Sunday 28 March 2010


Prince Philip Speaks: the title of a book of his selected speeches from the 1950s that I stumbled across in a second-hand bookshop this weekend. The blurb, of course, declared him to be one of the finest speech-writers of the century. This is part of the joy and poignancy of second-hand bookshops: the topsyturvydom of reputations and rankings. Charles Morgan, Richard Aldington, Storm Jameson, Angus Wilson, William Cooper: where are they now? Some of them, doubtless, in the print-on-demand Faber Finds list, surrendering to its ‘unfortunately hideous’ (quote from Asylum: absolutely right) design. Second-hand bookshops do have this graveyard aspect, prompting a wondering about the reputations of many current writers grandiloquently acclaimed.

Philip, of course, is still alive and reasonably well, though any new book of his utterances is likely to be collection of his off-the-cuff remarks rather than his speeches. ‘If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed,’ he told British students in Beijing in 1986. He breathes life into the tradition of royal visits. And this, from 1981: ‘Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed.’

Any writer feeling insecure about their current reputation, or considering grounding it in a regular salary, might consider this current job ad in the Guardian, also spotted this weekend: Mid-weight writer. Nobel winners (heavy) and chick-lit authors (light) need not apply. ‘You will need to have experience of writing for corporate clients, project managing your own work and dealing with clients face to face . . . This role is best suited to an enthusiastic, energised self starter with plenty of common sense and a forward thinking approach to problem solving. A passion for writing is essential.’


John Self said...

I really do think that being 'rescued' by Faber Finds is somehow worse than remaining out of print. At least then we can hope for revival by a handsome, 'proper' imprint. Angus Wilson is alive and well in NYRB Classics - ironic that no UK publisher has thought his books worthy of breathing life into - and William Cooper's Scenes from Provincial Life is shortly to be reissued by Penguin as one of their Decades series, with cover art by Peter Blake. Unfortunately it comes in a fat volume, twinned with the inferior sequel Scenes from Married Life, as the rights holders wouldn't let Penguin issue the first book on its own.

charles said...

Welcome, John. Faber Finds: a good deed in a naughty world, or a scam? I think the latter, disguised as the former. If you really think a book is worth reissuing, you give it a bit of love: design the text, apply some thought and individual skill to the cover, commission an introduction from a current writer to lead new readers in. (NYRB, of course.) For the FFs, the text is scanned and flowed into a template; the covers are produced by an algorithm (or a four-year-old with a spirograph), and the books are priced way above what you can usually find them for on Abebooks. This is about making money from cheaply-bought rights with little risk.

John Self said...

All of the above, but not only that: the damn things don't even have any text on the back to say what the book is about, or author info or the like. (At least the ones I've seen in the flesh don't.) It really is lowest-cost, lowest-interest publishing. I remember someone from Faber saying they had to sell just 50 copies of each Faber Finds title to start making money on them. Frankly I'm surprised it's so many.

Tom Cunliffe said...

You're a brave man to embark on that one (but perhaps you didn't actually purchase it!)

I've done quite a bit of that mid-weight writing referred to in the advert and am pleased to be out of it.