due in the autumn, is his third book in little over a year, a successor to Courage: Eight Portraits, and Britain's Everyday Heroes.

As Lawson pithily comments, the fact that Brown has chosen to publish an entire trilogy about guts and courage is typical of this new brand of political literature. John F Kennedy's Portraits in Courage - calculated to establish cold warrior credentials before the 1960 race - remains the model for leaders in search of readers, even though it is now established that JFK did not actually set pen to paper.

McCain has just put out his own effort to entice Soldier of Fortune-reading voters -- Hard Call: Courageous Decisions by Inspiring People: Heroes Who Made Tough Decisions.

Grubby as the ploy might be, it is curiously touching that aspirants to power should wish to garnish their campaigns with nothing less than a good oldfashioned book.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

Writing in The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that the great-great-great grandson of the much-maligned author Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton is to take part in a debate to defend his ancestor's writing.

The Honourable Henry Lytton Cobbold, of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, is travelling to Bulwer-Lytton's namesake, the town of Lytton in British Columbia, Canada, to take on the founder of the International Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, Professor Scott Rice, in a public debate on August 30.

Bulwer-Lytton has been ridiculed by the contest since 1982, when Rice came up with the idea for a competition to compose the opening sentence to the worst possible novel, inspired by Bulwer-Lytton's notorious "It was a dark and stormy night".

"I come to bury Lytton, not to praise him," said Rice. "The evil that men do lives after them, in Lytton's case in 27 novels whose perfervid turgidity I intend to expose, denude, and generally make visible."

"I'm off to defend his honour," Lytton Cobbold said. "Bulwer-Lytton was a remarkable man and it's rather unfair that Professor Rice decided to name the competition after him for entirely the wrong reasons. He was a great champion of the arts."

It won't be a "dark and stormy night." The debate is at 3 PM.

(I had to look up "perfervid." It is a real word. Apparently it means "very fervid.")

Are you moral enough to write books for young adults?

Apparently, Random House UK includes a morality clause in contracts with children's book authors. Guardian blogger Sian Pettenden drew attention to the insertion, which caused an alert to be distributed by a UK-based support group for writers and illustrators.

The clause reads:

"If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished ... we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."

There is no evidence that any other branch of Random House is demanding that their children's authors should have a pure and unsullied reputation. As an unnamed New York agent observed, "there's a lot of strange language that goes into UK contracts that has little bearing on the American market."

Book sales fall in the US

Barnes & Noble report falling sales, with actual bookstores the hardest hit.

Even with the success of Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn, David Wroblewski's Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, the lack of a mega-seller on the scale of Harry Potter took a toll on Barnes & Noble's second quarter earnings.

Total sales for Barnes & Noble declined 2% to $1.22 billion, with bookstores suffering the most, their sales falling by 4.7%. Predictions for the full year were correspondingly pessimistic. The company will open 30 to 35 stores this year, but said that this is unlikely to keep on happening. Not only are sales falling, but developers are cancelling the construction of new malls.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Atoms, dinosaurs & DNA

Atoms, dinosaurs & DNA: 68 Great New Zealand Scientists, compiled by Veronika Meduna & Rebecca Priestley. Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 2008. ISBN 978-1-86941-954-7

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sighting an advance copy of this book at the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, as Rebecca was carrying it under her arm. Now I have the even greater privilege of owning a copy.

The work was first devised as an accompaniment to an exhibition, Butterflies, Boffins, & Black Smokers: two centuries of science in New Zealand, which was staged at the National Library in September 2006. This original framework has been greatly augmented, with 30 more biographical profiles. There is also a timely emphasis on nuclear and earth sciences, Antarctic science, genetics and medicine, impelled by the personal enthusiasms of the two women who co-curated the exhibit, and who worked together to compile the book.

Ranging from the first European explorers to today's top young scientists, Atoms, dinosaurs & DNA conveys solid basic information as well as intriguing details of academic quibbles and personal foibles -- a favorite of mine is the fellow who wore pink woolen longjohns on field trips. Predictably, there are many more men than women, but it is laudable that all the women are interesting and worthy, and not just added to the collection in an attempt at gender balance.

Beautifully illustrated and handsomely produced, the book is a credit to the compilers, the editors, the designers, the publishers, and the contributors. Rebecca tells me that it is aimed at a young adult audience. It certainly should find a place in all school libraries, but it deserves a prominent place on home bookshelves, too.

Yesterday is another country

Yesterday is another country, by Somasiri Devendra. Sri Lanka: Sridevi Publications, 27 Pepiliyana Road, Nedimala, Dehiwala. First published 2008. ISBN 978-955-9419-28-0

This charming collection of 16 short stories, part reminiscence, part intriguing mixture of history and myth, is written by a man better known for his works of maritime archaeology. Gentle and reflective in tone, the anthology reveals the heart and mind of a citizen of an island--Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon--which most of us think of as beautiful, exotic, and almost unreachably remote.

There are tales of youthful misadventures at a local university; stories, part comic, part tragic, of being made the guardian of a schizophrenic patient (one of which, most appropriately, is called "The cross on my shoulder"); and a truly wonderful account of a scholarly conference at the edge of a remote desert in the northwest of India, which turned into a voyage of discovery into the intricacies of the Krishna legend.

Of the collection, the last two stories are probably the most revealing. In "The myth maker" the scenery of Sri Lanka, only briefly referred to before, bursts onto the reader in a torrent of jungle growth, tropical warmth, shafts of light and riotous scents. The last story, "Inhuman rites," gives a horrifying glimpse of the current terrorism that mars this Indian Ocean paradise.

A short, but ultimately satisfying read. Thoroughly recommended -- if you can find it. Try writing to the publisher.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bob Dylan poems discovered.

Julie Bosman, in the International Herald Tribune, writes that Barry Feinstein, the rock 'n' roll photographer, when digging idly through his archives, came across a long-forgotten bundle of pictures, comprising dozens of dark, moody snapshots of Hollywood in the early 1960s.

With the photograph collection was a set of prose poems, written around the same time by an old friend: Bob Dylan.

In November, after more than 40 years, the text and photographs will be published in Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript.

It is the latest installment in Dylan's seemingly never-ending body of work, which includes more than 50 albums, a critically acclaimed autobiography and a recently published collection of arty sketches called Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series.

The new book, to be published by Simon & Schuster, includes more than 75 of Feinstein's photographs and 23 of Dylan's prose poems, which are each marked alphabetically to correspond to a photo.

The book was created during a period in the 1960s when Feinstein was a 20-something "flunky" at a movie studio. He roamed around movie sets, snapping pictures backstage and in dressing rooms, and during off hours he drove around Hollywood with his camera in tow.

The result is a collection of pictures that are sometimes dreary and sometimes tongue-in-cheek, shots of movie props and roadside stands, topless starlets and headless mannequins. In one photo a young woman, visible only from the ankles down, crouches on Sophia Loren's star at Grauman's Chinese Theater, a hand pressed onto the cement. In another photo a parking lot at 20th Century Fox, marked by a large sign for "Talent," is completely empty.

After assembling the photographs, Feinstein thought of Dylan, whom he had met before on the East Coast. "I asked him as a joke, 'Wanna come out and maybe write something about these photographs?"' Feinstein said. "So he came out and wrote some text."

Dylan, then in his 20s, arrived in Hollywood, examined the photographs and wrote his own prose poems to accompany them.

No one involved in the book can recall exactly when Dylan wrote the poems, which are by turns sparse, playful, witty and sarcastic. In the text accompanying a photo of Marlene Dietrich appearing stricken at Gary Cooper's funeral in 1961, Dylan wrote: "I dare not ask your sculpturer's name/with glance back hooked, time's hinges halt."

After the photos and text were pulled together into a rough manuscript, Dylan and Feinstein took it to a publisher, Macmillan, where executives expressed interest but were afraid that the pictures would bring a lawsuit from the studio.

So the manuscript was put aside, and Feinstein kept it for more than four decades in his vast collection of photographs, books and other papers.

"I knew it was an important document," he said. "So I kept it in the back of my head all that time."

Through his manager, Jeff Rosen, Dylan declined to comment on the book, and he is not expected to promote it.

New Woodward tell-all announced

Simon & Schuster has announced the title of Bob Woodward's new book: The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008--along with the release date of September 8, in what they say will be a 900,000-copy first printing.

Editor Alice Mayhew says: "There has not been such an authoritative and intimate account of presidential decision making since the Nixon tapes and the Pentagon Papers. This is the declassification of what went on in secret, behind the scenes."

But, will there be anything new?

Amazon Obama Book Exclusive Backfires

Publisher Chelsea Green's plan to offer Robert Kuttner's Obama's Challenge exclusively through Amazon for the first two weeks of publication, further driven by coupons for a 25-percent discount to be distributed at the Democratic convention, has backfired in a big way.

Following expressions of concern and anger from independent booksellers--a group Chelsea Green has cultivated carefully in the past through such programs as their green partner stores--Barnes & Noble has substantially cut their order for the book.

BN noted in a statement that "Chelsea Green Publishing has taken an unprecedented action to restrict the availability of Robert Kuttner's 'Obama's Challenge' by giving one company a two-week exclusivity period." The chain will offer the book through their web site but will not stock it in stores. They originally ordered 10,000 copies (out of an announced first printing of 75,000 copies.) "Our initial order was based on the book being available to all booksellers simultaneously -- an even playing field," spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating said.

When contacted by the Wall Street Journal , Chelsea Green president Margo Baldwin insisted "that she struck an exclusive agreement with Amazon 'because it was the only way we could get advanced reading copies to the Democratic National Convention on time and make the book available on the first day of the convention, Aug. 25'"--which may pass unnoticed by consumers, but will not satisfy anyone in the trade.

More to the point, Baldwin says, "This is part of a strategy to get the buzz going so that demand will escalate and the copies will sell through at all outlets when the main printing arrives."

Terry Pratchett has Altzheimer's but still his imagination is vivid

Last year the bestselling author of the Discworld fantasies was finally diagnosed with Altzheimer's: Terry Pratchett, 59, was convinced something was wrong, but it was not until December 2007 that it was confirmed that he has a form of the disease, Posterior Cortical Atrophy, or PCA.

Assured by medics that he did not have any form of mental degeneration, Pratchett remained convinced that all was not well.

"We had what I called a Clapham Junction day, when you know the phones were ringing. There were lots of things to do and I was just kind of flat-lining almost. I just couldn't deal with it and I thought there's more, there's more."

Because of his panic, he was referred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where the diagnosis was finally made.

While the most common form of Altzheimer's is loss of memory, PCA affects vision and motor skills. Though his imagination is as fertile as ever, it has had a disastrous effect on his typing. Formerly a touch-typist, Pratchett now has to hunt and peck, "and there will be a moment sometimes when the letter A just totally vanishes and I don't quite know what happens.

"It's as if the keyboard closes up and the letter A is not there any more." He blinks a few times, and the letter magically reappears.

The prospect of the day when the letters vanish for ever must be bleakly depressing. Pratchett's many thousands of fans are hoping and praying that that day never happens.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Enid Blyton best-loved author

Website of the Telegraph Media Group

Anita Singh reports that Enid Blyton has been voted Britain's best-loved author in a survey which proves that the stories we read as children retain a special place in our affections.

Blyton was first and Roald Dahl came second in a nationwide poll of adult readers. JK Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter books, was third. The children's authors were chosen ahead of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, while Beatrix Potter, another children's favourite, also appeared in the top 10.

Blyton's creations - including the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Noddy and the girls of Malory Towers - hark back to a gentler era. After her death in 1968, it became fashionable to denounce her stories as racist, sexist and out of touch.Yet today's adults remember them with enormous fondness, according to the survey commissioned to mark the 2008 Costa Book Awards.

And, herewith, the list of the top 50 best-loved authors

1. Enid Blyton
2. Roald Dahl
3. J.K. Rowling
4. Jane Austen
5. William Shakespeare
6. Charles Dickens
7. JRR Tolkien
8. Agatha Christie
9. Stephen King
10. Beatrix Potter
11. CS Lewis
12. Catherine Cookson
13. Martina Cole
14. Bill Bryson
15. Charlotte Bronte
16. Jacqueline Wilson
17. Oscar Wilde
18. Maeve Binchy
19. Dan Brown
20. Emily Bronte
21. Jackie Collins
22. Martin Amis
23. Isaac Asimov
24. Margaret Atwood
25. John Grisham
26. Marian Keyes
27. HG Wells
28. Alan Bennett
29. Arthur C Clarke
30. George Orwell
31. Danielle Steel
32. Iain Banks
33. Judy Blume
34. Jodi Picoult
35. Arthur Conan Doyle
36. Peter Ackroyd
37. Kingsley Amis
38. P.G Wodehouse
39. Dr. Seuss
40. Mark Twain
41. JG Ballard
42. Thomas Hardy
43. James Patterson
44. Ian Rankin
45. Leo Tolstoy
46. Irvine Welsh
47. Jilly Cooper
48. Beryl Bainbridge
49. Ray Bradbury
50. Geoffrey Chaucer

I wonder how many will still be there in 50 -- or even 20 -- years' time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

They have book festivals in Ireland, too

The Irish Independent on Sunday features "A fizzy festival to put Dublin on the literary map."

Well, not quite. The fare at Sunday Independent's Books 2008, which will take place September 5 to 7, caters for a much wider taste in books than the usual highminded literary festival. Designed to attract a "mass audience," with guests such as Marilyn Keyes (pictured), it is bound to do just that.

As Alison Walsh reports, Bert Wright, organiser of the Hughes and Hughes Irish Book Awards, and Books 2008 director, has pulled out all the stops to deliver a popular, glamorous programme designed to appeal to wide-ranging tastes. He says, "All the literary festivals just play to the literary set ... rarely to they include really popular writers," and so he decided to make the event "more popular and accessible."

Accordingly, it's a programme that will appeal to every reader imaginable, opening with Marilyn Keyes, and moving on through Hugo Hamilton and Joseph O'Connor to Martin Amis. And, in accordance with the current surge in popularity of mystery fiction, there will be a plethora of crime writers, including Booker winner John Banville, who now lurks as crime writer Benjamin Black.

2009 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Random House New Zealand has proudly announced that five of their books are included in the nominations for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

These are:
Drybread by Owen Marshall
Rocking Horse Road, by Carl Nixon
Lucky Bastard, by Peter Wells
Towards Another Summer, by Janet Frame
Mr. Allbone's Ferrets, by Fiona Farrell

This annual award is presented to a novel which, in the opinion of the judges, makes a lasting contribution to excellence in world literature, so it is a real scoop to be shortlisted. The nominations were submitted by libraries in major cities world wide.

I have yet to learn if other New Zealand publishers have books on the shortlist, as I can't find the shortlist on the internet! And I am ashamed to say that the only one of the five I have read is Mr Allbone's Ferrets by Fiona Farrell, which I loved for its superb research and "feel" of the English countryside. In fact, I wrote to Fiona, asking her to write a sequel, but she prevaricated.

Are the feminists losing their teenaged audience?

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Leonard Sax claims convincingly that the ultra-bestselling Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer "sinks its teeth into feminism."

The series is based on a love triangle between Bella, a pretty teenager, Edward, the gallant young vampire who adores her, and Jacob, the werewolf who is her best friend. While it has apparently taken off like Harry Potter, appearances are deceiving, because the series reaches a much narrower audience -- of teenaged girls and young women. And the message is a very old one, claimed long ago by Harlequin and Mills & Boon.

Unlike "Dora the Explorer," who can do anything a boy can do, Bella constantly needs to be rescued by her brave and muscular male friends. With her girlfriends, she bakes cookies, cooks dinners for the men, and holds all-girl slumber parties.

Naturally, feminist academics are concerned that girls should be such fans of books that communicate such oldfashioned gender stereotypes. As Sax argues, however, the premise of the series appeals to something deeper. "In my research on youth and gender issues," he says, "I have found that despite all the indoctrination they've received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core. They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility."

Boys, likewise, haven't resorted to baking cookies and holding all-male slumber parties. Instead, they are playing increasingly violent video games. A generation of grown-ups pretending that gender doesn't matter has simply created a growing gender divide.

I predict that now Stephanie Meyer has done so well by catering for the renewed passion for easily distinguished boys and girls, undoubtedly we can expect a rush of look-alikes, replete with knights in shining armor and gentle maidens.

Want to write a children's book?

Recent changes in the educational and children's book publishing industry is seeing Wellington emerge as the centre for this kind of publishing in New Zealand. A number of Auckland-based publishers of work for children have either merged or relocated to Australia.

Meanwhile, Learning Media and Mallinson Rendel in Wellington have recently been joined by Gecko, Gult Edge, South Pacific Press, and others. Of the 2,394 book titles published last year in New Zealand, 913 were educational and/or for children. Why not join the move?
For Wellington writers interested in developing careers as professional writers of children's books, taking the time to turn up to a lecture by Joy Cowley, New Zealand's most successful educational/children's book crossover writer, is highly recommended. On Monday, August 25, Joy is going to explain how to get into this field if you are not in it, already - and how to further develop your writing career, if you are. See her at the Upper Chamber, Toi Poneke, Wellington Arts Centre, 67-69 Abel Smith Street, at 7:30 pm. Entry $5 ($3 for NZSA/PEN members.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wellington needs a sonnet

The Wellington branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors has decided that Wellington needs a sonnet. So -- have you got what it takes to write fourteen lines lauding our beautiful city? You don't need to be a Wellingtonian or even a New Zealander. Send in an unpublished sonnet (or as many as you like) and you could be in to win one thousand kiwi dollars.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Can a book be a weapon of political assassination?

Four years after Unfit for Command helped derail John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, Jerome Corsi makes another sally with Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, and the New York Times gives it page one coverage.

Jim Rutenberg and Julie Bosman call the book the latest example of "an effective and favored delivery system for political attacks." They also home in on the lack of time that was given for proper fact checking prior to publication.

Various websites -- and over 200 reader reviews on, ranging from rapturous to derisive -- are discussing the book. A common observation is that several of the author's accusations, for instance that Obama has still to say whether he stopped using drugs after college, "are unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate."

Threshold publisher Mary Matalin insists that Obama Nation "was not designed to be, and does not set out to be, a political book," calling it, rather, "a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that." (As we say in New Zealand, "Yeah, right.") Author Corsi describes his agenda in the simplest terms possible: "The goal is to defeat Obama. I don't want Obama to be in office."

Fantasies and miracles

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a writer for young adults, Clare Bell, produced a four-book fantasty series about sentient big cats in the prehistoric Miocene Age (20 million years ago) who try to build a civilization. Called The Named, it was quite popular, but was dropped after the fourth in the series, Ratha’s Creature.

But with the popularity of Erin Hunter’s The Warriors (a series about feral felines and their world), The Named started doing well in the used book market. Penguin noticed and decided to re-issue the series. They invited Clare to write a new book, and she cooperatively produced Ratha’s Courage.

But publishers are fickle things. By the time Clare had finished the book and the first galleys were produced, Penguin was less than enthused with the sales prospects. Before the book hit the press, they dropped it.

Enter Sheila Ruth of Imaginator Press, blogger for "Wands and Worlds", a very, very popular YA site, and also the creator of the Cybils, the independent award for YA fantasy. She didn’t want to see this wonderful series die, and so bought the North American rights to Ratha’s Courage. With the strength of the author’s marketing and community ties to the YA fantasy market, this could do very well for Imaginator and Clare.

Beagle Bay will distribute.

Disgraced top cop fails to sell memoirs

This morning's Dominion Post of Wellington reports that the memoirs of former police assistant commissioner, Clint Rickards, have been rejected by leading publishers here.

Mr Rickards resigned from the force earlier this year in the face of internal disciplinary action. This was after a high profile case in which he, with two ex-policemen, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum, were accused of historic police crimes, in which they had sexually subjugated Louise Nicholas, a teenager at the time of the alleged offences.

Nicola Leggat, publishing director of Random House, said it was inappropriate for them to consider Mr Rickards' proposal, as they have already published an account by the complainant, Louise Nicholas.

Publishing director of Penguin, Geoff Walker, simply said that they had been approached, but would not be publishing the book.

Kate Stone, managing editor of HarperCollins, said "it wasn't something we wanted to follow up with. We felt it didn't fit our list at the moment."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Genre fiction and the Authors' Fund

In this month's issue of the New Zealand Author, published by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN New Zealand Inc.) there is a thought-provoking article by an author in the Western genre, Keith Chapman ("Chap O'Keefe").

As the blurb in the newsletter says: Once upon a time in New Zealand, a writer decides to write genre fiction. Romances, perhaps. Thrillers, fantasies or science fiction. That writer might even decide to write a western, but that, says KEITH CHAPMAN, would be the biggest gamble he or she could take.

I find it fascinating that someone in New Zealand should write in a genre that is so totally American -- that is part of the American mythology. Chapman describes the hurdles -- that New York agents don't want to take on an outsider who would compete with the homegrown product. Local publishers were equally unhelpful, saying that the US "owns the western genre", and the local market wouldn't support a genre that was so un-New Zealand. Finally, he was rescued by a British independent, Robert Hale, and is featured in their Black Horse western publishing list. But, while Chapman's list of publications is steadily lengthening, because he is not easily identifiable as a New Zealand writer -- and does not use New Zealand histories and settings -- he misses out in other ways, as well.

Creative NZ administers the Authors' Fund, which gives authors some recompense for royalties lost through library borrowing, each writer's share of the fund being based on the number of books held in New Zealand libraries. Holdings of less than fifty are not eligible, and, as Chapman says, "No compounding of totals for different books is allowed, so an unlucky writer could have 490 copies of ten different books being borrowed and read and get nothing."

I've heard the same observation made by academic authors, who produce many books which have very small print runs, being published for a specific audience, so never crack that fifty-copy barrier. Genre writers, it seems, are just as likely to be unlucky (though I would question whether romance writers miss out), because of the publisher requirement that they produce three or four books a year. Libraries cannot afford to buy so many, so stock a selection.

As he also says, politicians and taxpaying citizens might agree to support "writers who bolster the 'feelgood' way we see ourselves, who identify our national identity. But will they support writers of fiction as entertainment and set in foreign countries -- let alone books designed primarily for export markets but that make no mention of NZ?"

I can testify that the same applies to books of nonfiction that are not narrowly confined to New Zealand settings and stories.

For those who would like to know more about the fascinating business of writing westerns, have a look at the website run by Hale's western writers, who contribute voluntarily, without payment:

They debate hotly about literature in Canada, too

Almost a year ago, The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories was published without much fuss, but suddenly it has provoked another round in the Canadian literature culture wars.

In response to anthology editor Jane Urquhart's selections for the anthology and her admission that she felt a "nagging suspicion that perhaps I was not the person best suited to the task," two literary magazines - The New Quarterly and Canadian Notes and Queries - have joined forces to celebrate a Salon des Refusés, featuring stories by 20 writers (10 in each magazine) not included in the Penguin anthology.

In an essay in Sunday's Toronto Star, Alex Good discusses the aesthetic and thematic differences between the two anthologies. However, the main difference seems to be that the Penguin anthology features more writers who "made the jump to big publishing houses," while the Salon and Century List represents more small press/litmag fare.

Urquhart responded in Quill & Quire, commenting that she admires many of the authors included in the Salon de Refusés, adding, "If they were excluded, they were excluded for any number of reasons, quality not being the primary one."
Good essay (Toronto Star)
Urquhart response (Quill & Quire)

Can your eyes believe what they are seeing?

On July 10, the Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe were just four of the daily newspapers that published an alarming photograph of four Iranian missiles streaking into the sky.
It took a blog -- "Little Green Footballs" -- to provide evidence that the photograph was a fake.
The computer surely is a two-edged weapon. With photoshop and creative labeling, a meaningless low-res picture can be turned into propaganda. The internet, used just as creatively, can prove what you've been fooled. And long live the blog: at last the people have a voice.
To read a fascinating discussion of this, go to the New York Times for Errol Morris's interview with Hany Farid, a Dartmouth professor who is an expert in digital photography.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More on that canceled book

Now we hear the other side of the story. The Wall Street Journal has published a letter sent in by University of Texas at Austin professor Denise Spellberg, who was the originater of the controversy about a novelization of the story of Aisha, young wife of the Prophet Muhammed.

She accuses the paper's op-ed (last week) of falsely asserting that she was the "instigator" of the cancellation by Random House of Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel of Medina.

But, as Publisher's Lunch comments, her clarification makes her position pretty clear: "As an expert on Aisha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life.... It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims."
Spellberg said a lot more than that, accusing Sherry Jones of catering to "a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith."
Jones still insists that there is no sex and violence in the book, and it is a genuine attempt at a thoroughly researched depiction of Aisha and her setting. It is impossible for the reader to judge for him or herself, of course, the book being withheld from public consumption, but a twelve-page prologue hints that there are some interesting discussions. Aisha, reflecting on the past, meditates that Muhammed wanted to give women freedom, but the other men took it away.
You can download the prologue from this site:
Copyright Sherry Jones, of course.

All politicians should do it

When election time nears, it is often a struggle for the media and the public to have a precise idea of a candidate's true policy. Barack Obama has been accused of obfuscating issues lately, but now the record will be set straight -- in print.

On September 9 Three Rivers Press will launch Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise as a paperback. The announced first printing is 300,000 copies, with a list price of $13.95. (An e-book version will publish the day before.)

Written by the staff of Obama for America, with a foreword by Barack Obama, Crown says the book "will describe and explain how Senator Obama will change Washington and what that change will mean to the American people."

The second part of the book will collect seven of the candidate's speeches: including the declaration of his candidacy; his victory speech after the Iowa caucus; his speech on race in America; and his address to the people of Berlin.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Robert Fisk returning to New Zealand

Just over two years ago I had the privilege of listening to one of the world's most famous journalists talk about his experiences covering various wars. It was a time when anger over the invasion of Iraq was building a real head of steam, and what the speaker had to say was most illuminating. I am now proud to have a signed copy of The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk in my collection.

For those who missed him while he was here (the house was full, the queue for tickets very long, and lots of people were out of luck), a second chance is a-coming. Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand (AIANZ) is delighted to host Robert Fisk as its keynote speaker during its 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights (UDHR) celebrations.

With more than 30 years reporting experience in the Middle East Robert Fisk is the most decorated of all British foreign correspondents. He writes daily for the Independent and has been awarded the British International Journalist of the Year Award seven times. He has also received the Amnesty International UK Press Award twice.

"Few regions on earth have had human rights trammelled so consistently as the Middle East - an area Robert Fisk has called home and reported on for more than 30 years," says AIANZ spokesperson Margaret Taylor. This makes Robert Fisk a fitting speaker to mark this anniversary.

Fisk needs little introduction to New Zealand audiences - The Great War for Civilisation has sold more per capita here than any other country. He will speak in Wellington on September 7 and 8. The University of Auckland is hosting his only public speaking engagement in Auckland on September 9. He is also appearing at The Press Christchurch Writers' Festival 6 and 7 September.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A new cultural dawn for Australia

Gail Jones writes in The Guardian, "The Australian Prime Minister's Awards - for which I've been shortlisted -are a great idea, but the prime minister should have no part in the judging process."

She is also ambivalent about literary shortlists, which she considers a "contingent, precarious and sometimes perverse system of value." Too many writers are distracted by them -- "I have seen writers tormented by lists, driven to despair by missing listings, and narcissistically inflated to grotesquerie by the mere appearance of their name in a newspaper" she says. "New writers beware."

In Australia, the election of the Rudd Labour government raised hope in the arts world that writers and artists would be given attention at last. This was boosted by the announcement of the new Prime Minister's Awards for Literature : it almost seemed as if a "new dawn was coming," she writes. "It seemed, simply by its announcement, to affirm a new commitment to literary culture, to legitimate its importance, and to suggest, almost heretically, that writing was an activity worthy of serious regard and reward.

"Now that the shortlist is out, it is also interesting to see what appears to be a heterodox assortment - not just the usual suspects, but a provocative mix that includes a first novel, a second novel and a novel in verse, alongside well-known luminaries like Malouf and Keneally. This alone is bound to cause controversy and seems to signal a new and audacious spirit of cultural appraisal.

"But should the Australian prime minister have a say in "his" award? Emphatically not. Judging panels are contentious enough without prime-ministerial opinion inflecting adjudication. The winning text risks being seen as content-endorsed, or in some way charged by political approval."

In timely style, she concludes that "this sounds like an Olympian mistake."

The Prime Minister's Literary Awards give one prize for fiction and one prize for nonfiction. Refreshingly, the nonfiction shortlist is not limited to Australian studies.

Fiction shortlist:
Burning In, Mireille Juchau
El Dorado, Dorothy Porter
Jamaica, Malcolm Knox
Sorry, Gail Jones
The Complete Stories, David Malouf
The Widow and Her Hero, Tom Keneally
The Zookeeper's War, Steven Conte

Nonfiction shortlist:
A History of Queensland, Raymond Evans
Cultural Amnesia: Notes on the Margin of my Time, Clive James
My Life as a Traitor, Zarah Ghahramaru with Robert Hillman
Napoleon, the Path to Power 1769-1799, Philip Dwyer
Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, Philip Jones
Shakespeare's Wife, Germaine Greer
Vietnam: The Australian War, Paul Ham

Friday, August 8, 2008

More on that cancelled book

Sherry Jones, author of The Jewel Of Medina, the novel cancelled by Ballantine, writes on her blog that "all I did was try to portray A'isha, Muhammad's child bride (believed by most historians to have married Muhammad at age nine and consummated the marriage at age 11) in the context of her times."

As to Professor Spellberg's charge that the novel is "soft porn," Jones replies: "There are no sex scenes in this book. The novel, whose bibliography includes 29 scholarly and religious books, is a work of serious historic fiction detailing the origins of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife. It's a book about women's relationships and experiences at a time in history when a religion was being founded in the midst of conflict."

The book's agent, Natasha Kern, says that she will have news of foreign rights sales for the book to announce shortly.
According to GalleyCat, the "terrorist threat" was rather more low key than it sounded -- it was, in fact, a seven-point plan to spam Random House's server, and "hit" the book with an orchestrated blast of e-mailed criticism.
Come to think of it, while lives might not be in danger, it is still pretty drastic. Various Muslim scholars have chimed into the debate claiming they never wanted the book not to be published, so where is the justification for making internet mayhem?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Amazing feats of energy and commitment

At a function at the Stout Research Centre, University of Wellington, I had a chance to look at the latest by Rebecca Priestley, science writer, author of The Elegant Universe of Albert Einstein, and mother of small twins. She had no less than two new books under her arm. One, co-written with Vernoka Meduna, and published by Random House NZ, is designed to make science accessible to children. Called Atoms, dinosuars and DNA, its lavishly illustrated contents give a succinct once-over-lightly to 68 great New Zealand scientists.

The other, a handsome hardback by local Awa Press, is The Awa Book of New Zealand Science.

Both will be launched next month.

I was also delighted to have a look at a prepublication copy of the new book by Roberta McIntyre, whose Canoes of Kupe, a history of the winegrowing area of Martinborough, was shortlisted in the 2003 Montana Awards. This new one, an eagerly awaited study of the lofty agricultural stations of the South Island, is called Whose High Country? It, too, will be launched in September.

Books, libraries, and the Muslim world

Kilbirnie, in Wellington, New Zealand, is a bustling multi-cultural community, made up of Pakeha (native New Zealanders of Caucasian stock), Maori, Pacific Islanders from islands ranging from Tonga and Samoa to the Cooks, and Asians from Indonesia, China, and India.

In a reflection of this, today the library is staging a fashion parade -- of Muslim dress. An interested crowd is expected -- of women only, of course. Hopefully there will be lots of books on the Muslim world on display, too.

It's ironic, I suppose, that this is also the day that the news breaks that Ballantine (an imprint of Random House) has cancelled Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel of Medina, which is about Muhammed's wife. Apparently, another Random House author, Denise Spellberg, who is an Islamic studies professor, was sent a pre-publication copy with a request to write a promotional blurb. Instead, she read it, hated it, and phoned a colleague asking him to warn Muslims about it.
Random House caved in, saying they had received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
I can't venture an opinion without reading the book, and it seems that I won't have that chance. Perhaps, though, it would be a good thing if the author, the professor, and the New York publishers came to Kilbirnie, Wellington, for a soothing dose of reality.

HarperCollins doing well

HarperCollins reported fourth quarter sales of $350 million, up nearly 18 percent from $295 million a year ago, with operating income of $28 million up a third from a year ago.

In the release the company says the quarter was "led by strong sales of Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey, Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall, an updated edition of YOU:The Owner's Manual by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz," along with "other bestsellers" -- which makes one wonder where the money came from. (Bright Shiny Morning sold less than 60,000, according to Nielson Bookscan.)

However, it is great that a publisher is flourishing in these difficult times.

Getting teens hooked to books

A couple of librarians in the teen/children's department of Willard Library in Battle Creek, Michigan, have come up with an innovative way of getting young adults reading.

Stephanie Boyd and Angie Hopkins have developed a Teen Summer Reading Program, where teens are invited to come along and read for prizes, and take part in special events. The latest of these was an extreme makeover event, where girls came along to learn how to dye their hair and make themselves even more beautiful in myriad ways (and hopefully to read books about it, too). Local businesses, asked for input, were both cooperative and generous.

Very popular is the "Choose your bucket" reading prize. Every YA book has an entry form tucked inside with the issue slip, and filled in entries are dropped into the bucket of the reader's choice. Each bucket offers a different prize, ranging from "Gas my ride" (petrol vouchers), and "Make a pass" (dinner and a movie), to "hook some books" (book vouchers).

Great idea, which deserves to work.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

European woman 'arrived in New Zealand before Captain Cook'

Yesterday an interesting e-mail arrived in my inbox, reminding me of recent news releases about the discovery of a really, really old European woman's skull in the Wairarapa.

Originally, the skull had been rated 250 years old, suggesting that she had died about 1750. There was a lack of leeway in the dating, apparently, because those who lived on a sea-based diet aged more quickly than those who lived on land. Therefore, the date the unknown woman died could be extended to as late as 1800.

"Could I confirm it was possible that a European woman arrived in New Zealand on a whaleship in the late 1700s?"

Putting on my hat as a whaling historian, I had to say, regretfully, no. The earliest whaleship to drop anchor in the Bay of Islands (a long way from where the skull was found) arrived in 1805.

So how about another possibility? That she was one of the first two white women known to settle in New Zealand?

I certainly know that story, because I have published several versions of it, and described it for television, too. Two women convicts helped seize the brig Venus from Captain Samuel Rodman Chace, while being carried from the penal settlement of Sydney to the penal settlement of Hobart, and sailed with the brig to the Bay of Islands, where they were left behind with two male convicts, John William Lancashire, and Benjamin Barnet Kelly. One of these women was Charlotte Badger, who was described as having "a full face, thick lips, and light hair," while the other, Catherine Hagerty, was blonde, nubule, husky-voiced, "fresh complexion, much inclined to smile." Lancashire, Badger's swain, was a little, wizened fellow who had been a painter. Kelly, an American, was "about 5 feet 7 inches, pock-marked, thin visage, brown hair, auburn whiskers," and had been the first mate of the vessel.

A romantic story -- or maybe not. Lancashire and Kelly were both recaptured, and sent to London to be hanged. Catherine Hagerty died soon after the quartet landed at the Bay of Islands. Charlotte Badger, now described as "Australia's first female pirate" (though it was really Hagerty who incited the seizure of the brig), vanished from public record. However, there were rumors. Gossip reached Sydney that she was living with a minor Maori chief. Another tale was that an American whaling captain found her on the island of Vavau and took her on board.

It would seem remotely possible that another tale could be told, of her being taken to the Wairarapa, where she died and disappeared -- until her skull was found. So -- could this skull be Charlotte Badger's?

Not possible, I'm afraid. The brig Venus was seized in 1806, and Badger died some years after that, well outside the range of the carbon dating.

So, whose skull is it?

I said, Go back to the eighteenth century discoverers -- or maybe even earlier.

Not only is it an intriguing mystery, it's a great story, too. So it is little wonder that it has reached the shores of Britain.

Paul Chapman, in Wellington, reports today in the Telegraph (UK), "The discovery of a European skull dating back more than 260 years has cast doubt that Captain James Cook [who arrived here first in 1769] was the first Westerner to step foot on the shores of New Zealand."

The skull was found four years ago, by a boy walking his dog. At first the police thought they had a murder inquiry on their hands. Then they realized the age of the skull.

Dr Robin Watt, a forensic anthropologist called in by police who investigated the discovery, said yesterday: "It's a real mystery, it really is. We've got the problem of how did this woman get here? Who was she? I recommended they do carbon date on it and, of course, they came up with that amazing result."

An inquest was held last week in Masterton (provincial capital of the Wairarapa, and, coincidentally, the town where I will be helping out with a Books 'n Bubbles event on Friday -- will we be talking about books?). The coroner heard that the skull was definitely not Maori - the only race known to have inhabited New Zealand in the 18th century - and was almost certainly of European origin.

Abel Tasman sailed about parts of New Zealand in 1642, but had no women on board his ships -- or so the records say. Gareth Winter, the official Masterton archivist who was called as an expert witness, told The Daily Telegraph that the possibility of a hoax could confidently be ruled out.

Mr Winter said that Captain Cook recorded, in the log of his second journey to New Zealand aboard the Resolution in 1772-5, a tale told to him by a Maori chief of a ship having been shipwrecked many years earlier. Cook said the Maori told him that they given the ship's captain the name"Rongotute".

Early missionaries wrote of hearing the same story from Maori, who related that the survivors of the ship had been killed and eaten when they came ashore.They said that many Maori had subsequently died in an epidemic, possibly as a result of exposure to a newly introduced infection from Europe.

Not much to do with books . . . but there is a novel in it!

What is it about Salem, right now?

Last week, all the buzz was about the breakaway self-published novel set in Salem, The Lace Reader (scan down). Now, the chat is about Kathleen Kent's debut novel, The Heretic's Daughter. Unlike Lace Reader, Heretic's Daughter is set in the past -- in the time of the infamous witch trials, naturally. In tune with the latest publicity fashion, Kent is shooting a trailer for her novel there.

Why the sudden focus on stories coming out of this historic but quiet town? One of the more bizarre theories is that it has something to do with general disquiet about stories coming out of Guatanamo Bay.

Does kindle spell the end of the book as we know it?

In this morning's Washington Post Richard Cohen has a passionate diatribe about amazon and the promotion of the kindle electronic reader.

He loves to amble over to his neighborhood bookstore, wherever he might be, he says -- not just to buy, but to browse, drink coffee, talk, and simply absorb the atmosphere of books.

"The book is warm. The book is handy. The book is handsome to the eye," he poetically muses. "The book occupies the shelf of the owner and is a reflection of him or her, or, actually, me. The book is always there, to be reached for, to be thumbed ..."

Can amazon do anything like that? The kindle, let's face it, is just a gadget, yet one that is dearly loved by the guru techs at amazon. Steven Kessel, one of those gurus, confided that Jeff Bezos, the founder of amazon, is dead set on "reinventing the book." He and Kessel "wake up every day thinking about digital."

Predictably, this makes Cohen very unhappy. He likes actual bookstores, places where people who love books can recommend great writing to other people who love books. It was this process that introduced Cohen to Joseph Roth and Thomas Bernhard, and a book about World War One called Her Privates We. Amazon does not do this.

Richard Cohen does not offer a solution to this headlong rush away from the real book, except, perhaps, an unspoken plea to read more books with real pages and real covers. Well, as far as I am concerned, he can put one notch in his gun -- I can't wait to go to a real library and find that book he raved about, Her Privates We.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The literary scene in New Zealand

Carter Jefferson, of Internet Review of Books, got in touch with me with the following questions:

What is the literary life like in New Zealand?

What are people reading?

Who sells books?

Do you read the British newspapers, or only the local ones?

Are there lots of writers?

Any local publishers?

What are the local industries?

Are there universities?

Feeling somewhat inadequate to the task of answering all of these, I approached a few local book reviewers, literary luminaries, and writers for their reactions.

Lydia Wevers, who featured prominently in the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week, which is run in conjunction with the biannual International Arts Festival in Wellington, said that audiences of 500-1000 at many of the events is a testament to the fact that there is huge interest in literature here. After participating in the Going West Book Festival last year, and the Auckland Writer's and Reader's Festival this year, I can emphatically affirm that this is right. Biographer and theater historian Sarah Gaitanos pointed out that there are lots of book clubs, and that reading is considered a top leisure activity. Another remark gleaned from discussions is that New Zealanders are supposed to be the second-biggest buyers of books in the world (next to Iceland).

A recommendation from Barbara Else is that the websites of the New Zealand Book Council and New Zealand Book Month ( and are worth a good look. The Book Council lists most New Zealand writers, which -- believe me -- add up to an impressive number.

It's harder to tell what people are reading. The book club I belong to chooses novels mostly, alternating between New Zealand authors and cutting-edge fiction from overseas. A bookseller told me that she sells mostly New Zealand nonfiction, particularly books about the outdoors, though anything with Maori interest sells well. New Zealand fiction writers, she says, have a hard job competing against the "big" titles brought out by distributors, which are accompanied by a great deal of publicity.

Newspaper reading is even more difficult to define. Most people I know read the New York Times online, and quite a number read the Guardian online, too. And one must not forget some fine Australian newspapers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The [Melbourne] Age.

Local publishers, both large and small, are numerous. Moa Beckett, which specializes in sport and outdoor books, had such an attractive balance sheet that it was bought up by Hachette not so long ago. Learning Media, which produces books for schools, finds a big market in the United States. HarperCollins, Random House, and Penguin are energetic and prominent publishers of local books as well as distributors of international ones. University presses (yes, we do have universities) such as Auckland University Press and Victoria University Press produce a large number of books with incredible speed, and feature prominently in prize-winning lists. At the other end of the scale is a favorite of mine, the tiny Wai-te-ata Press, also at Victoria University of Wellington, which produces very short runs of lovingly designed small books of poetry on antique presses.

There are four major bookstore chains: Whitcoulls, Borders, Dymocks, and PaperPlus. Administratively, this will be reduced to three when Whitcoulls takes over the Borders stores, but they may operate under the old name. PaperPlus is interesting in that each store is independently owned.

Independent bookstores have a very strong voice in the industry, with one of the greatest, Unity Books, running a store right here in Wellington. Another favorite of mine is Parson's bookstore, which sells classical music CDs and DVDs as well.

Warrior Queen closer still to filming

Barbara Else, whose hilarious first novel, Warrior Queen, the story of a wronged wife's complicated wreaking of revenge on her philandering husband, reaped rave reviews, tells me that the third (and final) draft of the screen play is almost finished.
The story of the screen play is almost a novel in itself. Back in 1998 Else was contacted by producer Maggie Taylor, who adored the book and thought it would make a great film. Over the next few years Taylor somehow found the money to keep the option up to date, while she talked the author into writing the screen play herself. And why not? Barbara Else is a playwright in her own right (pun intended).
Finally, Else agreed, and now says she is enjoying it immensely, contrary to expectations.
For a while, a few weeks back, she realized it was getting close to completion, and that she shouldn't do any more until she'd heard it aloud, with the variety of voices, to check what the pace was like. Was the dialogue convincing, were the characters lively and consistent?

So she asked a collection of friends to her house for an amateur, unrehearsed reading. The cast was: 4 writers, one geological scientist, 2 opera singers, one ex-All Black and one nephew. She said her own reactions, plus comments from the interested "actors," inspired some rewriting, which has gone so well she is delighted with her experiment.

Saturday, August 2, 2008 to Buy AbeBooks

Will we see rare and ancient volumes on kindle?

Amazon can lay an ever-bigger claim to being the largest independent bookseller in the world, with today's news that the "etailer" has agreed to acquire AbeBooks. AbeBooks, a major player in the online marketplace, says it offers "over 110 million primarily used, rare and out-of-print books listed for sale by thousands of independent booksellers from around the world." is already promoting used-book traders by posting links to their sites, which is very irritating for authors who check the amazon page of the latest book, to see the prices of used copies of the same book advertised -- sometimes before the book is out! -- with an invitation to the customer to compare prices, and then hit the link to the used book firm. Not only are no royalties paid on secondhand books, but the publisher gets no money from subsequent sales, either. Let's face it, the practice is detrimental to the economics of publishing, which means that amazon is biting the hand that feeds it.

Obviously, however, commissions paid by booksellers who have bought into the program have proved profitable enough to make the deal attractive to the bean-counters there.

Is reading the new macho sport?

Organizers of the New Zealand Book Month are offering free beer to entice real blokes into reading real books.

To promote reading as a "manly" activity, they have invited fathers and sons to an evening of male bonding over literature.

When they arrive at the Auckland Town Hall, guests will be offered free beer.

Interested? The evening, called "A Word in his Ear," will be held on Friday September 5.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Can book blogs replace literary reviews?

Lissa Warren of the Huffington Post thinks most emphatically not. "I'll tell you what does make my jaw drop: the seemingly widely-held notion that [disappearing] book sections are being adequately replaced by blogs," she roundly declares.

Book blogs might be good for stories on publishing trends, "which as a book publicist and editor I appreciate a great deal," she goes on. "But, for the most part, these blogs don't actually review books. Instead, they cover the business of books, book culture, and the world of the author."

So, should book bloggers make a real effort to post more reviews?

"I realize the intrinsic irony," Ms. Warren concedes. "If people spent less time reading (and writing) blogs, they'd have more time to read books. So, yes, it feels a little funny to be asking bloggers to review more books -- and to take more care when doing so. But I can't ignore the power of blogs to stoke the public interest, any more than I can ignore the fact that the traditional book review outlets are drying up and no one has yet determined how to save them. No, I don't believe blogs will save books -- not in their current format. But I can envision a day when blogs do for books what books have done for people: challenged us, made us think in ways we never would have.

"I'll open it up to the floor now," Ms. Warren concludes. "What book blogs do you read, do they review and, if so, are the reviews as good as the ones in your daily paper?"

Another offering from J K Rowling

In an hour of whimsy, the mega-bestselling children's chapter-book writer picked up a pen and wrote The Tales of Beedle the Bard by hand. One hundred and fifty-seven pages long, and illustrated by the author, it is made up of five fairy stories, and is supposed to be a book mentioned in Deathly Hallows. J K Rowling made seven copies, one embellished with semi-precious stones and bound in morocco, which was bought at auction late last year by, for $4 million. And that was supposed to be that.

Now, J K Rowling has relented, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard will be issued in a trade edition on December 4, with the addition of "notes by Professor Albus Dumbledore, which appear by generous permission of the Hogwarts Headmasters' Archive."

Amazon will produce up to 100,000 facsimile "collector's editions" of the handwritten book (at $100/50 pounds each) and Scholastic and Bloomsbury will print and distribute trade editions. The beneficiary will be the Children's High Level Group, a charity co-founded by Rowling to help children suffering in institutions all over Europe. (CHLG is technically the publisher.)

According to the press release, the charitable group will receive all "net proceeds," estimated to be about $8 million, but in a quote from Rowling, she says the charity will receive the "royalties." (Note that Amazon's edition alone would gross $10 million....).

Rowling says in the announcement: "There was understandable disappointment among Harry Potter fans when only one copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard was offered to the public last December. I am therefore delighted to announce that, thanks to the generous support of Bloomsbury, Scholastic and Amazon (who bought the handwritten copy at auction) - and with the blessing of the wonderful people who own the other six original books - The Tales of Beedle the Bard will now be widely available to all Harry Potter fans."

Are bestsellers not as bestselling as they used to be?

Sales at Simon & Schuster for the second quarter are reported at $186 million, down 7 percent from a year ago. It's the third straight quarterly decline for the publishing unit and once again the statement says that "bestselling titles...did not match contributions from prior year titles."

This is quite a statement from a publisher that led the world in giving huge advances to authors who were reckoned to be guaranteed bestsellers (think Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark) -- a ploy which many said was to the detriment of midlist authors.

By contrast, sales at romance specialist Harlequin are up 3.5% to $119 million.

One is tempted to grin and ask if this says something about the midlist reader.