Thursday 24 December 2009


The honours board: 2009 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and shortlist, 2009 Forward Prize, for the first CBe poetry book; shortlist, 2009 Popescu Prize, for the first CBe poetry in translation; 2008 McKitterick Prize for the first CBe fiction.

The prosecution: Pretty prizes, huh. How many books have you sold?

The defence: Prizes are about the books being read by people who are in a position to announce to others that the books are worth reading. Such attention is everything. Does a book exist if no one knows it exists? And I’m glad for the authors who receive recognition, confirmation. Apart from that, prizes are like school speech-days at the end of term; they ignore the oddballs at the back of the class and have no influence on my own choice of reading. Sales: more than last year, but for a more specific answer you’ll have to ask again at the end of March when I do the adding up.

Favourite colour: Blue. Sometimes pink. Do not read anything into this.

Good guys: Chris, printer man down the road who cuts a good deal and looked after my cats in the summer even after he got sideswiped by a forklift truck; Wendy Toole, proofreader and ‘professional director of development’ at the SFEP when she’s in the mood; Shona Andrew (, cover designer of the books that aren’t brown but that’s the least of it. There are many others – booksellers, editors, readers – and easily the best part of this madness has been these people.

Bad guys: No actual names, because it’s the attitudes they represent rather than they themselves that irritate me, but one of them just might be the ‘pin-up boy of independent publishing’ (quote from online interview of a year of so back) and another a broadsheet panjandrum I’ve mentioned before: one might have thought reading the necessary first base for opinionating, but no.

The weather: cold. Rain coming in from the south.

Why? John Self’s Asylum offered a generous possible reason a month or so back: ‘Thank heavens for CB editions and their like: perhaps these are the places where everything worthwhile, however long forgotten, is preserved and recorded.’ But that’s not it; the books are good things to put into the world but as a record they are more transient than an online archive. It is, rather, more like serious play plus a dose of megalomania.

Wish-list: More time. Two crates of French wine from the man who deals in the next street. A better defence lawyer. Something written in invisible ink.

Civilisation-as-we-know-it: Earlier this year Philip Roth gave the literary novel another 25 years, then reconsidered: ‘I was being optimistic about 25 years really. I think it’s going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range.’ Writing is no longer central; poetry, arguably, already is cultic. But pointless to moan; for small-scale outfits such as CBe, a base of around the number of present-day Latin-readers will do nicely, as long as they are regular readers.

Leftover turkey
: peel meat off carcase in strips, fry to almost crispness, mix in serving dish with hot cooked rice, splash liberally with soy sauce, add lots of sliced cucumber round the edge. Very basic, but Boxing Day is hardly a time for culinary sophistication.

The next titles: David Markson in February. In May, short stories (‘shrewdly observed, wickedly funny,’ says Salley Vickers) by Marjorie Ann Watts. In the autumn, a short novel by Gabriel Josipovici. Meanwhile, Happy Christmas to anyone dropping by.

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