Saturday, 30 August 2014

How Some Books Get Written

Wiiliam Shawn: some articles he commissioned turned into books


There is a falsehood propagated by some in the literature industry that journalism -  writing for newspapers or magazines - is somehow fundamentally  different from, and a lesser calling than writing books. Writing is either good or bad, subjects either trivial or important. Books can start as articles in magazines - or blogs, for that matter. Subscribers to the free online Writers Almanac published by Garrison Keillor were reminded of this today, because August 31st is the birthday of William Shawn, the longtime editor of The New Yorker. Shawn was born William Chon in Chicago (1907). He started working for The New Yorker as a reporter for the "Talk of the Town" section in 1933, and was paid $2 per column inch. He took on some editorial duties after a few years as a writer, and became managing editor in 1939. He convinced the magazine's founder, Harold Ross, to devote an entire issue to John Hersey's in-depth coverage of six survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was radically different than the magazine's usual fare, but it was a huge success. When Ross's health began to go downhill in the early 1950s, he bequeathed the magazine to Shawn. Some people were skeptical that Shawn could pull it off; after all, he was a Midwestern boy, raised in Chicago and educated in Michigan, and his first real journalism job had been reporting for a small paper in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He didn't like a fast-paced lifestyle, crowds, elevators, or power lunches. He was a small, shy, extremely courteous man whose feet didn't reach the floor under his desk. Ross died of cancer late in 1951, and Shawn succeeded him a couple of months later; he held the position until 1987, when the sale of the magazine forced him into retirement.
Williams Shawn's son Wallace, star of cult film 'My Dinner with Andre'

Under Ross's leadership, The New Yorker had been a forum for sparkling wit and snarky gossip; its stable of writers included E.B. White, James Thurber, and many members of the Algonquin Round Table. When Shawn took over the helm, the magazine took a more serious turn. It featured more stories of national interest and toned down its New York focus. Tom Wolfe said, in 1965, that Shawn had turned The New Yorker into "the most successful suburban women's magazine in the country." Former New Yorker writer Dorothy Parker complained that most of the writing was "about somebody's childhood in Pakistan," and even Shawn himself sometimes regretted the decline in the amount of humor in the magazine's pages under his watch.
Tom Wolfe predicted the banking crisis in 'The Bonfire of the Vanities'

But he had the support of the magazine's owners, and throughout his career, he earned the admiration and affection of the writers he worked with: among them J.D. Salinger, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, Elizabeth Bishop, and Philip Roth. He published Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as a series of articles. His magazine began to shape public opinion rather than just remark upon it. It was in the pages of Shawn's magazine that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring first educated Americans about the environment, and James Baldwin published essays on race relations that would eventually become his book The Fire Next Time (1963).

When the magazine was sold and Shawn was forced to retire in 1987, he wrote a last letter to his colleagues, saying, "We have built something quite wonderful together." After his death in 1992, former colleague Gardner Botsford wrote in The New Yorker: "He sharpened our thinking, brought us sternly back from our vacant musings, oiled our transitions, and turned us into professionals of a greater competence than we would ever have achieved on our own." Another New Yorker staffer said, anonymously, "No editor ever ruled a large and complex magazine as absolutely as he ruled this one; yet no editor, perhaps, ever imparted to so many writers and artists as powerful a sense of freedom and possibility."

Shawn himself once said, "Falling short of perfection is a process that just never stops."

For Shawn's complex personal life see also: http://observer.com/1998/05/william-shawn-stud-or-saint-the-memories-of-lillian-ross-and-ved-mehta/

Friday, 29 August 2014

A haven for the hungry

'Books' Coffee table at Mrs Green's Tea Lounge in Dumfries
Mrs Green's Tea Lounge in Dumfries is a wonderfully inventive place for a light meal and to restore one's faith in imagination, style, humour, tradition - all that stuff which has got pushed onto the back burner while we square up over the Neverendum. The place is full of delicious touches - the menus contained in copies of Ladybird books, the Scrabble board which reads 'Mrs Green has left the building...' when the place is closed; the old Olivetti typewriter for children to play on, the measuring scroll on the wall which tells you if you are as tall as a Neanderthal - the retro music and last but not least the generous helpings of good, fresh food. Oh - and all the waitresses in their beautiful 40's style print dresses and cotton bandeaux, made up like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. A visit there today made my day, no: my week.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

H is for...

H is for Happy...and Hegel

H is for Happy...and Hegel. As we approach the referendum in which we have to vote either 'Yes' or 'No' we can celebrate his concept of dialectic, which is the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites. Hegel argued that each political movement is imperfect and therefore gives rise to a counter-movement, which, if it takes control, is also imperfect and therefore gives rise to yet another counter-movement, and so on to infinity.

So...happy ever after?



Sunday, 24 August 2014

A good ding-dong






Karen Campbell and Dr Phillipa Whitford at the 'Women for Independence' meeting at Moffat Town Hall yesterday
The referendum debate continued yesterday with a presentation of the case for 'Yes' at Moffat Town Hall. Karen Campbell http://www.dgwordplace.co.uk/writers_listings.html spoke eloquently in favour, as did fellow platform member Dr Phillipa Whitford who has hit the headlines expressing her fears about the future of the NHS on YouTube.
Chris Ballance and Dr Phillipa Whitford

Romance of the road

We are celebrating 'The Road' via Moffat's Inaugural John McAdam lecture to be given by Richard Demarco at Moffat Town Hall on Thursday Nov 27.

Meanwhile: here is Andrew M Brown's paean to the highway in today's Sunday Telegraph:

"Ah, the joy of the open road. In all the fuss about rail fare increases the salient point I took out was that – contrary to what many London-based commentators assume – most people do not actually use trains for commuting. Outside the South East, they travel by car.
And that is understandable. Because trains are all very well: you can do your work on them, walk up and down a bit, have a full English breakfast, stare out of the window. You can observe other passengers, or disturb them with chat. Yet still, the car exerts a powerful emotional pull.
I noticed this the other day on a nine-hour round trip across the West Country, to and from a wedding. I was filled with a sense of the romance of the road. It is not only the thrusting sales rep in his dark glasses who feels this, bombing down the fast lane in his Vauxhall Insignia. I felt it too, in my Citroën on the M5. There I was, sealed up in that plastic capsule, all by myself. (It is best to be alone to enjoy driving – solitary, rather than lonely. The effect is not the same if children are in the back and the view in the rear mirror is blocked by beach equipment.)
I switched on Radio 2: nostalgic pop songs on the Tony Blackburn show. Music adds to the mood of dreamy euphoria. Which is why petrol stations sell compilations of “full-throttle anthems” and “seriously cool driving music”.
Catchy place names flash past on signs: Cullompton Services. Barnstaple 38. Driving may be hypnotic and repetitive, especially on the motorway. But it’s not completely mindless, like Hoovering, because the brain is engaged in the vital business of keeping the car on the road. It is spiked with that shot of adrenalin that comes from the essential riskiness of the task. “Whoops, I’m veering towards the central reservation.” Or there are those terrifying moments when you realise you’ve fallen asleep for a split-second.
The crucial point is that in the comfort of your car you can be whoever you like. You can float for a while in a sort of existential bubble all of your own. Too much of this sort of thing leads to trouble, of course. All that frenzied manoeuvring on the highway – the obnoxious bullying, pushing and shoving, tailgating – might actually be unconscious acting out of psychic conflicts.
That is the point of Betjeman’s breezily macabre poem, “Meditation on the A30”: “A man on his own in a car / Is revenging himself on his wife; / He opens the throttle and bubbles with dottle / and puffs at his pitiful life.”
Here, the driver is an inadequate, a resentful, puffed-up fantasist (“I’d like a nice blonde on my knee / And one who won’t argue or nag. / Who dares to come hooting at me? / I only give way to a Jag.”). We keen motorists don’t think of ourselves in those pathetic terms.
In any case, the bubble soon bursts. The woolgathering abruptly stops – when you see brake lights ahead and a centipede of vehicles bumper to bumper into the far distance. Last Saturday I turned off the motorway on to the A303 to find that it was as congested as a sumo wrestler’s coronary arteries. For 45 minutes I barely got out of first gear.
Delays like that are common. You’d have thought they would put people off driving. But they don’t. We forget the bad bits, because we love our cars too much."

A Guide to the Scots afore ye vote


Who says we can't have a laugh at ourselves before we vote? Our Caledonian railway expert*, David Ross has written this canny guide - essential reading ahead of the referendum.
*come to Moffat Town Hall to hear him and enjoy a railway-themed tea 3-5pm on Thurs Nov 13



Thursday, 21 August 2014

A Fun Series

The 'Xenophobe's Guides' is a really fun series. My friend David Ross expert on Scottish railways also wrote the Xenophobe's Guide to The Scots. David will be coming up to talk about Moffat's connections to the Caledonian railway for our 'Previously...' event at Moffat Town Hall (plus a slap-up railway themed cream tea) on Nov 13 3-5pm, chaired by the Earl of Annandale whose great great great grandfather was the first chairman of the Cally. There will be an opportunity to support Moffat's Re-Open Beattock group that day too. More about this exciting day nearer the time!

Richard Dauenhauer

Richard Dauenhauer
R.I.P. Richard Dauenhauer, one of the outstanding poets, translators and scholars of Alaska. With his Tlingkit wife Nora, Richard worked on translating texts from the Tlingkit archives and was sometime Poet Laureate of Alaska. He and Nora helped me with my book on Sitka spruce, the tree native to the Pacific northwest coast, taking me for a memorable picnic on the beach near their home in Juneau. He will be sadly missed.

Cute and cosy

Cosy charity bookshop in Ullapool, Wester Ross
A charity bookshop is a lovesome thing. This one on the quayside at Ullapool, Wester Ross, Scotland has an easy chair and a friendly face behind the till.


Holiday rental bookshelves 2

Rieff Bay bookshelves
Who lives in this house? It's right on the beach at Rieff Bay, Wester Ross.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rude Romans

Caesar Augustus: perfect in every detail?




In today's Independent

Rude Roman language

Natalie Haynes’s review “Portrait of a chameleon emperor” (Radar, 16 August) quoted Horace referring to his friend Caesar Augustus as a “perfect penis”.
Surely a better translation would be “complete prick”?
Elizabeth RobertsMoffat, Dumfries and Galloway


Monday, 18 August 2014

Friday, 15 August 2014

Guess who lives here?

On the bookshelf in our holiday house
We played 'The 'House Detective' complete with Lloyd Grossman's accent trying to guess who owns our rented holiday house in Ullapool. One clue: some of the books we found on the shelf in our holiday house.

So: maybe a broad-minded (there's a good variety of histories and historical novels) Marxist Oxford history fellow who votes Labour, married to a Church of England priest who moonlights as a novelist?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

About water

Aboard the 'Summer Queen' en route to see seals in the Summer Isles
Olly aged 3 homed in on an I-Spy book of water- related objects at the Ullapool Bookshop yesterday, which clearly exhausted him. Passing a fire extinguisher this afternoon,  he asked what it was for.  A well-meaning adult said it was for putting out fires and was therefore possibly full of water, whereupon Olly said tactfully 'unless it's full of foam'.

En route to the Summer Isles today


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Ringing up a sale at the Ullapool Bookshop
The excellent Ullapool Bookshop on Quay St www.ullapoolbookshop.co.uk has sections on : War; Biography; Calendars; Outdoors; Giftwrap; Scottish Books; Fiction; Climbing; Children's; Sport; Sea; Reference; Artists Materials; Audio Books; Religion; Internet Facilities; Cookery; Postcards; Poetry; Maps; Gardening and Greeting Cards.  The shop is run by a group of five people, of whom I met two on two successive days this week when hurricane Bertha restricted outdoor activity. They were v helpful on what to see and do with three young children, getting out the free tourist brochure and showing us on a map where the sandy beaches are and advising on midge protection - according to the bookshop, the only way to go is an all-enveloping midge net suspended from a hat on the head. I know these well, having gardened in south Lanarkshire one still, hot summer. You would think that science by now would have found a fiendishly simple way of eradicating these critters, such as seeding the hills with infertile males or finding some friendly predator - whether lizard or bird - to mop them up.
Some happy browsers in the Ullapool Bookshop

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Bertha lashes her tail

Here's one that got left off the list yesterday. I took the publisher (Piccadilly Press's Brenda) and my agent (Rosemary Sandberg)  to suss out the publishing scene in Moscow
Hurricane Bertha is just lashing the last of her tail here in the far northwest. The road to Inverness is operating on a convoy system and it can take an hour and a half to get through the debris. We had a great time though splashing in Ullaspool - for readers in Moffat, please note that this lovely big warm (30 deg) pool was built by raising the money themselves. There are only 1500 of them to 2050 of us. It is magnificent, with a big sports hall attached where we also played three a side badminton (three of us are under 9 years of age). Ullapool has two notable bookshops - more of them when the pix struggle through on a web connection that is even slower than home.

Monday, 11 August 2014

As I was saying...

Just sent off my writers cv to Dumfries and Galloway Writers place website.  Here it is:

D&G Writers Listings

Casting a beady eye over Henry James's grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May 2014
I am  a writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama (see appendix). I have also worked in film and radio. Some of my fiction and non-fiction work has been translated into Russian, and my plays have been performed in Scotland and Russia.  I am a member of The Society of Authors in Scotland and co-founder of Moffat Book Events SCIO,  a membership organization that has put on many literary events and international conferences since 2010.. With my friend Katya (Dr Ek. Genieva,  director of the Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow) we conceived ‘After Lermontov’ (Carcanet Press  2014) featuring new translations by Scottish poets for Lermontov 200.
  I am a founder partner in GYRE, a Moffat-based creative partnership collaborating with practitioners in disciplines such as music, dance, theatre, politics and philosophy to reassess and celebrate our lives today through the arts.


APPENDIX

Publications include:  Focus on Russian and the Republics (Evans 1996)
 The original 'Xenophobe's Guide to the Russians'


Anita Roddick:  Body and Soul (Rudomino 1992);
 Letters about NATO (Rudomino 1994); Europe 1992 – The United States of Europe ? (Watts/Gloucester 1990); Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova (Watts/Aladdin Books Ltd 1992);
Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (Watts/Aladdin Books 1992) - selected for Book Trust's Children's Books of the Year
  Christianity for the Twentyfirst Century - the Life and Work of Alexander Men’ (with Ann Shukman, SCM Press 1996);  the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Russians (Ravette 1995);  Strong Enough For Two (Piccadilly Press 1994);  The New Europe (Gloucester 1993) 
Focus on the Soviet Union (Hamilton 1993);  The NATO Letters (Rudomino 1994);  Diary of a Young Capitalist (Rudomino 1992);  Glasnost’, the Gorbachev Revolution (Hamish Hamilton, 1989).  Translations include Armenian Tragedy by Yuri Rost (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1992);  The Soviet Mafia by Arkady Vaksberg) with John Roberts, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1993).
 A complete break with my previous books:

‘Sitka Spruce’ for Sage Press (March 2002). Poems published in Lanark Writers' Group's 'Again October'.


I began my working life as a journalist with Thomson Newspapers, first as a reporter on the South Wales Echo, then, after a brief spell  as a general reporter for  independently-owned The American (a weekly in London), then as Women's Editor of the Watford Evening Echo and then as a staff reporter/feature writer on the Sunday Times. A 50-minute video ‘Sitka Spruce:  Scotland’s No. 1 Timber Tree’ to which I contributed footage, research and script,  was launched in September 2002 by Rosebank Productions.   My adaptation with director Mark Rozovsky  of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ 'A Russian Rehearsal', commissioned by Donald Smith of The Netherbow/Story-Telling Centre in Edinburgh is  in repertory in Moscow at the  State Theatre ‘At the Nikitsky Gates’. 
  Another collaboration,  ‘Wallace’s Women’ , a play in Scots with Margaret McSeveney opened at Lanark Town Hall and ran for four weeks at the Netherbow  Theatre, Edinburgh at the 1998 Edinburgh Festival fringe. I was for some years a member of the Brownsbank Writers Group in south Lanrkshire led by James Robertson, Matthew Fitt , Gerry Cambridge, Aonghas Macneal and Linda Cracknell, and published poems in a group collection.




.


 Just submitted my writing career info to Dumfries and Galloway Writer's website

Chosen for Book Trust's 'Children's Books of the Year' 1992

 
My publications include:  Focus on Russian and the Republics (Evans 1996);  Anita Roddick Body and Soul (Rudomino 1992); Letters about NATO (Rudomino 1994); Europe 1992 – The United States of Europe ? (Watts/Gloucester 1990); Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova (Watts/Aladdin Books Ltd 1992); Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (Watts/Aladdin Books 1992) Christianity for the Twentyfirst Century - the Life and Work of Alexander Men’ (with Ann Shukman, SCM Press 1996);  the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Russians (Ravette 1995);  Strong Enough For Two (Piccadilly Press 1994);  The New Europe (Gloucester 1993)  Focus on the Soviet Union (Hamilton 1993);  The NATO Letters (Rudomino 1994);  Diary of a Young Capitalist (Rudomino 1992);  Glasnost’, the Gorbachev Revolution (Hamish Hamilton, 1989).  Translations include Armenian Tragedy by Yuri Rost (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1992);  The Soviet Mafia by Arkady Vaksberg) with John Roberts, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1993).  ‘Sitka Spruce’ for Sage Press (March 2002). Poems published in Lanark Writers' Group's 'Again October'. Elizabeth Roberts began her working life as a journalist with Thomson Newspapers, first as a reporter on the South Wales Echo, then, after a brief spell  as a general reporter for  independently-owned The American (a weekly in London), then as Women's Editor of the Watford Evening Echo and then as a staff reporter/feature writer on the Sunday Times. A 50-minute video ‘Sitka Spruce:  Scotland’s No. 1 Timber Tree’ to which she contributed footage, research and script,  was launched in September 2002 by Rosebank Productions.   Her adaptation with director Mark Rozovsky  of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ 'A Russian Rehearsal', commissioned by Donald Smith of The Netherbow/Story-Telling Centre in Edinburgh is  in repertory in Moscow at the  State Theatre ‘At the Nikitsky Gates’.   Another collaboration,  ‘Wallace’s Women’ , a play in Scots with Margaret McSeveney opened at Lanark Town Hall and ran for four weeks at the Netherbow  Theatre, Edinburgh at the 1998 Edinburgh Festival fringe. Member Brownsbank Writers Group led by James Robertson, Matthew Fitt , Gerry Cambridge, Aonghas Macneal and Linda Cracknell.





Friday, 8 August 2014

What a pleasure to spend four hours yesterday at Summerhall with Richard Demarco guiding us round his collection. I took my copy of his The Road To Meikle Seggie published in 1978 for him to sign. We have known each other, we reckon, for over 40 years. Richard will be at Wigtown on Oct 1st talking about the series of paintings he has just exhibited in Moscow, organised at our conference in Moffat last September: An Imaginary Journey of Lermontov Through Scotland.

Another date for your diaries: the launch at EIBF on August 15th at 18.30 of the Scottish poets' tribute to Lermontov  published by Carcanet Press, After Lermontov - devised by Ekaterina Genieva and myself to mark the 200th anniversary since Lermontov's death at the age of 27. He was descended from a Borders family, the Learmonths, and by extension related to Thomas the Rhymer, of Ercildoune. In troubled times like the present, these links are worth celebrating.