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The Editor's View March 06


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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Du Maurier inspiration . . . books for children . . . Majestic guests. . . have you got the tockers?


DAPHNE DU MAURIER was one of those writers who inspired devotion among her readers. If they read one book they wanted more and each new novel was eagerly awaited. My daughters, now all grown up, never looked for teenage fiction. In fact, it was not a term coined when they were growing up. Du Maurier, D H Lawrence and Scott Fitzgerald were their favourites.

Once one had read Frenchman's Creek they all read it and almost fought for priority over the others.

When I told them that Daphne herself had met her husband, Colonel Browning, when he sailed his yacht into the Fowey estuary... Wow!

I remember, too, that Daphne telephoned me when her husband, Lieutenant General Browning died to ask if the Daily Telegraph would not call him Boy Browning in his obituary, the nickname he had picked up in the army as the youngest general. I complied and years later got my reward when she consented to a rare interview with superb pictures taken by her son for one of my magazines.

Steve Newman, who writes brilliantly on Denys Val Baker and du Maurier in his article on page 13, shows how the success of these writers can be your inspiration.

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TALKING of books for children, I was amused to see the comments on the choices made by Poet Laureate 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, Philip Pullman and J K Rowling.

Fortunately, the authors did reveal that they had children of different ages in mind for their suggestions.

Andrew Motion made few concessions, with Homer, Milton, Shakespeare, T S Eliot and Ulysses in his selection. James Joyce? Well perhaps for the classical sixth. Pullman was obviously going for the under-elevens with his traditional and modern selection of myths and fairy tales: Finn Family Moomintroll, Emil and The Detectives and The Magic Pudding.

An interesting selection came from Rowling who put in Catch 22, To Kill A Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, David Copperfield and Hamlet.

Depending on age ranges I would not quarrel with any of the books chosen. However, I still think many children are put off by some set books which are written about and analysed to destruction.

Graham Greene used to joke that he didn't realise what his books were all about until the critics analysed them.

Some of us are fortunate to have read and enjoyed a book as a child only to return to it later in life and relish it on a different level.

With some children it is essential that they begin softly with My Little Pony, Five Go Adventuring, Brown on Resolution and the Hornblower Companion.


WHILE in the rarefied realms of genius can you imagine what it would have been like to be at a dinner party attended by Joyce, Proust, Diaghilev, Stravinsky and Picasso?

It did happen. The venue was the aptly named Hotel Majestic in Paris and it took place in 1922.

The hosts who had put the party together were British writer Sydney Schiff and his wife, Violet, to mark the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet Le Renard performed by Diaghilev's Ballet Russe.

The event is recalled in a new book, A Night at The Majestic by Richard Davenport-Hines.

He uses the party to highlight the evening's guest of honour, Proust, and his seven-volume collection, A La recherché du temps perdu.

The party took place six months before the death of Proust. It was a gem of cultural significance, representing the pinnacle of European Modernism.

Davenport-Hines remembered that he had been told about the party 30 years before he wrote his book, by a friend of the hostess.

The clash of egos between Proust and Joyce is wonderful, each claiming not to have read the other's work, and Proust talking about Beethoven while Stravinsky was edgily waiting for the reviews of his ballet to arrive.

Who, you may well ask, was Sydney Schiff? He was better known by his pseudonym Stephen Hudson, under which he wrote a dozen long-forgotten novels.

Independently wealthy, he flitted between London, Paris and the South of France, wining and dining with the great and the good. He was a patron of the painter Wyndham Lewis and supported Osbert Sitwell's Art and Letters.

For those who love literary gossip, A Night at the Majestic is published by Faber and FaberClick for Faber and Faber Publishers References listing at £14.99.

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IT'S A far cry from the elegant language of Proust to the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang but it's all grist to our mill.

It's a massive work of two volumes weighing in at doorstep dimensions and as comprehensive as you could wish.

The book was first compiled by lexicographer Eric Partridge in 1937, and the new version has been edited by American Tom Dalzell and actor-producer Terry Victor with contributions from six other distinguished academics.

Apart from the UK and USA there are entries from all over the world, with rich offerings from the West Indies and Australia.

Be careful how you use slang. Like dialect and paprika, a little goes a long way. You can also be trapped where a phrase has two entirely different meanings. For example, I thought that saying somebody couldn't cut the mustard was a feminine way of saying a man could not manage sex. Now I learn that it can also mean "to fart with especially noxious effect."

As a little exercise translate this from East Enders into Foyle's War speak.

Did 'arry and Rosie buy that kaff?

Nah. She didn't have the sovs and he didn't have the tockers.

Pity Tom and Terry had not worked in the East End, otherwise they would not have left out tockers. Still, they do have more than 65,000 other entries. The two volumes are published by Routledge.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


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