Monday 29 March 2010

Discount madness

On the day on which Blackwell's announces yearly losses of around £9.4M (£9,400,000.00) – "blaming supermarkets and e-tailers for hitting sales and eroding margins through 'buying' sales with excessive discounting" – we have decided to join the bandwagon and are now offering a 20% discount on all orders through our Alma Books and Oneworld Classics websites

Be quick, as we may come to our senses soon!


Sunday 28 March 2010

Serata romana

Just back from a lovely evening with friends. The theme was Roman cuisine, and my friend Andrea surpassed himself with the most delicious bucatini all'amatriciana that was ever served under a British sky. I contributed with involtini di vitello (stuffed with mortadella, garlic and parsley – don't try it at home!), peperonata and melanzane in padella.

Other friends brought some memorable bottles of wine from the deepest recesses of their cellars, including Riesling, Barolo and just about the finest Moscato I have ever tasted.

Tomorrow morning, wake-up call at 7:00am, which was 6:00 only yesterday . . . sigh!



It was certainly cruel to have just one winner, but ten people have replied, four from abroad!

OK guys, just to be fair, I'll post a free copy to the first three people who posted a comment, i.e. T*****, R**, and C*****.

R**, I need your address, which you forgot to include: could you send another comment or email me?

Thanks, and enjoy reading the book!


Well done Rosie!

I was thrilled to see reviews starting to pour in for Rosie Alison's novel, The Very Thought of You, which has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction, together with heavy-hitters such as Hilary Mantel, Sarah Waters and Andrea Levy.

The book was first published last year, and it was a great word-of-mouth success. We sold out two entire printruns of our trade-paperback edition, and it was selected by three prizes – but no reviews came. Last week we released the mass-market paperback, 13,000 copies, and the Orange longlist couldn't have been more timely, as we are about to reprint.

After the longlist announcement, the Telegraph reviewer, the first off the mark, described the book as "elegantly constructed, with a plangent dying fall of a twist in the final scene", while yesterday the Times called it "melancholic, mysterious and heartbreakingly gorgeous". The Guardian, on the other hand, is not wholly convinced by it, but concedes that Rosie's "debut is enjoyable enough, moving even … It is a sincere attempt to depict the reverberations of war … Anna is a likeable and memorable heroine."

You can never make everybody happy – but I am delighted that this wonderful book is finally attracting the critical attention it deserves.

Since our blog counter tells me we have reached over 1,000,000 hits (whatever that means – probably nothing), I'd like to offer a free copy to the first person who posts a comment – which I am not going to publish, don't worry – with his or her address.


Wednesday 24 March 2010

Typo or Hapax Legomenon?

As I translated Auden the other day, I stumbled on a line that read:

“to form some placant sentence”

That was from the first edition of his collection ‘Thank You Fog’, published by Faber and Faber in 1974. Auden is no stranger to neologisms, archaisms and hapax legomena and, although I couldn’t find that “placant” anywhere in my multi-volume OED, I trusted Faber’s poetry editors implicitly and spent the good part of an hour scratching my head and coming up with the most abstruse interpretations of the word. The sense was clear enough of course, but the reason why he – the master of precision – would use that strange term escaped me.

Then it occurred to me that the poem may be included in Auden’s Collected Poems. So it was, and when I turned to the right page I realized that “placant” was in fact a misprint of the more straightforward (by Auden standards) “placent”.

This reminded me of those obscure passages in old poems such as the Divine Comedy, which have come down to us through a number of very different drafts patiently pieced together by generations and generations of critics. For centuries critics have debated the meaning of “Papé Satàn, Papé Satàn aleppe!”, the first line of the seventh Canto of Dante’s Inferno. Especially “aleppe” has troubled the nights of many an established academic in Italy and abroad. In fact, we do not know what Dante actually wrote, and even if we knew for certain that he wrote “aleppe”, then we’d have no idea what he meant by it. Other famous examples in the Inferno are the meaning of “ombra” in “come falso veder bestia quand’ombra” (ii, 48) or “croia” in xxx, 102.

Man is programmed to care about meaning, and must find an explanation for everything. As to my translation of Auden, it’s a shame I had his Collected Poems to hand: who knows, my personal turmoil might have even resulted in a new Italian word. . .

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Reading Groups

The more reading groups I visit, the more it becomes clear what British readers want – what they really really want: SYMPATHETIC characters. Villains are no longer accepted, unless they are sympathetic villains, of course. Jonathan Franzen's latest book was ripped apart in front of my eyes by a fierce group of cotton-haired ladies the other day. Why? Because there's not a single sympathetic character in it. I tried to say that I had only heard good things about Jonathan Franzen, but it was clear that they all loathed the book.

Since my own novel Bestseller – which should be back from the printer any time now – is set in the world of publishing, there's plenty of nasty operators in it. Some people find the two heroes of the novel (the writer and the publisher) sympathetic, others don't. Still, I was amazed how much readers care about these characters, even the minor ones, how much they get involved with them, as if they were real. They told me things about them I didn't know myself, suggested alternative endings, made smart comments, even found a typo in the proofs!

Although publishing and writing is ultimately a very subjective business, I think reading groups are very important tool and can be used to great advantage, just like private screenings for film-makers.

Saturday 20 March 2010

IPG Conference

Just back from a very alcoholic event in Old Windsor. Just joking: if I'm being totally honest, there was a lot more caffeine than alcohol.

The speakers were all very good: I only raised my eyebrows once, when some chap from Magellan Consultancy Something described publishing as "a link between content and user".

I met a few old friends and made some new acquaintances. At dinner I sat by Bill McCreadie of Aurum and the legendary Peter Mayer, and was regaled by a number of stories and anecdotes, such as when Bill was almost killed by shelvesful of books falling on him at Peter's Meyer's stand a few years ago. That's the weight of knowledge for you.

During the author's speech at the end of the night (I was told it was some Geordie children writer, David Almond – unfortunately I didn't understand a word he said), I saw most of the delegates' heads nodding off, although there were a few shrill laughs from the front rows. The author must have been travelling with his family.

Not because there was plenty of food or drink, I assure you.


Thursday 18 March 2010

Catching Up

The past few weeks have easily been, without exaggeration, among the busiest of my entire life, so I apologize if I neglected this space.

You may have heard we have launched a new series of classics, called The Calder Collection (read the Bookseller article here), and are working hard with the English National Opera on a new series of opera guides, to be published under the Overture Publishing imprint (read the announcement here).

My novel, Bestseller, is with the printers, and advance copies should be here soon. Elisabetta has lined up a number of interviews, reading-group visits and other promotional activities which have kept me busy even outside of office hours. At night, when I am not in a state of drunken stupor, I carry on with my translation of WH Auden's poems or do a bit of editing (Turgenev, Zoshchenko, what else?).

Great news yesterday, as Rosie Alison's book, The Very Thought of You, has been longlisted for the Orange Prize. As it was to be expected, we have been literally inundated with requests. Encouraging news from a commercial point of view too: the first printrun of our mass-market edition (13,000 copies), due to be released next week, is all but gone already, before publication.

A new book by Yasutaka Tsutsui – The Maid, one of his most popular books in Japan – has just come back from the printers. We are very excited.

A great review of Bykov's Living Souls in The Times by Elaine Fenstein, who aptly describes the novel as "a Catch-22 of modern Russia". Very good start. I look forward to celebrating with a triple vodka in April when he comes over for the London Book Fair.

On the classics front, we received finished copies of Dante's Inferno and Cavalcanti's Poems, among other books, and we are about to sign off our new edition of Céline's Journey to the End of the Night.

In our spare time, lots of dinners with friends, as well as a full diary of work and social commitments (tomorrow off to the IPG Conference in Windsor, for example). The kids are getting more and more demanding as they learn to read and write, but remain the greatest joy even on the direst day.

All this may sounds great, but I can't wait to get away from it to be honest – we've booked a family trip through Holland and Flanders in early April – which will be followed by a week in Rome in May (I hope! – I haven't been for some time and I miss it).

I promise you won't have to wait another month for a new post.