Saturday 25 September 2010

On, On and Onwards

Yesterday books 106 and 107 for 2010 went to press. It's an insane number of titles for a small company to handle – a company who claims to put its focus on quality as opposed to quantity. However, the books we signed off yesterday were truly special.

The first one is Lampedusa's Letters from London and Europe, a project that has kept me busy, and at times sleepless, over the past couple of months. It's going to be a gem of a volume, full of unpublished texts and photographs, printed on Arctic paper to the highest standards. We already have half a dozen high-profile features and reviews lined up – and I am very much looking forward to the launch of the book at the Italian Institute in London on 18th October, when Francesco da Mosto will talk about it in conversation with prize-winning author Ian Thomson.

With a sigh of relief I should also add that this is the last Alma book for 2010.

The second title we sent to the printers is Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. Without a doubt, it is the novel I have read more times than any other work of fiction – maybe seven or eight times? This is the second translation of it I have commissioned (the first being the Hesperus edition), and it is the book I have most given out as a present – especially to girlfriends (er, including Elisabetta!). There must be at least a dozen copies of the Mondadori edition with my dedication sitting on shelves the world over.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" – and constantly swept into the future . . .

Monday 20 September 2010

Cat Power

I loved the story of the woman who's dumped her cat in a fit of rage or ennui. Cats can be annoying creatures at times, so my sympathy to her. She's been vilified by the press and by animal activists as if she had throttled a pensioner in his sleep.

The Guardian
reports that Mary Bale is to be prosecuted "for causing unnecessary suffering and for failing to provide the cat with a suitable environment". He he he.

Sorry, I find this amusing because I come from a country where drowning kittens and torturing and even eating cats is certainly not considered such a taboo. People from Vicenza are nicknamed "magnagati" – cat-eaters. Of course this might well be a legend, but cats are quite scarce on the streets of Vicenza – and I remember people telling me that, during the War, it was commonplace to eat cats in Italy. "They're not bad – they taste like rabbits," an old woman told me once, with a touch of nostalgia in her voice.

OK, this is in bad taste, so I'll stop here.

I love cats, and I have had dozens of cats over the years ("had" as in "owned"). But let's put this episode in perspective, and let's hope the judge shows some sense and does not find the poor woman guilty.

After all, if a rabid cat scratches or bites you, I don't think there's a tribunal where you can bring up felines for crimes against mankind.

And now a sonnet from my Bestiary, in JG Nichols's translation:

The Cat

This is the beast whom most of all I hate:
a glass in which I find myself revealed
a little at a time as I grow old
and see my bourgeois belly rounding out.

A cunning profiteer, she sinks to rest
on someone's useful lap, arrogantly,
to miaow and mew and purr, especially
whenever she has something to request.

She's very careful in her choice of friend:
what point in being fondled and caressed,
if one gets nothing out of it at last?

And, if she tires of stroking in the end,
a swift volte-face is always de rigueur:
she'll bite the hand that feeds, with no demur.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Alma and Oneworld Classics catalogues

Not sure if I have mentioned this already, but our new catalogues are available for download at the following addresses:

If you are an old-fashioned bugger like myself and prefer a paper catalogue, please email our valiant Marina Rodrigues on "mrodrigues" followed by @ followed by ""



Monday 13 September 2010

The Perfect Party

Just back from the launch of Tim Waterstone's In for a Penny, in for a Pound at W's Kensington – one of the most enjoyable parties in years – which could have been even more enjoyable if I had not drunk so much white wine and Rosie had been there (one of her daughters had been hospitalised for appendicitis this afternoon).

We met some old friends, made a few new ones, and heard a great speech from Tim – who waxed lyrical on how he got the £100,000 lifeline he needed to launch the business from a retiring NatWest bank manager. All this was very romantic, in the context. Many of Tim's ex-employees, now stalwarts in the book or media world, were there and featured in a crowded photo-op.

I pointed out to Tim that behind the copies of his book displayed face out on an entire wall, there were piles of a book entitled Britain's Austerity. Very ominous . . .

I had the pleasure to see there Robert Topping, after meeting them in Ely many years ago, as well as Ed Victor, Jonathan Ruppin, Toby Mundy, Nigel Newton, Jamie Byng, Marion Lloyd and many others.

I bought a copy of the book at full price (I can see it's on sale at £9.68 on Amazon – ahi ahi ahi!) and now I look forward to reading the book. I am already twenty pages into it. Grab a copy – it's fun.


Friday 10 September 2010

Two Days in the Heart of Bloomsbury

A busy coda to an extraordinary week. We were in central London yesterday and today for the first sales conference with Bloomsbury. Just before doing our presentation we met Anthony Grayling in a drawing room of the English Speaking Union building, and had a long chat ranging from digital publishing to the bestselling historical romances written by his wife Katie Hickman (who apparently is huge in Italy) to the exploits and mishaps of one of our authors whose name I will not mention as he is an occasional reader of my blog.

After the presentation we walked back to Bloomsbury's HQ with Bill Swainson, stopped for a quick drink at a pub near Soho Square and attended a lovely authors' party, where we were delighted to meet Howard Jacobson and Stephen Kelman (author of Pigeon English – check this one out, it's going to be a winner when it's released in March 2011) and see our old friend Paul Bailey, whose latest book – Chapman's Odyssey – will be published by Bloomsbury next January. I also had the honour to meet Nigel Newton and meet most of the editorial staff of Bloomsbury. After that, dinner at Bertorelli with the reps – a happy, enthusiastic bunch of people. I am sure they'll do well with our lists.

Today, back to the English Speaking Union for another session with the reps. We are absolutely spent and look forward to the weekend. I have just seen a wonderful review of our Decameron in the latest issue of the TLS – the cherry on the cake to an amazing week!


Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Descent of Mont Ventoux

Petrarch's Secretum (My Secret Book) is one of my favourite books of all time – so modern, so revealing, for all the classics quotes and the learned references interspersed in it.

We have just published an updated edition of JG Nichols's wonderful translation, which I originally published during my time at Hesperus.

The book is a beauty, and I hope some of you will check it out. It's out now, and you can buy it from our website or any good book retailer. In it, you'll also find some bonus material, such as "A Draft of a Letter to Posterity" – which begins: "Although I much doubt whether my obscure little name ca have reached you at such a distance of time and space, it is possible that you have some inkling of me – "The Allegorical Ascent of Mont Ventoux", "Books, the Best Company" and "Italy, My Native Land" (the last two pieces were not included in the Hesperus edition).

To celebrate the publication of this book I have decided to buy a bottle of La Tour de Marrenon, Côtes du Ventoux, which I have emptied to the drains one minute past – and which helps me sink gently Lethe-wards.

Goodnight –


Tuesday 7 September 2010

A Week in the Life of a Publisher

A week in the life of a publisher is more like ten days.

Where do I start? Let me look back, in anger, at the calendar – now then, yes, the last few days have been slightly hazy, so you'll forgive me if I just touch upon the main events thereof (is that correct English? I hope so – but then I write "under the influence", as one of my readers recently pointed out, so any slips can be forgiven).

Let's say, then, that my last week begins six days ago – a Wednesday, as I recall it. I had a very pleasant late lunch with Gary Pulsifer and Daniela De Groote of Arcadia. We went through some red wine, a few John Calder anecdotes and a long cahier des doléances éditoriales, emerging from the lunch, if not more perplexed, certainly none the wiser.

Then I went to Foyle's, where I was pleased to see there were still many unsold copies of Blair's book, which had been released that day and was obviously not flying off the shelves – and four copies of my own book (!). I had coffee with Rosie Alison and proudly showed her my latest book acquisition, Tim Parks's Teach Us to Be Still. Her many fans will be delighted to hear that she is working on a new novel, which – she assures – will outshine The Very Thought of You. Music for my ears – I cannot deny that I am lighting up a candle every evening in our local Catholic church.

Then I rushed to a peculiar game of pool: Editors vs Writers. The editors were myself and our valiant classics editor Christian Müller; the writers were the formidable pool players Sean Ashton and Tom McCarthy. We were beaten 6:1 – it was horrible. Our only victory was by default when Sean accidentally potted the black ball. And then – I am not saying this through spite or envy – but everything seems to be going Tom's way these days, from winning at pool to being shortlisted for the Booker . . .

The following day, Friday – no, hang on a sec – Thursday, after a long day at work I went out with Jonathan and Alison of CPI and Louise of Continuum – first to Vallandry in Great Portland Street and then to see a production of Into the Woods at the Regent's Park theatre.

Friday was the day when Elisabetta and the kids came back from Italy. There were two massive accidents on the M25, one clockwise and the other one anticlockwise, and somehow I managed to sneak in and out without too much trouble and get home safely after a short stop at Franco Manca.

Saturday and Sunday were spent reading, writing, watching films, doing a 250-piece jigsaw puzzle with the kids, enjoying our newly decorated flat and going out with our friends.

Monday was when we totally overhauled and redesigned our office and spent one whole day moving stuff in, out and around, knocking down walls, fitting shelves, throwing away books and ending up as tired as the poor Chilean miners.

Today was a quiet day, but in the evening Christian and I went to the Italian Institute for an event on Dante's Rime. What was amazing was not so much Prof. Malato's discourse (speech or talk won't do) or the actress's reading of Dante's poems in Italian and English, accompanied by a young woman playing Baroque music on a theorbo, but the after-event, when we met a boy who'd played Dante's Inferno on PS3 and told us, one by one, all the tricks to get through to "riveder le stelle". I hope I can convince Christian to elaborate on this, and I definitely want to check out this game.

From a strictly professional point of view, we have sent five books to the printer over the past few days, received our latest catalogues (which will be mailed out soon) and seen reviews of Alberto Manguel's All Men Are Liars in The Times and of Lindsay Clarke's The Water Theatre in the Financial Times.

So that's all I think. And if you wonder what I am up to when you don't hear from me on this blog – please keep wondering.