The Society's quarterly journal
"I always find something to enjoy in The Author but the latest edition is something else: every article is a winner. Congratulations to the editor and to all the contributors." Jonathan Smith
From the Editor
Perfectionism is the writer’s besetting sin. Every book is a flawed or even failed copy of the ideal book that existed in your mind before you began. And every new book is, at some level, a correction of the one that went before. This issue of The Author offers four versions of writerly perfectionism.
Edward Hollis tells the story of how he tried to build the perfect study, and what happened when he finished it. Daniel Hahn reveals how translators should strive for perfection, but must know that they will never achieve it (click here to read Daniel's article). Robert Irwin inspects the gap between his aspirations when he started out as a novelist, and the place in history he feels he may occupy, when he’s done. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, whose biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio won the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize, navigates the gulf between a ‘Life’ and a life, arguing that ‘the biographer is a writer who doesn’t know’.
Another contributor who doesn’t know is Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Random House and reluctant haruspex. He gazes into the entrails of the digital book and concludes that the future is for authors to define, not publishers. Playwright Shaun McCarthy considers the omens for the theatrical world, and wonders if, in the rush to collaborative ‘theatre-making’, we risk losing the strong authorial voice.
McCarthy is not the only writer to compare, in an almost existential way, what might be described as opposing modes. Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian’s chief arts writer, finds that her books and her journalism are not so much alternative types of writing as ways of being. Daniel Blythe contrasts the many-faceted brilliance of soap opera with the single-mindedness of Young Adult fiction. Mick Jackson, novelist and recent writer-in-residence at the Science Museum, juxtaposes the arts and sciences, and tunnels right through between them.
Lastly, for spring, we have three warm, optimistic pieces connected to place – perfect for the season. Ken Cockburn describes his poetic journey around Scotland – a form of the ‘narrow road to the deep north’ taken by the Japanese poet Basho – and comes out at the other side bearing poems written as labels tied to whisky miniatures. Tom Bryan recalls time spent in Peterhead Prison. Nilanjana Roy reports from the bookshops of India, click here to read this article.
These last two articles belong to what are fast becoming occasional series in The Author. You might call them ‘letter from…’ and ‘writers in the community’. If members can suggest better names, I am keen to hear from them. And, of course, I am always eager to receive letters and emails – including those outlining ideas for articles. Amazon, as our you’ll see from this issue’s letters page, continues to stir passions. But in a world where ebook-lending is taking off, will even Amazon survive? If ebooks are disposable, why buy when you can borrow? This, and the important question of unfair contracts, continue to occupy the Society’s attention, and will feature in coming issues. But before then, tell me: what do you think?
The future of the book is you Dan Franklin
Rooms in books, books in rooms Edward Hollis
Out and about Peter Sutton
On being a minor novelist Robert Irwin
The relative merits of journalism and non-fiction Charlotte Higgins
The future for playwrights Shaun McCarthy
The art of biography Lucy Hughes-Hallett
What Young Adult fiction can learn from soap opera Daniel Blythe
Before I forget David Williams
Following Basho around Scotland Ken Cockburn
Writers and scientists Mick Jackson
Writers in prisons Tom Bryan
Daily Rituals: book review Michael Byrne
Grub Street Andrew Taylor
Endpaper Terence Blacker
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for Members and Associates as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,200. Members and Associates receive The Author free of charge.
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