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The Editor's View September 06


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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Agent Alex Ryder topples Potter

. . .Have you read the top 100?

. . . What price a new dagger?

IF ASKED to nominate our most professional writer, the name Anthony Horowitz would be high on the list. Two things brought him to my attention - a re-run of the excellent TV series Foyle’s War and news that his Stormbreaker had knocked Harry Potter off the top of the heap and is doing well as a film with Ewan McGregor, Mickey Rourke and Stephen Fry.

Screenwriter, novelist and children’s favourite. Success in any one of these fields would suit most authors.

But it is his young hero, secret agent Alex Ryder, who has established Horowitz as a major force in sales. As soon as children read one book they want to absorb the rest and that has fuelled sales past the nine million mark.

Adults will enjoy his novel The Killing Joke and his sly sense of humour is evident in his titles: The Falcon’s Malteser, South by South East and I Know What You did Last Wednesday.

Horowitz is not just for children.

* * *

HOW many saw the feature in The Times listing the best 100 classics ever written – according to Penguin – and asked which ones you had read? The following day it carried a note to say that scores over 50 should be regarded as pretty good, that the publisher of Penguin classics reached 62 and that anybody who claimed 100 should be filed under fiction.

I managed 53 but it could have been 46 as memory might play me false and perhaps I only saw the films.

Titles which I thought had no place in the list included: The Communist Manifesto (Engels and Marx) From Russia with Love and Diamonds are Forever (Ian Fleming) great entertainment but classics? Four books from Dickens but nothing from John Fowles; The Subterranean (Kerouac)?

Strange how we get seduced by lists and awards. I have to confess that I had read all the entries under crime, decadence and adultery, missing out on spine-tinglers, subversion and some tear-jerkers. Nevertheless I made a mental note to fill in one or two gaps.

* *

SOME years ago I interviewed Lord (call me Roy) Thomson. He was then plain Roy who had come to England as a Canadian dollar millionaire, set up a publishing company, gambled on commercial television and later left as a multi millionaire in real money.

He took a few sheets of old fashioned quarto paper from his desk and passed them across to me. They contained one-line assessments of all his publications in Britain and North America. Most showed healthy returns but one in the Midwest gave a marvellous 42 per cent return on capital.

Struggling with a new title I asked him if he would like to sell that one. He roared with laughter and from that moment on I was an OK guy, not just some bum journalist with aspirations of being a publisher. He brought newspaper supplements to Britain in a big way and also the first supermarket magazine, Family Circle.

In 1988 it was selling a massive 625,000 copies a month when Thomson sold it to IPC. Recently the sale has slumped to 112,597.

Why? Because it is no longer a solo publication in supermarkets. So IPC has closed it. But somehow I think Roy would have found somebody to make it work.

* *

IF YOUR book is short-listed for one of the excellent Crime Writers Association awards it could cost you £500 to be considered for the Duncan Lawrie Dagger, £200 for the International Dagger and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and £100 for the new blood and non-fiction award.

The Chairman of the Association, Robert Richardson, said: "This is not a money making move but a way to reduce the considerable financial costs we face in organising and promoting the Dagger awards.

"Authors and publishers benefit from being shortlisted – and especially winning – while there is no gain to the CWA."

No gain to the CWA? What’s the value of the publicity? You could probably measure it in thousands of pounds.

The daggers date back to 1954 when Leslie Charteris and Peter Cheyney were top selling authors. The £20,000 Duncan Lawrie dagger is said to be the world’s biggest prize for crime fiction.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


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