Friday, 11 December 2009

HARK - THE (GLASGOW) HERALD


Ernest Raymond's enthralling novel We, the Accused was selected by James Robertson as one of his books of 2009 in The Glasgow Herald in late November.

Mr. Robertson was kind enough to say:

Capuchin Classics are reissuing neglected works of fiction in an impressively designed paperback series, and We the Accused by Ernest Raymond.....first published in 1935, is an absolute cracker. A big, slow-burning tale of a middle-aged, browbeaten teacher who murders his wife, thinks he's got away with it and then becomes the quarry in a massive manhunt across England, the novel is both a powerful statement against capital punishment and a gripping study of hope and despair.


The excellent introduction to this book by Clive Stafford-Smith will greatly enhance your reading pleasure.


David





Thursday, 10 December 2009

WE'VE GOT THEM ON THE LIST

In the blizzard of 'best books of the year' lists that always descends from the broadsheets during December, we were delighted to spy two Capuchin Classics twinkling brightly with their special green radiance.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Philip Hoare praised The Conclave thus:

and Michael Bracewell’s reissued novel The Conclave (Capuchin), 1980s suburban angst as seen by a modern Scott Fitzgerald: elegant and devastating. Never has a trifle bowl smashed so symbolically.

I'll let you know about the other title tomorrow, just for the sake of some seasonal anticipation.


David

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

HAPPY QUIZMASS

I have unashamedly borrowed this literary quiz from the wonderful people at Hertfordshire Libraries. It's a good mix of the easy, medium and mind-damagingly frustrating.

Guess the books and their authors from the initials (there are some classics, some modern novels and a few children's novels). E.g. OT by CD = Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

1. H P and the D H by J K R =
2. E by J A =
3. A T of T C by C D =
4. C m by C F =
5. C R by I F =
6. The I of B E by O W
7. F F the M C by T H =
8. The H W by N E =
9. O M in H by G G
10. M of a G by A G =
11. M D W by S H =
12. B J D by H F =
13. K S M by H R H
14. H of M by E W
15. The K R by K H =
16. The L, the W and the W by C S L =
17. B N W by A H =
18. W S S by J R =
19. M on the O E by A C =
20. The G of W by J S =
21. A F by G O =
22. A of G G by L M M =<
23. C C F by S G =
24. The H of the B by A C D =
25. C C M by L D B =
26. The C in the R by J D S
27. The M by W C=
28. S and A by A R =
29. A K by L T =
30. The D of the J by F F =


David

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

ATTACK OF THE ROBOT LIBRARIANS

My last visit to Hitchin Library began with me staring in wonderment and fear at a pair of machines, emanating a mysterious blue glow, that stood where once the lending and returning counter had been.

It transpired that these were devices that performed, without the involvement of a librarian, all the basic functions of removing and returning articles from the library, and that they worked by said articles being inserted into a recess, where fiendish technology scanned the identifying barcode and performed the requisite actions. I have to say I was impressed by the new system, which includes a supermarket-style receipt displaying the items one has on loan and their due dates. My one disappointment was that, despite the impression given by their appearance, they could not dispense a semi-decaf skinny cappuccino. With extra chocolate.

My sincere hope is that this development will not result in library staff being laid off but rather being liberated to perform more interesting and worthwhile duties.

This may be vastly naive of me.


David

Friday, 27 November 2009

NEW CAPUCHIN CATALOGUE

We are pleased to the point of indignity to have unveiled the second ever Capuchin Classics catalogue.

This thing of beauty (sorry - the Keats effect is lingering) lists all existing and forthcoming Capuchin Classics up to July 2010, and, as was its predecessor, is adorned with the graceful line drawings of Angela Landels, whose work on the Capuchin covers has drawn enthusiastic plaudits from many web and print commentators.

We would be delighted to send you a copy free of charge if you visit the website and click on the catalogue tab.


David

Thursday, 19 November 2009

MOTION APPROVED

I am greatly enjoying Andrew Motion's Keats biography, and reading it has even displaced attempting the Guardian crossword as my commuting activity of choice. Mr. Motion writes with a fluency and skill that, while illuminating and making connections between the aspects of Keat's life, (I'm still in the school and early work period) always makes for pleasurable reading. Some phrases stand out as particularly well-formed and, in the following instance, hilarious (causing one of those rare moments of audible laughter on the Hitchin to London line*):

He (Charles Cowden Clarke) combined a simple and passionate Calvinist faith with a tormented sense that God must always remain elusive, and spent his life pursuing Him as though he were tracking a heavenly yeti.

I can't wait to read the rest of Keats; it may even cure me of my aversion to large books and biography in general.


David

*audible horror is more usual.

Monday, 16 November 2009

ODEON A NIGHTINGALE
































Having advertised my intention to go and see the Keats biopic Bright Star, I thought I'd share my reactions.

I was somewhat apprehensive about the film, having read and heard diversely differing opinions of its quality and worth. Furthermore, because I had organised the outing - although the person accompanying me did so withour duress or protest - I felt perversely responsible for her experience. As it happened, we both thought the film was intensely moving without ever being sentimental, and beautifully shot and scored. The two lead actors were magnificent throughout, and (although this could be due to my seeing too few films) I couldn't identify them with any other major roles, a fact which gave an extra freshness to their performance. There was also an admirable lack of overt explanation in the film, with no clumsy exposition describing exactly who was who or what a Romantic poet was. This gave me the feeling of having been plunged in media res into this compelling story of love, poverty and creativity.

If this doesn't make me read the Andrew Motion biography that's been sitting harvesting dust on my bookshelves for some years (the director acknowledges her debt to this book) then nothing will. I'll just have to gird myself and overcome my deep-seated fear of enormous books.


David

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

ERNESTLY YOURS

Proof was once again recently furnished that the world is not only small but microscopic, as several strands of my life were woven together by the appearance in our office of a monograph on the poet Ernest Dowson.

Dowson was a late 19th century poet, of a somewhat morbid and sentimental bent, who died young and whose words have left a trail across an intriguingly wide range of areas. Probably his best-known phrase:

the days of wine and roses
from his poem Vitae Summae Brevis, became a song and a well-known phrase or saying, while another verse work, Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, gave us:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion
(which was the direct inspiration for Cole Porter's Kiss me, Kate song Always True to you in my Fashion,) as well as:

Gone with the wind
which needs no introduction. Furthermore, lines from his poems were also used as titles for some of Michael Moorcock's wonderful Dancers at the End of Time books, a series which imagines a few apparently immortal, practically omnipotent human beings left on a future Earth, attempting to reconstruct the artefacts and emotions of earlier ages in order to give meaning and colour to their lives.

Weaving the web of connections into my own career in the book trade, Dowson also features in the splendid anthology The Dedalus Book of Absinthe, a very intelligently edited collection of compelling pieces featuring the drink, focussing on the artistic and literary devotees of the green fairy. In one of my previous jobs, I was a sales rep. selling not only Dedalus titles bit also those of Greenwich Exchange, who publish the Dowson monograph. Finally, I should add that the author of the monograph (Henry Maas) is a friend of Capuchin's founder, Tom Stacey.

I recommend discovering (or rediscovering) Dowson, and would argue that any respectable literary home ought to have at least one copy of the Absinthe anthology.


David






Tuesday, 3 November 2009

BRIGHT YOUNG PEOPLE

This is a very welcome and interesting guest blog from David Butler, who is active in the Anthony Powell Society.

A few years ago I embarked on some research into the life and works of Michael Arlen – a novelist of whom I hitherto knew nothing – on behalf of the Anthony Powell Society. The Green Hat makes a brief appearance in the first novel of Powell’s 12-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. I don’t claim to be an expert now, and am still working my way through the novels and short stories of Arlen as I come across them, but for a Powell devotee, The Green Hat is relevant because it forms the subject of a brief exchange between the narrator, Nick Jenkins, and his fellow Oxford student JG Quiggin, a scene which takes place in the early 1920’s when The Green Hat was newly published and all the rage. Powell obviously knew, even though he was writing in the early 1950’s, that he could use Arlen’s most famous work both to position the scene in time and to highlight aspects of his own characters’ personalities, without needing to do more than reference the work in passing.

Anthony Powell did meet Michael Arlen on one occasion, although not until shortly before Arlen’s death. But the influence of The Green Hat had come early upon Powell: as he related in his memoirs, on coming down from Oxford he first took up residence in Shepherd Market because he was inspired by the seduction sequence which opens that novel in (as Powell describes it) “that small village enclave…so unexpectedly concealed among the then grand residences of Mayfair.” In due course, Powell’s narrator Nick Jenkins would also embark on post-University life from a flat in Shepherd Market.

In later years Powell passed not uncritical judgement on Arlen’s works, as his 1968 Daily Telegraph reviews of The London Venture
and The Green Hat reveal. However, Powell did recognize that they convey “an extraordinarily potent whiff of the period.” Now, lots of books do that and not all remain popular for long, but in my opinion this is one of the most important reasons for a continued reading of Arlen. There are plenty of society novels of the roaring 1920’s still in the public consciousness: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies and Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay for example; Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell also springs to my mind; sadly that is not in print, but that’s another story. But these all tend to reference the Bright Young People of a very slightly later vintage, whereas Arlen focuses on a generation of people who rather pre-date the BYP’s, a generation who had come out into society prior to 1914 only to find the social and moral certainties of that time ripped apart by the upheaval of war. This gives Arlen’s works a dark side which is not, I think, to be found in quite the same vein elsewhere. Think Nancy Cunard rather than Elizabeth Ponsonby; Gerald March as opposed to Atwater.

Anyway, whatever you make of the books, Arlen’s own importance as a social and literary reference point in the 1920’s is beyond question. The mentions in Anthony Powell’s novels and memoirs are just one example. I found, during the course of my researches, that Michael Arlen touched on so many lives that, to pick up at random any literary or society biography or memoir of the inter-war period gave me a high probability of finding a reference to him, however brief. From Osbert Sitwell to Barbara Skelton, Nancy Cunard to Noel Coward. Quite recently, Arlen got a good airing in The Bolter by Frances Osborne, her biography of Idina Sackville, who was probably a model for Iris Storm.

Even, as I discovered last week to my great delight, PG Wodehouse could not resist slipping an Arlen mention into one of his novels. Not only that, but from the lips of one of his finest comic creations, Madeline Bassett. Let me then give the last word to Bertie Wooster as, in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), he tells of the Bassett thus:

“ ‘Oh, look,’ she said. She was a confirmed Oh-looker. I had noticed this in Cannes, where she had drawn my attention in this manner on various occasions to such diverse objects as a French actress, a Provencal filling station, the sunset over the Estorels, Michael Arlen, a man selling coloured spectacles, the deep velvet blue of the Mediterranean, and the late Mayor of New York in a striped once-piece bathing suit.”

David Butler

Monday, 2 November 2009

HARD LINES

I came across an interesting literary site today that was previously unknown to me, called The Millions. At the moment, there is a series of interesting posts on the subject of 'difficult' books, i.e. those canonical titles which deter many readers because of their length, complexity or related qualities.

As always with these lists, reading the posts caused several arrows of literary shame to lodge themselves in my psyche, each one representing a classic it is particularly embarrassing not to have read. Interestingly, among these is Anatomy of Melancholy, which I have just renewed through my local library, having failed to make significant progress with it during the first three week loan period. I also have to admit Tristram Shandy and Clarissa into my Hall of Shame. I was pleased to register full marks, however, for, among others, Moby Dick and As I Lay Dying (not really, I think, a difficult book).

At the risk of boring everybody, let me again extol the virtues of the modern library world, whose features include the ability to renew one's books by telephone. I'm increasingly relying on my local outlet, rather than our bookshop, to lead me to undiscovered and interesting books.


David


Thursday, 29 October 2009

INDEPENDENTLY UNITED

We were chuffed to learn that one of our titles has been selected for a very interesting and worthwhile book trade promotion.

From November 3rd, a number of bookshops, over a wide geographical area, will carry copies of We The Accused as part of the next Exclusively Independent monthly campaign.

Legend Press, in conjunction with the Arts Council England, launched this innovative scheme in 2008, aimed at bringing independent bookshops and independent publishers together. E.I. created the format of a shelf-size display of books from independent publishers, selected on a monthly basis by an industry panel. The other books to be featured in November are:

HEARTLAND by Anthony Cartwright (Tindal St Press)
WAKING THE WORLD by Matt Thomas (Tony Potter)
MR DARCY, VAMPYRE by Amanda Grange (Sourcebooks Inc)
MRS LINCOLN by Janis Cooke Newman (Myrmidon)
ROADS AHEAD edited by Catherine O'Flynn (Tindal Street Press)
A SON CALLED GABRIEL by Damian McNicholl (Legend Press)
OBAMA MUSIC by Bonnie Greer (Legend Press)
PASTORS AND MASTERS by Ivy Compton-Burnett (Hesperus Press)
THE GHOSTS OF EDEN by Andrew JH Sharp (Picnic Press)

It' s a treat to be partnered with such vibrant and diverse independent publishers. I hope you enjoy visiting their sites.


David

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

AUTUMN HARVEST


We've just released another trio of wonderful books, each one providing a different but wholly worthwhile reading experience.

A State of Change proves that Polish immigration is not a new phenomenon. In this book, a young Polish woman, Katia, offers an unusual and brilliant insight into 1960's London, and finds herself involved in a love triangle. The author, Penelope Gilliatt, led a fascinating life and wrote in many genres, including film criticism. She was married to the playwright John Osborne.

Another shamefully neglected (until we came along) female author, the delightfully named Storm Jameson, was not only remarkable for her work in helping the
escape of many writers from German-occupied Europe, but wrote 45 novels. Love in Winter deals with a torrid affair between the two central characters in the inter-war years.

Lastly, we're proud to have produced our own edition of Allan Quatermain, H Rider Haggard's African romp. The title character (who also stars in King Solomon's Mines) is largely thought to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones figure in the movie quartet.

I hope you enjoy these books.

If you'd like to air your own views on any reasonable literary topic in this blog, please send me a piece and I will be happy to consider it.


David

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A BOUQUET FOR DARK FLOWER

The recent lapse on blogging is due to the fact that I've been attending the Frankfurt Book Fair (or......this is another fine Buchmesse you've got me into). Since I get jet lag by moving between villages, let alone countries, it's taken me a few days to resettle myself.

I was delighted to discover, on my return, a wonderful - in all senses - review of Dark Flower on the blog Frisbee: a Book Journal.

Frisbee's prodigious appetite for and knowledge of books and authors makes me feel like I'm still struggling with John seeing Spot run (good dog, Spot) and s/he discusses this and related novels beautifully.

Galsworthy fans may be interested to learn that we are publishing his The Island Pharisees in July 2010.


David

Monday, 12 October 2009

HERMAPHRODITE HIGHWAYWOMAN


A Capuchin reader called Howard Watson has contributed this article on Moll Cutpurse, the notorious highway robber. It's a fascinating piece, which points out many of the literary associations to this incredible character.

1611, Fortune Theatre, London: The Roaring Girl, a comedy by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, receives its world premiere, and who is there but the ‘roaring girl’ herself, Moll Cutpurse. Middleton and Dekker described her as having “the spirit of four great parishes, and a voice that will drown all the city.” She earned her name as a cutpurse, or pickpocket, but became, as the social historian Patrick Pringle dubbed her, the Mother of Highwaymen.

Until the formation of the Bow Street Runners, founded by novelist Henry Fielding and his brother John, the blind judge, highway robbery was rife on the highways and byways of England.

Born in the reign of Elizabeth I, Mary Frith was reported to have “her fists tightly clenched” and as she grew she displayed all the hallmarks of a tomboy. An only child of a shoemaker and his wife, who lived in the Barbican, the young Mary was doted on by her parents, who ensured that she received a sound education. She had no truck with girlish pursuits, however, preferring sword and dagger to a bodkin and thimble. Young Mary soon became the Tudor equivalent of a teenage tearaway, found more in the company of boys, clad in doublet and hose and claimed to be the first female smoker!

Moll’s criminal career soon took off when, having tired of the prices offered for her ill-gotten gains, she set herself up as a fence. Such was her stock amongst the underworld that whatever was stolen, it stood a very good chance of ending up in her shop. People stopped advertising for their stolen property, instead making a beeline for Moll’s. Everyone knew that they could get a fair deal, trusted as she was by the robbers and the robbed.

In her fifteenth year, she had become a skilled thief, but exactly when she took to the road is difficult to establish. Her ability to handle firearms, her skill as a rider and her mannish appearance meant few if any of her male victims would have been able to identify her. Fear of public ridicule would have prevented from others admitting that a woman had robbed them; even if it was the legendary Moll Cutpurse!

All her biographers agree that she was a highwaywoman, although they are reticent on actual details. There is but one tale of any length but it is a good one.

Moll had long been robbing of the road when, during the period of the Commonwealth, she stole two hundred and fifty Jacobuses, or gold coins struck during the reign of James I, from the Roundhead general, and friend of Cromwell, General Fairfax, upon Hounslow Heath. In years to come, the heath would become a popular haunt of many a highwayman. Fairfax had to be convinced to hand over his money, Moll wounding him with her pistol. The general’s servants were unable to pursue her, as she shot their horses from underneath them, as she rode off. The incident took place in broad daylight.

Fleeing the scene of the crime, one of her tricks was to don complete female apparel but, in this instance, there was no time. Her luck seemingly running out, as her horse failed her at Turnham Green. Unable to escape, she was surrounded and taken into custody. Newgate Gaol was normally the last port of call for most felons, but she secured her release by handing the sum of £2,000 to General Fairfax.

As historian Christopher Hibbert wrote, in his study on highwaymen: as “a highwaywoman she seems, indeed, to have been more successful than any of her eighteenth century male successors”.

Throughout her colourful life, and for a time after her death, rumours abounded that Moll was 'intersex', the modern term now used to describe what was then called a hermaphrodite. She was clearly bisexual and had many lovers of both sexes. In The Roaring Girl, the on-stage character of Moll, she is quoted: “I have no humour to marry,” she states, “for I love to lie a’ both sides a’ th’ bed… I have the head of myself and am man enough for any woman.”

Dekker and Middleton were not just writing about contemporary person, but they frequented the same Fleet Street taverns and caroused with her. When she speaks in the play, her words have a ring of authenticity. Shakespeare was a contemporary of both writers and he too made reference to her in one of his plays. Sir Toby Belch’s allusion about taking the dust “like Mistress Mall’s pictures” is obscure, but Middleton is believed to have helped the Bard with one or two of his own plays, including Macbeth.

To the first biographer of highwaymen, Captain Alexander Smith, in his seminal work, A Complete History of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (1719), she was a “lusty and sturdy wench”.

She died, rather unromantically, of the dropsy, and was interred in St Bride’s churchyard, close to her home in Fleet Street, with a fair marble stone over her grave. Ever the ardent Royalist, she left £20 for her friends and associates to drink the health of the king when once more he ruled the land. She asked to be interred with a pistol, the breach pointing skywards. Her epitaph, rather erroneously attributed to Milton, and was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, read:

Here lies under this same marble,

Dust, for Time’s last sieve to garble;

Dust, to perplex a Sadducee,

Whether it rise a he or she,

Or two in one, a single pair,

Nature’s sport and now her care;

For how she’ll clothe it at Last Day

Unless she sighs it all away;

Or where she’ll place it, none can tell,

Some middle place ‘twixt Heaven and Hell;

And well ‘tis Purgatories found

Else she must hide her underground.

These relics do deserve the doom

That cheat of Mahomet’s fine tomb;

For no communion she had

Nor sorted with the good or bad;

That when the world shall be calcined

And the mixed mass of human kind,

Shall separate by that melting fire,

She’ll stand alone and none come nigh her.

Reader, here she lies till then.

When truly you’ll see her again.

Friday, 9 October 2009

SIXTY OF THE BEST?

Today's Times carries a feature that reveals the results of a readers' poll to nominate the sixty 'greatest novels of the last sixty years'.

To get the trivial reaction out of the way, a quick survey around my nearest office colleagues revealed we had read 12,17, 17 and 27 of the 60. No-one has yet resigned their position through the shame.

As for the slightly less trivial reaction which these lists inevitably provoke, i.e. a criticism of the inclusions and omissions, I will restrain myself to observing with scornfully raised eyebrows that the first Harry Potter book is (a) in the list at all and (b) placed above the far superior Northern Lights, (which would be a strong contender in my book for the number 2 position) and that the best novel ever written, The Third Policeman, is entirely absent. Flann O'Brien's masterpiece, although written too early for this poll, was not published until the 1960's. I make no apology whatsoever for shamelessly promoting this book again.

I wonder how different a poll of, say, Guardian readers would be. Would they, for example, choose a higher number of women writers than the 10 represented here?


David

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

WRITING WRONGS

My apologies for the long gap between blogs, for which I must blame pressure of other work.

I've just finished an ingenious and delightful take on classic crime noir, with a very imaginative twist, called The Manual of Detection, which has its own website, to boot. Paradoxical as it may sound, I've always wished I liked Crime writing, as I can recognise (but not actually feel) the attractions, namely a continuing protagonist with whom one identifies, a puzzle to solve and clues to spot, etc... Each time I attempt another novel in this genre, however, I go away disappointed and vaguely irritated. I'm sure it's a fault in me.

I can't specify exactly how The Manual of Detection is different from other books of this kind, without revealing too much of the book's plot and themes, but suffice to say that it will appeal to any reader who likes their fiction to be at something of a slant to everyday reality.


David

Monday, 28 September 2009

PAST IMPERFECT

Today we are delighted to present a guest blog by the novelist and Capuchin foreword writer Anthony Gardner.

Many books have been published years after they were first written. Proust was long dead by the time his early novel Jean Santeuil appeared; the same is true of Stendhal and Memoirs of an Egotist. But should the author be still alive when his work finally sees the light of day, there is an irritating question to be faced: what adjustments need to be made to reflect a changing world?

Ideally, the answer would be none. Any self-respecting writer aims to produce a book which is above fashion and ephemera: one which reflects the age in which it is set, but deals in eternal truths. Unfortunately, the whirligig of time has a way of tripping us up, as I discovered with my newly published novel The Rivers of Heaven, written sixteen years ago.

The story of its emergence is a strange one. Last year I finished another, very different novel – a thriller – which I showed to an aficionado of the genre; she was so enthusiastic that she took it upon herself to send it to a publisher. He rang me to say that while he admired it, it was not the sort of book he was looking for; however, if I would care to meet him he would tell me what he was after. The answer proved to be a short, dense literary novel – a description which immediately put me in mind of an earlier book. The Rivers of Heaven, in which a realistic story line alternated with a newborn child’s memories of its life before birth, had long been consigned to the bottom drawer. I dug it out, sent it off, and on a bright spring morning received a phone call with an offer of publication.

The immediate challenge was the novel’s chronology. The story was set in the early 1990s, but – its theme being the urge to recapture the past – there were many passages looking back to the narrator’s childhood in the 1960s.

My instinct was simply to preface the book with the date ‘1993’; my publisher, however, considered this to be cheating. The narrator, he insisted, must be telling his tale in the present day. This meant that I had to devise a double time scheme in which a character in 2009 remembered himself in the Nineties remembering the Sixties; I also had to decide what had happened to the other characters in the intervening years. Had they died? Had their marriages ended? ‘Much too complicated!’ I protested; but my publisher stuck to his guns. How far I succeeded in meeting his demands is for the reader to decide.

What surprised me on returning to the book was how much attitudes had changed. One of the characters, Stella, is both an unmarried mother and a white woman dating a black man – both causes of social stigma at the time of writing, though seldom considered shocking today. Would my readers recognise what she was up against? I felt confident that they would.

Similarly, I believed that they would make allowances for twentieth-century technology (part of the plot depends on the postal service being more reliable than the telephone.) I did, however, decide to remove a reference to eight-track cartridges – a recording format which readers under 40 were unlikely ever to have heard of.

A greater problem was that, as time goes by, words and names can acquire an unexpected resonance. In my original version, one of the characters was called Blair – a name not yet associated with a prominent politician. But in 2009 (or so my wife argued) no one could read the book without being reminded of weapons of mass destruction. So Blair became Clyde: a small change on the face of it, but one which involved checking the rhythm and assonance of every sentence in which the name appeared.

In the end, there was only one passage which I deleted in its entirety. This described the discomforts of a charter flight to Turkey – then something outside most people’s experience. But in an age when the miseries of Ryanair are common currency, I decided it was no longer worth dwelling on: however gruesome I made my account, someone would have a story to cap it.

Rivers of Heaven is published by Starhaven.


Friday, 25 September 2009

5 ON 3

Through the miracle of modern t.v. technology, I was able to record a Radio 3 dramatisation of Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut is my favourite novelist, and also occupies a leading position in my league table of wonderful human beings. I'll let you know what I thought of the adaptation once I've had the opportunity to hear it. The novel is based around the fire-bombing of Dresden in WW II and features a character who becomes "unstuck in time'.

I was greatly saddened by Vonnegut's death last year as well as by the relative lack of reaction to this event, particularly in the UK. I think he is still misunderstood by many people as being a 'science-fiction' writer (not that this should be any kind of deterrent to readers) because he sprinkled SF tropes throughout his books, although often in a self-aware and ironic fashion. The quality of his writing was, as he fully acknowledged, uneven, but at its best his work blended autobiography, fiction, humour and pathos in very powerful and moving way. Slaughterhouse 5 remains his most critically-acclaimed and best known novel, whereas Jailbird would top my list, although I have read, re-read and enjoyed all of his writing for many years now.

The broadcast can be heard through the inter-ether for a little while longer.


David

Friday, 18 September 2009

GREEN THOUGHTS

While working on informing the bibliographic world about our March 2010 titles (it's strange living in these different time zones) it struck me again that there's a strange green thread running through our titles.

We have The Green Hat, Green Dolphin Country, and (forthcoming) Greenmantle and The Green Child. To cap it all, we are reprinting the last of those titles with a foreword by Graham Greene.


Perhaps serving absinthe at the editorial meetings is to blame.


David








Thursday, 17 September 2009

A DAMNED GOOD READ

The book I'm reading at the moment is another random, happy find from my local library. The tome in question is The Flowers of Hell, a Satanic Reader, edited by Nikolas Schreck and published by Creation Books. The book is an anthology of pieces from many genres and many different countries, each of which is concerned with some aspect of the Devil and humanity's relationship with him. The selections range from the obvious (extracts from Dante's Inferno and a brace of Fausts) to surprises such as a wonderful novella by Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and The Diabolicon by Michael Aquino, a US Army lieutenant and specialist in psychology operations who also became an adept in and writer about necromancy.

Mr. Schreck's introduction provides a fascinating summary of the way in which Satan, Hell and associated concepts have evolved in western religious thought and culture in general, and all in all this book is a model of what a good anthology should be: some familiar pieces for context and comparison; some unusual entries - which inspire interest in unfamiliar writers and subjects - and a stimulating introduction which provides a thoughtful and useful framework in which to place the pieces.


David

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

POETRY AND WAR

The media coverage of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War has reminded me of a poem and a poet I was introduced to in secondary school. This introduction was courtesy of the same inspirational English teacher to which this blog has previously alluded.

I speak of The Naming of Parts by Henry Reed (this is a really good website, by the way), one of a six part sequence based on and partly satirising the army's instructional lectures from that period. The way in which the poem took words and phrases from one context and gave them new connotations and meaning in another, was something I found very powerful and magical, and studying the poem helped set the seal on an early appreciation of poetry.

I was similarly affected by a Keith Douglas poem from the same war:

Vergissmeinnicht (Forget Me Not)

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.


Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht
in a copybook gothic script.


We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed.


But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.


For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled

has done the lover mortal hurt.

If, as I suspect, these poems are less well known than their counterparts from the first global conflict, I think it is a sad cultural loss.


David

Thursday, 3 September 2009

A THING OF CELLULOID

You've read the poems, now see the movie and visit the house.

I'm intrigued by the forthcoming film Bright Star, which charts the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Films about major British poets are not thick on the ground, (Shakespeare in Love is the only recent example I can bring to mind) but the young, tubercular romantic figure that Keats cuts in the popular imagination makes him the obvious choice. The film is directed by Jane Campion, best known for The Piano, and always a watchable film-maker. It will be interesting to see how the film affects sales of Keats' poetry, especially with the genre being so well treated to such good effect by the recent BBC programmes. I wonder if we're in for a bout of Keats mania, in the same way that the Auden poems featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral were given such a boost by that film. I think we can rule out Keats and Fanny action figures, however.

I'm not sure which Keats lines now resonate most within the public consciousness, but my favourite poems are Ode on Melancholy, for its superb, melodramatic, gothic atmosphere and The Eve of St. Agnes for its bold evocation of the medieval and its narrative brilliance.

I was pleased to read that the Keats House in Hampstead has reopened after a major refurbishment. This is one of the many London landmarks that I am ashamed not to have visited, and I look forward to remedying this deficiency.


David




Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A LITTLE POE POURRI

We are very pleased to add an Edgar Allan Poe title to the Capuchin canon. Poe was an extraordinary and controversial figure, and the influence of his work still resonates to this day, especially through the crime, horror and detective genres in literature, film and television.

In addition to being widely recognised as the founder of the modern crime story, with his investigating genius Dupin (who brought what Poe describes as 'ratiocination' to his amateur crime-solving) Poe also developed and evolved elements of horror, the romantic and the macabre in his writing, and helped establish and define such writing for future generations of writers.

My own particular frames of reference for this writer include the highly eccentric but brilliant outpourings of an American Studies lecturer I had at university, among whose recommendations for further reading was a biography called "Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe", and the wonderful children's books by Joan Aiken (follow the link for one of the best and most originally-designed author's sites I've ever seen) about a raven called Mortimer and his hapless young 'owner' Arabel. Poe's raven lives on in this anarchically comic and rumbustious series, uttering, as did his gothic predecessor in Poe's poem, cries of "nevermore" whenever a situation displeased him. As with much children's literature, I was introduced to this series by a glorious rendition on the BBC's Jackanory programme, but only grasped the reference to Poe many years later.



David



Thursday, 27 August 2009

A POLISH TRIANGLE

There are intersting similarities between the subject of the last blog, Storm Jameson, and the author of another title we launch in October, Penelope Gilliatt and A State of Change respectively. For one thing, both are now far less known than their considerable talents deserve; for another Gilliatt, like Jameson, was a keen analyst of politics and society, and wove these observations into her remarkable writing. Born to parents raised in the world of the Newcastle shipping trade, she developed and maintained a strong left-wing perspective on life, and was one of the founding members of the anti Hydrogen Bomb Commitee of 100.

A State of Change is set in London during the period between 1949 and the late 1960's, and examines - as Ali Smith points our in her superb and inspiring foreword -
post-war health, rebirth and art...
and is
very much a critique of words and what they mean, and of Britishness in the 1960's...
Its main character is - with interesting prescience - a young Polish immigrant, Kakia Grabowska, who finds a London
full of closed circles and bitterness about income tax
and who attracts the attentions of two very different suitors as she explores and reacts to the radically different world in which she hopes to find a less harsh and cynical life than she had endured as a member of a persecuted race in wartime Warsaw.

One of the truly remarkable things about Gilliatt is the range of her talents. Not only did she write brilliantly structured and compelling fiction (Ali Smith compares her writing to that of Muriel Spark, DH Lawrence and Ivy Compton Burnett) but was an accomplished pianist, a renowned cinema critic (for The Observer, among other journals) and an award-winning screenplay writer (for Sunday, Bloody Sunday).

It would be a great cultural loss if this fine novelist and exceptionally talented individual was chiefly remembered for having once been married to John Osborne.


I hope you enjoy her book.


David


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

STORM WARNING


In the first of four blogs looking at the Capuchin Classics to be unleashed in October, I wanted to say a few words about Storm Jameson, author of Love in Winter.

Jameson is precisely the kind of writer that Capuchin was established to r
ecover from undeserved neglect. She published an extraordinary 45 novels (in addition to much non-fiction work) between 1919 and 1979, joining the ranks of writers who united a consummate narrative gift for plot and characterisation with an acute and critical vision of the harm that society, politics and war can do to a nation and its people. Never losing sight of her socialist and humanitarian principles, Jameson became the first woman president of International PEN at the outbreak of World War II, and was instrumental in the escape of writers from German-occupied Europe.

As Julie Birkett points out in her illuminating and inspiring foreword to our edition, which can be downloaded from the Capuchin website, Love in Winter is, as well as a moving and closely autobiographical account of her struggles to obtain a divorce and remarry, a superb so
cial and economic anatomy of London in 1924. The city in this novel is akin to a fantastic, complex living creature, which one of the characters finds is

"growling
in her ears, like a wild beast".

Birkett also points out the importance of writing and writers in Jameson's
world view, and how she looked to them to provide visions of a
happier, safer world.



Storm Jamieson's full, fascinating life is told in Julie Birkett's recently published biography, Margaret Storm Jameson, a Life (OUP 2009).


David


Thursday, 20 August 2009

BODY LANGUAGE

I jokingly remarked to a very academically gifted friend of mine recently that tackling a chapter of her thesis on Shakespeare using only my under-equipped brain had given me nosebleeds, dizzy spells and fever.

This started me thinking about the relationship between words, reading and physiological effects, and I recalled an SF novel by Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash, in which a computer virus threatens the brains of those who 'read' it through their internet connections. It's a novel bubbling over with wit, invention and humour, and thoroughly recommended.

AE Housman famously declared that he couldn't think of a great line of poetry while he was shaving because it would give him goose-pimples and he would cut himself. Also, in the lovely novel The Crock of Gold by James Stephens, one of the characters says: "I will make a poem some day....and every man will shout when he hears it".

Said thesis-writing friend added:

and consider as well Elizabethan antitheatricalists with their theories of physiological mimesis in spectators (men turning into women, for instance, after witnessing transvestite performances onstage).

Every Man will Shout was also, incidentally, the title of a poetry anthology we used in middle school, which has stuck in my mind, as does the gentle refrain of our then English teacher that:

Literature is life, and studying literature is studying life.

David


Monday, 17 August 2009

BOXING CLEVER

Using the current announcement of women's boxing being admitted to the Olympics as the flimsiest of pretexts, I wanted to write a little about my pleasure in reading Capuchin Classic's very own Cashel Byron's Profession. This book, as you may know, has a prizefighter as its male lead, and was one of only five novels produced by Shaw.

Anthony Lejeune's thoughtful introduction leads into a very Shavian preface, in which the writer holds forth with witty mock self-effacement about the whole tricky business of getting publishers to accept novels. It begins:


I never think of Cashel Byron's Profession without a shudder at the narrowness of my escape from becoming a successful novelist at the age of twenty-six. At that moment an adventurous publisher would have ruined me. Fortunately for me, there were no adventurous publishers at that time...

Later in this piece Shaw describes his return to the manuscript of an old, unpublished novel thus:

Part of it had by this time been devoured by mice, though even they had not been able to finish it.

Shaw is also not too proud to unveil the playfully cruel analysis produced by Robert Louis Stevenson of this novel, which ends:

Struggling, overlaid original talent......................... 1 1/2 part
Blooming gaseous folly............................................. 1 part


The novel itself opens with Cashel's somewhat listless and disengaged mother being informed by the Headmaster of her son's school that Cashel is displaying a lack of appetite for education coupled with an unhealthy interest in fisticuffs. Having been then summoned by his mama for a private interview, and vainly defending himself, Cashel resolves to run away to sea, in company with another disaffected boy who aims for Scotland. The description of their flight is a classic piece of comic writing, which prefigures Wodehouse to some extent. Here is the hapless companion's experience as a runaway:

After parting from Cashel and walking two miles, he had lost heart and turned back. Half way to the cross roads he had reproached himself with cowardice, and resumed his flight. This time he placed eight miles betwixt himself and Moncrief House. Then he left the road to make a short cut through a plantation, and went astray. After wandering dejectedly until morning, he saw a woman working in a field, and asked her the shortest way to Scotland. She had never heard of Scotland; and when he asked her the shortest way to Panley, she grew suspicious and threatened to set her dog at him.

This is a light but brilliantly witty novel, which any lover of well-constructed English prose will enjoy.


P.S. We had a question sent to us about the ending of South Wind, and a possible 'missing' three lines. We would like to confirm that the author - Norman Douglas - produced different versions of this passage, and that the version from which we worked both matches the last edition of the book and is approved by the Society of Authors.


David


Friday, 7 August 2009

MONSTERS IN THE LIBRARY


Rounding off the books in books theme, I couldn't resist mentioning the wonderfully strange library in Garth Nix's novel Lirael. This book belongs to the Abhorsen trilogy, an intelligent and brilliantly realised fantasy series that, while packaged for young adults, should appeal to any discriminating book lover. One of the series' particular strengths, and where many lesser books of this type fall short, is in the way it delineates the relationship and differences between 'our' world and the magical realm. The ways in which the latter is constructed and operates are particularly well thought through. I would rank this writing alongside the Earthsea books for its handling of fantasy material and seriousness of purpose and subject matter.

The library in question, being a repository of arcane and magical material, is not a place into which to tread lightly, in that one may encounter within its walls not only powerful and dangerous books but also deadly creatures who are 'shelved' along with the more conventional items, and releasing whom may prove fatal. Much witty play is made of how dangerous it is to accept the sacred role of a librarian in this library. I wonder if Mr. Nix (not a nom-de-plume, apparently) is reacting here against the (profoundly unjust) stereotyping of the species as timid and colourless, and if so whether this is borne out of having been a librarian himself.

For anyone who hasn't discovered this series, I suggest you weave the appropraite spell and manifest immediately in your local bookshop to rectify this grave omission.


David

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

FINN MAC COOL MEETS A PINT OF GUINNESS


Following on from yesterday's discussion of Labyrinths, I'd like to sing the praises of a novel which uses books within books to great comic effect, namely At Swim Two Birds, by Flann O'Brien. O'Brien's The Third Policeman is my favourite novel, and while At Swim... has the same qualities of erudite wit and surreal imagination, it is a denser, more difficult novel, steeped in references to Irish mythology, and especially to the mad king Sweeney and Finn Mac Cool.

It is hard to convey the quality and nature of this bizarre and complex work, but it depends to a large extent for its effects on the inter-weaving of different texts and modes of writing. These include a cliche-riddled series of letters from a racing tipster, a 'Conspectus of arts and sciences' and the wonderful, insane ravings of the mad bird-king Sweeney. Moreover, a series of fictions is nested within the book, which accounts for much of its structure and appeal, as the narrator is found to be writing a book in which a character is writing a book, the characrters of which in turn write a book to punish 'their' author for the way in which they're treated in his book. Genres, characters and plots spill into each other and overlap in a bewildering and hilarious literary kaleidoscope.

I'm very conscious of this being a woefully inadequate description. Go read it.


David

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

At a shamefully late stage in my reading life, I have finally read Labyrinths by Borges. While finding a few of the stories less interesting than I'd anticipated, I thought that most of them were brilliant, thought-provoking exercises in the literature of ideas, particularly in their discussion of language, meta-fiction and meta-reality. My favourite is The Library of Babel, which begins:

The universe, (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.......Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues.

The story goes on to explore various aspects of the Library and the books within, including the notion that the Library contains all the possible books of which one could conceive, and 'the Man of the Book' :

On some shelf in some hexagon, (men reasoned) there must exist a book which is the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest: some librarian has gone through it and is analogous to a god. In the language of this zone vestiges of this remote functionary's cult still persist.

The themes of religion, philosophy, language and existential meaning are all woven through this story in a manner which is both intellectually dazzling and highly readable, and it has lodged firmly in my mind, already nagging me to re-read it.

I'll be writing about other books in books over the next couple of days.


David


Thursday, 30 July 2009

US AND THEM


Many thanks to Val Hennessy at the Daily Mail for a nice review of Vercors' You Shall Know them. Val says:

From the dramatic beginning you will be mesmerised by this weird, though-provoking novel

and concludes that the book is

a good, gripping read.

Vercors' book is an examination of the dividing line between humans and other animals, and doesn't shirk from profound philosophical investigation into the nature of humanity. The plot involves a radical and daring experiment in which a journalist artificially inseminates a female of the 'tropi' species and then deliberately kills the resulting infant, in order to provoke a trial which examines the nature of the tropi, of humanity and of his crime.

With an ever growing consciousness around the world about how we treat other species, with Spain granting apes 'human' rights, and groups in other countries agitating for the same, there was never a more timely novel.


David

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

DESIGN OF THE TIMES


While I was on holiday The Independent published a fascinating article on book cover design, under the cheeky heading Covered in Glory. The feature, by Jonathan Gibbs, describes the recent years as "a golden age" for book design, and sets this observation in the context of the perceived threat to the physical book (and the physical book cover) represented by the cyber-gizmos such as the Kindle, which are, many believe, poised Dalek-like on the brink of obliterating print.

Jonathan was kind enough to mention the Capuchin Classics as one of four reprint houses whose output exemplifies good book design. Jonathan says:

Capuchin Classics, by contrast, hark back to the classic Penguin "grid format", with bands of signature mint-green and original illustrations by Angela Landels. For Capuchin's editor-in-chief, Emma Howard, this aspect of the cover design was crucial. "We thought that using line drawings would be a refreshing antidote to the ghastly photographic covers that you see everywhere,".

The article is illustrated with many wonderful examples of the book cover art, including our own The Green Hat. This gem of a novel has become our best-selling title, and we are very excited by the forthcoming (January) publication of the same author's These Charming People.



David.




Monday, 27 July 2009

GLOWING PRAISE FOR SUPER NOVA


Thanks to Sophia Martelli in yesterday's Observer for a lovely review of Incandescence, which appeared in the paper's splendid Classics Corner spot.

Sophia says :
"Long out of print, Incandescence fits perfectly into Capuchin Classics' mission to "revive great works of fiction that have been unjustly forgotten or neglected". Championed by William Boyd, writer of the book's foreword, it is a gritty, glittering star in the publisher's line-up."
Sophie goes on to praise the novel's "hard-boiled urban poetry" and compares Nova's prose style to DeLilo, Kerouac, Chandler and Amis.

This is very welcome praise for a grossly undersung literary figure.


David








Friday, 24 July 2009

SHOP TALK continued yet again


Concluding the round up of recently acquired Capuchin Classics stockists, we have:

Sweetens in Bolton (pictured); The New Bookshop in Cockermouth and E Hopper & Co Ltd. in Malton.

A good bookshop, even in this age of rapidly encroaching digitisation, can be a vital part of its community and help to shape the identity of its location. My personal favourite is Daunt in Marylebone High Street, London, which combines being set in a beautiful building in an interesting location with intelligently selected books which are enticingly displayed and sold by personable and knowledgeable staff. The Daunt model has now been rolled out to four other sites in London.

I'd be fascinated to hear about your own choices.


David

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

SHOP TALK continued


I'm pleased to announce that a further number of bookshops has joined the list of those who stock the Capuchin Classics. It's been particularly interesting to learn about those outlets lying outside my natural Home Counties territory.

Corbett's Bookshops have branches in Princes Risborough, Bucks. and West Byfleet, Surrey (ok, we're starting closer to home, be patient).

Knaresborough Bookshop has since 1969 been offering a wonderful range of local books combined with an impressively large selection of carefully selected titles across the genres.

Nantwich Bookshop (illustrated above) is housed in a beautiful half-timbered building, where it graces this delightful Cheshire town. Apologies for lapsing into tourist office speak there.

Bookstack in Eastbourne sounds like another very intelligently-run bookshop, and was featured a s such in the Guardian's feature on our best independent bookshops.


I'll continue this round-up in the next blog.


Happy bookshop hunting.


David




Friday, 17 July 2009

ZOMBIES IN TUSCANY

It is with no apology whatsoever that I post another blog on the subject of holiday reading. It was with a sense of quiet approval that my wife and I noticed, on arriving at the Tuscan villa (a short distance from Pian di Sco, pictured) which was to be our home for a week, that our fellow guests had already created a communal literature facility by placing piles of books they had brought with them on a table under one of the loggias (or loggie, for our Italian readers). This collection embraced a wide range of styles and genres, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Confessions of a Shopaholic. As usual, I packed far more books than necessary, but they did betray a certain enigmatic eclecticness among the general collection, including as they did a facsimile reprint of a nineteenth-century treatise on the history of archery, The Book of Archery, and Labyrinths by Borges.

We were also intrigued to discover that there was a huge collection of English language books throughout the villa (although not entirely surprised, given that it's owned by an ex-pat). This included several books by Robert B. Parker, which pleased one member of our party no end, as she had brought one of his novels with her and was eager for more. Witnessing the enthusiasm and passion with which people describe the Crime genre, I often wish I could enjoy this type of writing, but every time I try again I'm diasapointed and irritated. This is probably a fault in me.

I did manage to finish Capuchin Classics' own Shirley's Guild and a fascinating biography of my cultural hero, Leonard Cohen, called Various Positions.


Tuscany itself was fabulous, very hot and full of Dante.


David

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

SUN LIT

The current spot of atmospheric warmness might have led me to contemplate those great passages of poetry and prose which have described relentless, oppressive, unstinting, stultifying (yes, the Central line is getting to me) heat . Instead, thanks to the mental giddiness engendered by both the soaring temperature and my imminent holiday (we're escaping to chilly Tuscany), I thought you might enjoy a list of literary landmarks which so nearly describe our current weather.

You might like to start with the feminist standard - Fear of Frying, before leaping into the urban present with Rainspotting and then, pining for the quieter bucolicism of the English countryside, reach for Bakenfield. Why not wash that down with the somewhat frothier narrative, Thirst among Equals, leading naturally enough to that sad state of affairs, The Last Bottle. Or you may prefer a traditional, cosy detective series, such as Sweaty Wainthropp Investigates*.

Finally, what better epilogue to the whole experience than to return to - following the inevitable hosepipe legislation - Graham Swift's mysterious, elegaic Waterbanned.


The blog is now packing its bags and practising its appalling Italian, and will return on Monday July 13'th, or thereabouts.


David


*Fair enough, it's a TV series based on a novel, but who could resist?