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August 2004




Paul Mackintosh Foot, born 8th November 1937, one of the most influential investigative journalists of his time, died 18th July 2004. Born into an establishment family he was educated at Shrewsbury and University College, Oxford, was a lifelong socialist and worked for the Daily Mirror, Private Eye and The Guardian as well as being a founder member of the Socialist Workers Party.

He was involved in some high profile investigations (the Poulson affair, Jeffery Archer, John Stalker, Lockerbie and the Libyan connection, etc.) and produced books on James Hanratty (Who Killed Hanratty, 1971) and the Carl Bridgewater murder (Murder at the Farm, 1986) among others. His output included several political commentaries (Wilson, Powell), as well as collections of his journalism (Words as Weapons, 1990, and Articles of Resistance, 2002) and a biography of Percy Byshe Shelley (Red Shelley, 1980). He was twice Journalist of the Year (1972 and 1989), Campaigning Journalist of the Year (1980) and won the George Orwell prize for Journalism (1994).


Anonymous critics halted by Amazon

The world's biggest online bookseller, Amazon, is to clamp down on anonymous reviews of titles on its website in an attempt to curb excesses of back-stabbing in the competitive world of publishing.

Up to now, anyone could write a review of any book sold by Amazon, without anyone knowing who they actually were. Authors’s reviewed their own books, obviously very favourably, and sometimes gave bad reviews to their rivals.

From now on, anyone putting in a review to Amazon will have to authenticate themselves by giving their credit card number.

Artistic Licence?

The success of Jordanian-born, Australian-based Norma Khouri’s ' Forbidden Love' (US: Honor Lost) was based on the alleged honour-killing of her friend in Jordan because she fell in love with a christian man. This has now been discovered to be a hoax in that the author left Jordan for America when she was three and never again lived in Jordan. The author gained much publicity for her work by giving interviews where she claimed her life was also in danger for exposing the treatment of women in Islamic culture.

The book's publisher, Random House Australia, have now withdrawn the until they receive evidence from Khouri that it was a true representation of her life and experiences and if satisfactory evidence is forthcoming, they would re-issue the book. The author has gone to ground and her friends claim she is gathering evidence to substantiate claims made in the book.

The book was a huge success, selling nearly 200,000 copies last year. About 15 other publishers around the world had also published the book.

The Evolution of a "Bookseller"
from Diaskari Books

Why the quotation marks? Well, I suppose that I feel something of a fraud compared to the other booksellers who are members of ibooknet. And yet I have made my living from books - as a publisher or as a bookseller - all my adult life. But the real truth is that I am a collector. The selling provides a rationale for buying - it legitimises what I really enjoy doing, which is adding to, upgrading, "playing" with my books. And it keeps my wife quiet because every purchase becomes an "investment”. So - how is it that I have made my living for over 35 years selling books without ever becoming a bookseller?

I grew up surrounded by books. My father was a collector with a wide range of interests. My sister and I grew up being read to every evening by my mother - from what I now know were first editions of C.S.Lewis's Narnia stories and Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. At that time they were simply marvellous stories that I enjoyed. But I also read widely from my father's collection - he enjoyed historical novels, some modern fiction, travel. He was a founding member of the Folio Society. I was subtly pointed at the classic stories for young readers - Rider Haggard, Buchan (who I thoroughly disliked except for the wonderful Prester John), Major Charles Gilson's excellent The Lost City (which I can still recall the entire plot of even though I haven't looked at it for 50 years), Robert Louis Stevenson and so many more.

No limits were placed on what I could or couldn't read. Although as adolescence approached my father did ask me to wash my hands before my weekly reading of his pink silk bound Folio Society edition of Zola's Nana. Now I can't remember whether it was the pictures or the text I enjoyed more - but this was the fifties and I had not yet discovered Harrison Marks. When you are young your capacity to read at many levels is astonishing. I would read Dostoyevsky, Malcolm Saville and Eagle, Wizard and the Hotspur (and my sister's girly comics too if I could do it secretly). Now I think the Dostoyevsky was mere pretension but read it I did. All during my childhood and young adulthood I accumulated books. Much loved by my aunts because presents were so easy - "Oh, give him a book token and he'll be happy" - and I was. But it was accumulating not collecting. I didn't concern myself with editions or, very much, with condition. I just bought compulsively, usually read and always hoarded the results.

I got my first pay check in 1961 from Blackwell's - working in their packing department. Well, one day in packing - then I was moved (sideways I thought but in Blackwell's terms this was a demotion) to unpacking where my lack of manual skills was not so serious. Then on to university where I discovered science fiction and a whole new area in which to accumulate books. I bought American imports extensively. Science fiction obsessed me for years until one day I found I simply could not read it any more - it was generally (with some honourable exceptions) so badly written. So I sold everything I had. How I wince now when I think of the collectable first editions and rare mass market paperbacks I turned into not very much cash.

Five years at university and then a couple of years as a publisher. Children's books - paperbacks. I wasn't very good at it really. First time I bought the rights to a book I talked the rights holder in accepting double what he initially asked because I liked the book so much. David Severn's Drumbeat - loved it as a child and was really proud to put it into paperback. Commissioned a wonderful cover. It was a disaster - somewhere there must be a landfill site full of copies. Our readers wanted Enid Blyton and pony books.

Publishing turned out not to be for me (although it was all I had ever wanted to be since I was a child). And I became a sort of bookseller for the next thirty years - selling books to academic libraries around the world for one of the larger UK library suppliers. Great job. Lots of travel in the US and Australia.

At this point I was still just an accumulator of books. Then two things happened which changed my life. My father sold his book collection without telling me. What I had grown up with and expected to inherit was no longer there. My sister incidentally was much more alert than me and "pre-inherited" the first editions of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis when my father's back was turned. At around the same time I started travelling in the US with a colleague who was a collector - crime fiction, sea stories and Scottish interest. He turned me on to collecting first editions. Which I knew about but which hadn't really concerned me because I was buying for content.

What a revelation! The hunt became much more exciting - and much harder. But I had a target - I had to replace what had been taken out of my life. So for years I hunted down first editions of Alfred Duggan - one of the truly great masters of the historical novel with a extraordinary range; Henry Treece - whose The Great Captains, The Golden Strangers, The Dark Island and Red Queen, White Queen are wonderful and neglected evocations of ancient Britain; Maurice Druon's amazing series The Accursed Kings set in fourteenth century France. And the search for these led to new discoveries: the novels of Cecelia Holland, not all to my taste, but some - like Great Maria - quite powerful; Gillian Bradshaw who is one of the best historical novelists writing today and sadly neglected by British publishers. Try and lay your hands on Island of Ghosts, the story of the Sarmatian cavalry serving in the Roman army in second century Britain. Prudence Andrew, Meriol Trevor, Wallace Breem, George Shipway, Graham Shelby, the list goes on.

[And if you are interested in historical fiction, let me interject a recommendation for The Historical Novel Society who produce a magazine, Solander, twice a year and a Review every quarter. The Historical Novels Review provides comprehensive coverage of novels published in both the UK and the US. Solander Volume 7, No 2 (November 2003) had an excellent special feature on Henry Treece]

And I discovered crime fiction. The great appeal of crime fiction was its sense of place. I loved series set in localities so you began to get a real feel for how a city felt and looked. And even better if you visited there and drove down those mean streets. I bought all the obvious stuff but the authors I most valued were those who wrote about what I didn't know: Jonathan Valin's Harry Stoner books set in Cincinnati; Margaret Maron's novels of North Carolina; L.R.Wright's outstanding novels set on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia; Peter Bowen's Gabriel Du Pre mysteries set in Montana and rich with information about the life and customs of the Metis; and again, many, many more.

And now - with guidance - I knew how to buy. First edition, fine condition, signed where possible. If not available signed - buy the best you can and look to upgrade later. Sort through the books looking for the best copy of the book. The basement of The Strand Bookshop in New York was a joy for this - and you could find signed copies there too - what a sense of achievement!

I still have to travel with my handy and invaluable Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions complied by Bill McBride. Why? Because publishers are weird and wonderful people and find it very hard to adopt any sort of common practices - or even be consistent in the application of the practices they do adopt. I know - I was one!

So the books continued to accumulate. All sorts of books. One of the issues about being a collector is that you buy books that you don't like or read but just because you bought the first in the series. I bought the first R.D.Wingfield Inspector Frost novel - hated it and never finished it. But I had it, so as they come out I bought all the others on publication, put them in a mylar jacket and popped them unread onto my shelves. No skill, cunning or judgement there - just the slightly obsessive actions of a completist who had good access to books. Those were probably my most profitable purchases. Sold for a very handsome price when I started trading - and no grief at losing them!

Now if I was asked could I do the same with my Ian Rankin novels the answer would be "no". I read them for pleasure (well, I buy paperbacks and read them) but I have invested too much time and effort in building the collection and upgrading to signed copies etc ever to be comfortable selling them.

After years of travel and book buying, I decided to go into business for myself. Hence Diaskari Books. It has been a fascinating experience. Another vastly more experienced bookseller once said to me that the definition of a true bookseller is that he will sell anything if the price was right - no matter that it was a family heirloom, he nearly died finding it, he loved the author, whatever… - if the price was right, it was for sale. Well, that may not be the only test and I expect there are others I fail as well. I work hard at selling, I concentrate on providing a personal and responsive service; I do all that well I think - but it is all a means to an end. And the end is buying more books which my heirs will have to dispose of...  

Last minute reminder - A Major Charity Booksale at Turville Books 

A unique charity bookshop opens its doors from Thursday August 5th to Sunday August 8th from 10.00am to 4.00pm daily. This consists of a barn full of new and second-hand books of all categories including first editions and leather-bound books, and a very large tent full of 50p books representing fantastic value! The event will be well signposted from exit 5 of the M40 and is half a mile from Turville (just follow the pink signs) and parking is free. The charities this year are the Elizabeth Finn Trust and Thames Valley Adventure Playground. 

James Joyce erotic letter

An erotic letter sent by author James Joyce to his wife has fetched a record £240,800 at auction in London. The correspondence to Nora Barnacle made the highest price ever reached for a 20th Century autographed letter, Sotheby's said.

The letter, written in Winter 1909, after Joyce returned to Dublin without Nora for the first time since the couple eloped from Dublin to Trieste in 1904, is all the more remarkable in its sexual explicit detail because of Joyce’s hatred of obscenities and swearing. The letter testifies to Joyce's "ungovernable lust" and describes various ways in which he wishes to satisfy his desires. His relationship with Nora is felt to be the source of much of the author’s creativity, especially in Ulysses.

Americans reading less

A recent report by the US National Endowment for the Arts says the number of adults who read no literature increased by more than 17 million between 1992 and 2002.

It found that 47% of American adults read poems, plays or narrative fiction in 2002, a drop of seven percentage points from a decade earlier. Those reading any books at all in 2002 fell to 57%, from 61%. A staggering total of 89.9 million adults did not read books in 2002 while the number of books sold dropped by 10% in a year.

The NEA study was based on a survey of more than 17,000 adults. The drop in reading was widespread, but the fall was marked for adult men, of whom only 38% read literature, and Hispanics overall, for whom the figure was 26.5%. The decline was especially severe among 18 to 24-year-olds. Only 43% had read any literature in 2002, down from 53% in 1992.

Marketing of summer reading by the multi-nationals

Every summer, book publishers battle it out for a lucrative slice of the holiday reading market. What is bought and sold is not a product of the pure market, or of pure chance or of reviews read by readers, but of sophisticated and aggressive marketing techniques. Hardly suprising, in that the summer reading market is second only to Christmas in terms of sales.

Three for the price of two is one obvious method of marketing. And such offers are very much in-your-face in both bricks and mortar and internet shops - you don’t have to go looking for them. Publishers cannot buy this type of publicity but are asked to contribute towards marketing costs for their books. Coupled with the fact that promotions tend to last for only 2 weeks, it gives promoted books the opportunity to make it into the top 50 reading list, which ensures book’s title remains in public view through the lists published by many newspapers.

Bright colour dustwrappers or covers also seem to attract buyers - one recent example are Alexander McCall Smith’s 'Number One Lady’s Detective Agency' series, now enjoying huge success since the redesign of covers.

Covers and dustwrappers are the first impressions of a book given to customers and coupled with their being on full display gives a massive advantage. And considering how many books lie anonymously on the thousands of shelves of the larger bookstores, with spines only visible at an angle of 45 degrees, it does indeed seem a solid investment for publishers.

Jane Austen August Study Day

The Study Day for August at Alton Abbey will be on ' Persuasion - All about change' on 28th, with Dom Nicholas Seymour OSB. Study Days begin with coffee at 10.00 am and ends with tea at 4.00 pm. Mass is at 9.00 am for those who wish to attend. Please bring packed lunch. Tickets from the Guestmaster, Alton Abbey, Beech, Alton, Hampshire GU34 4AP (Tel: 01420 562145).

Next Month: The feature for September by Plurabelle Books




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