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The Editor's View April 06


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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Betjeman recalled . . . numbers count at the Book Fair . . . does crime sell more than romance?


POET LAUREATES come . . . and Poet Laureates go, few to be remembered. Among those not only remembered but loved is John Betjeman whose centenary we celebrate this year.

Ask anyone to name a few holders of the office and you might get three or four names; the current holder, Andrew MotionEnglish poet, novelist and biographer; Poet Laureate of United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009; during his laureateship founded the Poetry Archive, an online resource of poems and audio recordings of poets reading their own work, his predecessor Ted Hughes, John Betjeman and one or two remembered from schooldays like Robert Bridges, Tennyson, Southey and Dryden.

Now ask the same people to quote a verse or two. The list will shrink but the one most likely to be quoted is Betjeman.

He had the ability to engage the public consciousness. As usual, when such success is achieved in Britain, the cognoscenti gathers to decry the artist, whether writer, composer or painter. To be popular in certain fields is akin to being sub-standard.

I thought Betjeman was wonderful. On target with his "friendly bombs" for Slough and who could not lust after the athletic charms of Joan Hunter Dunn?

Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J.Hunter Dunn

Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun.

He was a performance poet before the term was coined.

The gentle delivery honed from pre-war Oxford and the adoption of an amateur style hiding sharp professionalism won him more admirers from radio and television broadcasts.

He left Oxford without a degree and worked as a secretary, teacher and film critic before maturing as a writer on the Architectural Review.

As a poet he never took himself too seriously but his satire had the sharpness of Swift. The dagger was concealed beneath calculated fogeyish charm.

There’s much going on this year to celebrate the centenary. An exhibition at the Bodleian, Radio 4 will have a Betjeman day on his birthday, August 28, and a wreath will be laid in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Plaques will be unveiled, a locomotive named and BBC television and the British Film Institute will pay their respects.

He lies in a tiny churchyard alongside St. Enodoc Golf Course in Cornwall, where there will be a centenary tournament sponsored by the Guardian. Betjeman would have enjoyed that. And I might, too.

* * *

VISITORS to the London Book Fair could be forgiven if they thought that it was not all about words but about numbers.

Deals were being struck all over the place. Rights sold to Mexico. Rights bought from America. Film rights offered here and audio rights there.

The move from Olympia to Excel in Docklands was an improvement but the success of the event is going to require more space next year.

Now, all you silver-haired folk who think it is too late to gain a publishing contract, consider the case of Harry Bernstein.

Hutchinson and Arrow have signed him for his debut book, The Invisible Wall: a memoir of growing up in Lancashire before the First World War.

Harry is 95.

From grey matter to grey area. Abi Titmus has signed "a substantial deal" to publish her autobiography this autumn. It will be illustrated and "frank and revealing," and I’m sure we can be certain of the latter. The deal is with Virgin, of course.

* * *

AMONG many oddities at the LBF was Artists and Prostitutes by David LaChapelle. Raunchy stuff. The 688-page book weighing in at more than 68lb had a print run of 2,500 numbered and signed by the author.

Cover price is £1200 and part of it is produced at the Vatican’s bindery. Vatican officials reviewed the contents and were happy with it. As if celibacy wasn’t hard enough.

* * *

NOT too many surprises on the Orange long list – but if choosing titles for your reading group you might care to form an opinion.

Included in the long list are:

Rape: A Love Story, by Joyce Carol Oates. This concerns a victim who falls in love with her attacker. That will provide a few headlines, if finally chosen – which is, after all, what the sponsor seeks.

Also included are: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, The Accidental by Ali Smith and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

* * *

AT ANY trade show you will get lies, damned lies and statistics so why should the LBF be any different? At each major stand we asked: which sells most – crime or romance? Crime, certainly. Romance, most definitely. Views were firmly held and equally divided.

The answer, of course, doesn’t matter. The Romantic Novelists Association, which does more for beginners than most organisations, is heading for its major Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

And the Crime Writers Association is delivering daggers faster than a Japanese opera. Pay your money and make your choice.

* * *

ONE OF the newest selfpublishing organisations, Grosvenor House Publishing, has introduced a new initiative in providing 125 retail outlets for its authors.

This is one of the most innovative steps we have seen for some time and marks a further breakthrough in the self-publishing field.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


Read the article about setting up WritersServices which was originally published in Writers' Forum magazine.

© Writers International Ltd 2006. Reproduced from Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.