Monthly Archives: September 2012

Looking over the last week…

Spoilers from JK Rowling’s upcoming novel are released, a guide of London from NW by Zadie Smith is printed, new life is breathed into Moby Dick with the help of well-known celebrities, a new biography exposes John Keats as an opium addict and Stephen King reveals the publication date for his sequel to The Shining.

This is all too much news for one blog post, so let’s focus on the first piece of literary fact.

According to the Guardian, JK Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, draws on her own experience of living on the margins of society and satirises a political landscape in which the poor are regularly cast “as this homogeneous mash, like porridge.”

The idea for the novel, her first since the Harry Potter series that made her the world’s first author to become a billionaire solely through her writing, came to her on an aeroplane. “I thought: local election! And I just knew. I had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work. It’s a rush of adrenaline, it’s chemical. I had it with Harry Potter and I had it with this.”

Set in the fictional West Country village of Pagford, which bears a passing resemblance to Rowling’s own childhood home in the Forest of Dean, and telling the story of a parish election triggered by the death of councillor Barry Fairbrother, The Casual Vacancy investigates the agendas and infighting that fuel local politics, and the class divisions that rive even the most picturesque English communities.

The election ultimately turns on the fate of Pagford’s grotty council estate, the Fields, embodied in The Casual Vacancy by the wretched, wrung-out Weedon family: mother Terri, struggling to kick her drug addiction, three-year-old son Robbie, under threat of social care, and teenage daughter Krystal.

“So many people, certainly people who sit around the cabinet table, say: ‘Well, it worked for me’ or ‘This is how my father managed it’,” Rowling said. “The idea that other people might have had such a different life experience that their choices and beliefs and behaviours would be completely different … seems to escape a lot of otherwise intelligent people. The poor are discussed as this homogeneous mash, like porridge … They talk about feckless teenage mothers looking for a council flat. Well, how tragic is it that that’s what someone regards as the height of security or safety?”

The stratospheric success of the Harry Potter franchise has placed her in the enviable position of being able to do “whatever the hell I like”, she said. “I am the freest author in the world. My bills are paid – we all know I can pay my bills – I was under contract to no one, and the feeling of having all of these characters in my head and knowing that no one else knew a damned thing about them was amazing … Pagford was mine, just mine, for five years. I wrote this novel as exactly what I wanted to write.”

The Casual Vacancy is released this Thursday. To see a (rare) interview with JK Rowling, click here.

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Man Booker Shortlist Announced!


On July 26th, this blog announced the Man Booker Longlist titles, and today, we have the shortlist.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
 set in post-second world war Malaya.

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
– in which a young woman entangles herself in the life of an English poet and his family in the south of France.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
– sequel to Man Booker prize-winning Wolf Hall.

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt)
– a man trying to find himself on a walking holiday.

Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury)
– the story of a victim of the sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the first world war.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)
–  set amongst the opium dens of 1970s Mumbai.

Click here to view the shortlist in pictures.

According to the Guardian, “After last year’s controversial focus on ‘readability’, the judges for this year’s Man Booker prize have concentrated on the ‘pure power of prose’ to pick a confident, eclectic shortlist of titles.”

As reported in the Independent, one of the books on the shortlist, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, was rejected by traditional publishers and only hit the shelves thanks to a publisher which relies on subscriptions from readers.

Chair of the judges, Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, said: “We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose – and in the visible confidence of the novel’s place in forming our words and ideas. We were considering all the time novels, not novelists, texts not reputations. We read and we reread. It was the power and depth of prose that settled most of the judges’ debates. […] Without the renewal of English the novel does nothing very much.”

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at London’s Guildhall on 16th October. The winner will receive a £50,000 prize, in addition to the £2,500 awarded to all shortlisted writers and, importantly, a huge boost in sales for their work. Last year’s winner, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes, has sold more than 300,000 print editions in the UK.

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Emma Thompson & Peter Rabbit


E
mma Thompson’s The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit was published on 6th September, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor. It is the first time that Frederick Warne has published an additional title to Beatrix Potter’s original series.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Thompson and Taylor preserve the delicious dry wit of Potter’s original tales—this is top-notch read-aloud fare that both children and their parents will enjoy. Here’s to having Peter hop into trouble for another hundred years. The book also includes an audio recording of the tale, read by the author.

Thompson was first asked to pen a sequel to Beatrix Potter’s books by Frederick Warne himself when a cardboard box arrived at her front door with a half-eaten radish leaf inside next to a letter from ‘Peter Rabbit’ asking that she write him into another story.

Known to possess a dry sense of humor, as was Potter, Thompson is a longtime devotee of Peter and his pals: “I’ve always loved Beatrix Potter, as a child and then as a mother and all the years in-between as well,” she said in a statement. “When Mr. Rabbit invited me to write a further tale, I was more honored than I can say. I hope I don’t let him or his extraordinary creator down.”

Luckily for us, the Bookseller announced yesterday that Thompson is set to write two further sequels: The second title will be set in the Lake District and will follow Peter’s “comical little cousin” Benjamin Bunny plus a new character called William. It is lined up for Christmas 2013. The third title will be published in 2014.

Francesca Dow, Penguin Children’s M.D., said, “The recent launch of the 24th tale The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit has been amazingly well-received all over the world and I can’t tell you how excited we are that Emma is writing two more tales. Emma’s writing is completely fresh and original and yet she also captures perfectly the spirit of Potter’s own unique style . . .What with Peter celebrating his 110th birthday this year, the forthcoming launch of the new Peter Rabbit animation series and now two new tales from Emma it’s certainly an exciting time for everybody’s favourite rabbit.”

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Sock-puppet reviews condemned by authors everywhere

Last Thursday, on our Facebook page, we posted a link from GalleyCat explaining fake Amazon review charts and how to spot them.

The whole debate began when the New York Times wrote an article on August 25th this year exposing the ‘book reviewers for hire’ industry. How do authors get away this? Essentially, “The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.”

Just two days ago, the Bookseller reported that writers including crime writer RJ Ellory, John Locke and Stephen Leather all admitted to giving their own work 5-star reviews and slamming rival authors on Amazon — a practice damningly referred to as ‘sock puppetry’. The Guardian reported the practice in more detail.

The entire controversy was heightened after Ellory was exposed by rival penman Jeremy Duns on Twitter. Ellory’s publisher, Orion, declined to comment.

On its website, the Crime Writers Association states: “The CWA feels [sock puppetry] is unfair to authors and also to the readers who are so supportive of the crime genre. […] At present we don’t know how widespread the practice is. However we will be taking steps to set up a membership code of ethics, and considering if other steps may be necessary from us as an authors’ organisation.”

The Guardian and The Bookseller described the denunciation of sock-puppetry from other authors, of which a large group (see below) have signed up to a group statement condemning the practice.

The group statement from the authors states:

“These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. […] Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,  can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author,  however devious,  can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?”

The signatories are: Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N J Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, S J Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White and Laura Wilson.

These authors warn that Ellory, Stephen Leather and John Locke have all made use of “sock-puppet” or paid for reviews. They state: “These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well. We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.”

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