Friday, 31 March 2017

Arrigo Beyle

‘Semi-retired’ is like that crop-rotation thing that farmers do: no harm in leaving a field fallow for a year, not forcing it.

This year, zero + 2. Two by me, under the Jack pen-name and riding upon the privilege of having under another hat an imprint to publish them with. The first is available now, from the website and from Central Books, the second in the autumn.

Today I posted off 50 copies of the first book to friends and it took a little time, because the post office has reconfigured the software: before, I was able to say this envelope and ten the same, please, and they’d rattle out the labels, but now they have to record the postcode for every label. Early afternoon, no one fuming behind me in the queue, it was OK, but we do, we Brits, at least 52% of us, insist on making life difficult for ourselves.

Out of those 50 I posted off to friends maybe two or three were to people in the trade, who write reviews or are similarly engaged. No more. And I have not solicited quotes for the covers, and I have sent them to no literary editors on the newspapers, the magazines, and they are not in any catalogues and there is no sales agent or publicist and I will not be entering these books for any prizes. (I don’t think they’re eligible for any, but that’s by the by, and makes it easier.)

A form of arrogance, yes. It’s also publishing lite, cutting out the tedious stuff. I can do this with myself, I couldn’t do it – this refusenik thing – with any other writer I’d taken on.

The first Robinson book puts to bed, perhaps, an obsession with Stendhal, and above is a photo of his tomb in Montmartre in Paris taken last week on the anniversary of his death, 23 March. Below is a nice 1940s edition of Le Rouge et le Noir picked up on the same day for 5 euros, and the Robinson book.

Monday, 27 March 2017

David Storey, 1933–2017

I've been neglecting this blog. Only one post this year, before this. I've been busy (how did I ever find time to publish books?), but that's a poor excuse.

David Storey died today. His early novels, more than the plays, were formative for me. I mean that for a certain time they were the most important books in the world. When I was at university, and the exam system allowed me to write an extended essay, I wanted to do this on Storey, and I wrote to him and he wrote back saying, basically, good luck, but you're on your own.

Here's a paragraph from a blog post I wrote back in 2012:

"David Storey’s first three novels – This Sporting Life (1960), Flight into Camden (1961), Radcliffe (1963) – didn’t so much speak to me as grab me by the goolies. Northern, father a miner, wrestling with the inner life and the social codes, he was, in a rough way, Lawrence, but alive and writing now (then). After those, plays, and other, cooler novels (he won the Booker in 1976), and long silences. Sometime while I was working at Faber they published a book by his daughter, the fashion designer Helen Storey; there was a party at some extravagant venue to which I didn’t go, and when someone told me there was an older man there, on his own, not mixing, I wished I had."

From a newspaper interview in 1970, almost half a century ago: "I dislike the whole social context of the novel, and where it is, the conventional apparatus which has featured so largely for so long. The novel in England in this kind of society is passed art. The tradition wanders on in a desultory fashion ... The novel is no longer a reliable metaphor for what’s going on."

After that first surge of early novels, there was a backing away. Every so often, I've thought about Storey's silences. And now there is just one silence. If I had gone to that Faber party, what would I have said to him? Embarrassment all round. But still, I should have gone, if only to say thank you.