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  • There is a nice article by David Updike, son of John Updike, entitled A Toast to the Visible World over on the Paper Cuts blog:

    My father's parents were Wesley Russell Updike, a high school math teacher and coach, and his wife, Linda Grace Hoyer, a bookish farm girl who gave her only child his first inklings of a creative life beyond their small Pennsylvania town. Their son, Jahnny, was not famous in 1950 -- he was a skinny, brainy boy with an abundance of creative energy, an aspiring cartoonist who also had asthma, psoriasis and a stammer, and in the high school hierarchy felt himself a considerable step down from the athletes and their glamorous girlfriends. Despite being first in his class he was not accepted at Princeton -- admissions office take note -- and so went to Harvard instead and flourished there, in class and on The Lampoon. But an unexpected obstacle remained to his graduation: all Harvard graduates must be able to swim, and he could not. Inhibited as a child by his own imperfect skin, he had shied away from public swimming pools, and never learned. And so he dutifully went to swimming classes and eventually managed two lengths of the pool -- an achievement he seemed as proud of later as graduating summa cum laude. But for the rest of his life he swam with what I would describe as a rather studied dog paddle. (More...)

  • Mantel and Starkey on Henry VIII

    Thu, 21 May 2009 03:14

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    The 5th Estate blog brings my attention to a discussion between historian David Starkey and novelist Hilary Mantel about everyone's favourite psychotic monarch!

    Five hundred years after ascending the English throne, the legacy of Henry VIII continues to fascinate and endure. David Starkey and Hilary Mantel recently had an opportunity to discuss the legendary monarch in a talk chaired by Dominic Sandbrook at the Tower of London.

    See the first part of the debate on YouTube, and the second part on YouTube, and keep an eye on the 5th Estate blog for the link to the third part!

     

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    Patrick Cockburn was last night awarded the Orwell prize for political journalism for his dispatches from Iraq and an article about his son's slide into schizophrenia (via Press Gazette):

    The journalism prize at the annual ceremony went to Cockburn for his articles in the London Review of Books -- the first time the publication has produced an Orwell Prize winner - and the Independent newspaper.

    The judges said his articles from the Middle East were "exemplary" in the way they untangled the political and social complexity of the situation there.

    Orwell Prizes are awarded to works which the judges feel achieve the Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm author's aim of making "political writing into an art".

    A police officer won the blog prize for his account of life at the front line of fighting crime.

    Jack Night -- not his real name -- won the special award for blogs at the Orwell Prize ceremony for NightJack: An English Detective.

    The blog, which is no longer updated, exposed the day to day trials and frustrations of dealing with criminals, the courts, bureaucracy and life on the beat.

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    Biographer and blogger Nicholas Murray (whose excellent books include A Corkscrew is Most Useful, Aldous Huxley and Kafka) brings my attention to some words of wisdom from Michael Holroyd:

    The grand old man of English literary biography, Michael Holroyd, was holding forth in The Guardian at the weekend on the collapse of literary biography as a result of publishers and booksellers giving up on it. The word "literary", he said, "is death to sales -- and perhaps literary biography is worst of all." He concluded -- and who can contradict this: "Publishers seem to outsiders to be paralysed by caution in these difficult times, asking themselves what sold last year and hoping to reproduce it. How often have I heard them say: 'this book did not sell.' I have never heard them say: 'we did not sell this book.'" To which I would add that phrases like "no one wants to buy a long Russian novel about a woman who ends up throwing herself in front of a train" become self-fulfilling prophecies. If a publisher says that no one wants to buy X then that is exactly what will happen (more...)

  • To self-publish or not?

    Wed, 25 Mar 2009 04:57

    An interesting article by Damien G. Walter on self-publishing:

    To date, self publishing has been a bad idea. People without the necessary skills and experience full prey to vanity publishers. Writers with some talent but who are still learning can expose their work too soon. Excellent writing can find itself swamped among the dross that is self published every year and no one bothers to go looking for it. The general wisdom on self publishing for anyone who aspires to become a professional author has been... don't.

    But over the last few years advances in printing technology, ebooks and the internet have started to change the viability of self publishing. A small number of very talented writers -- Kelly Link and John Scalzi spring to mind -- have self published at strategic moments in their career and benefited massively from doing so. The podcast and audio fiction revolution has allowed writers like J C Hutchins and Mur Lafferty to build a considerably larger following than many conventionally published authors will ever achieve, and podcasting poster boy Scott Sigler has transitioned into a conventional publishing deal. And while no major authors are yet self publishing, many are making their work available online in ebook format (more...)

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