Deadly Women (with Matt Fullerty)


Friday, October 29, 2010

With Skull Found, Crime Novel Becomes Reality for GW English Professor!

George Washington University's Professorial Lecturer in English Matt Fullerty, who is currently teaching ENGL 62 (Comedy) and ENGL 52W (English Literature), recently found himself in the middle of a national news story in the UK.

Last weekend, a human skull was dug up in the garden of broadcaster/naturalist Sir David Attenborough in London. It turns out to be the long-missing head of an 1879 murder victim named Martha Thomas, who was killed by her maid Kate Webster.

In a peculiar twist, Dr. Fullerty has been writing about the murder--in the form of a novel--for the past two years. After the murder, Kate impersonated Martha Thomas around London, wearing her clothes and jewelry, and selling her victim's belongings. After trying to flee to Ireland, Kate was arrested and put on trial at the Old Bailey, eventually confessing to her priest. She was hanged in Wandsworth Prison by the "royal hangman" William Marwood on 29 July, 1879.

When the story broke on Saturday in England, Matt became the go-to source for the British press. The result was a feature in Tuesday's Daily Mail about life of the killer (and the man who hanged her).

You can read more about Matt Fullerty's novel The Murderess and the Hangman here. Matt is currently looking for a publisher for his work, and we hope this strange turn-of-events will help him land a book deal in time for Halloween!
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How a skull found in David Attenborough's garden has solved one of Victorian Britain's most gruesome murder mysteries


On a bright, spring morning, coal porter Henry Wheatley and his companion were driving their horse and cart along the Thames.

Shortly before seven o'clock, just before arriving at Barnes Bridge, South London, Wheatley noticed a wooden box lying half-submerged in the water.

He got down from his cart and, with some difficulty, hauled the box on to the bank. Noticing that it was tied with cord, Wheatley took out his knife and cut it open.

He then gave the box a kick and it collapsed. What he saw next turned his stomach. A mass of white flesh fell to the ground. At first, Wheatley's companion suggested they'd stumbled across a box of butcher's offcuts.

Workmen building an extension at the Richmond home of Sir David Attenborough unearthed a skull in the naturalist's garden. The police are almost certain it is that of Mrs Thomas, who was murdered 130 years ago
But Wheatley knew his find was far more grisly  -  in fact, he'd stumbled across the body parts of a dismembered woman. The date was March 5, 1879. Wheatley immediately reported his find to the police at Barnes.

A pathologist identified the body parts as belonging to a short, somewhat tubby woman.
The corpse had been cut up with an ordinary meat saw, and a contraction of flesh away from some of the bones suggested that the pieces had been boiled.

However, the body was missing not only a foot, but also something vital to help with identification  -  its head.
Five days later, another gruesome discovery was made  -  this time on a manure heap in an allotment in Twickenham, about five miles from Barnes. It was a box containing the missing foot, which had been boiled in the same way as the rest of the corpse.

For the next few days, the police could only guess as to the identity of the body  -  which some newspapers speculated could have been used by medical students for dissection.

However, by the end of the month and with help from a key witness, the police and the public learned the body belonged to a 50-year- old woman called Julia Martha Thomas, who lived in Richmond.

Kate Webster
Kate Webster - who murdered her elderly employer with an axe after she returned home from church on a Sunday evening

She had been murdered by her servant, a 30-year-old Irish woman called Katherine Webster.
Because of the gruesome nature of the corpse, the public were fascinated by the case. Some people even removed pebbles and twigs as souvenirs from the small garden of Mrs Thomas's cottage in Park Road, Richmond.

What was never discovered was Mrs Thomas's head. Its location remaining a secret  -  until last week, a full 130 years later.

On Friday, workmen building an extension at the Richmond home of Sir David Attenborough unearthed a skull in the naturalist's garden, and the police are almost certain it is that of Mrs Thomas.
Should this indeed be the case, then the final chapter of one of the most foul murders in Victorian London can now be written.

As a crime novelist, I've long been fascinated by the tale of the Richmond Murder  -  and I've even written a book based on the killing.

The murderer, Katherine Webster, was born in a small village in County Wexford in 1849. She spent her teenage years in and out of prison. At around the age of 17, she fled to Liverpool, where she lived as a drifter and furthered her skills as a burglar.

However, she soon found herself locked up and was sentenced to four years of penal servitude in 1867.
Released after three years, she made her way south to London, where she apparently attempted to make an honest living.

In 1873, she lodged in Rose Gardens, Hammersmith, West London, next to a family called the Porters, who would play a major part in her fate six years later.

Some time the following year, she gave birth to a son out of wedlock.

Unable to make ends meet Webster once more turned to thieving and, in 1875, she was sentenced to 18 months in London's Wandsworth prison for a staggering 36 offences of larceny.

As soon as she got out, she re-offended, and was locked up for another year in February 1877. In January 1879, she finally appeared to turn her back on a life of crime by taking a job as a servant for Mrs Thomas, at her home in Richmond.

Aged around 50, and recently widowed, Mrs Thomas was a small woman who took her religion seriously and was a devoted worshipper at the local Presbyterian chapel.

Unsurprisingly, the two women did not get along well. Mrs Thomas often had to reprimand her new servant for her violent temper and less than capable serving skills.

Builders unearthed a skull, believed to solve a 131-year-old riddle, in globe-trotter Sir David Attenborough's garden 
Gruesome: Builders unearthed a skull, believed to solve a 131-year-old riddle, in globe-trotter Sir David Attenborough's garden

On the evening of Sunday, March 2, Mr s Thomas returned from an evening service at the chapel. She found Webster had been drinking and a row ensued. The drunken servant girl was unable to contain herself and during the course of the argument she pushed her employer down the stairs.

She ran down after her, and seeing that Mrs Thomas appeared to be badly hurt, she decided to strangle her.
What happened next is like something out of a horror film. For the next 24 hours, Webster cut up the body of Mrs Thomas and boiled the pieces in a big copper pan.

Why she decided to boil the pieces is not clear, but it is likely she was hoping to disintegrate the flesh. She was unsuccessful and her attempts to burn the body parts also failed.

At this point , Katherine Webster decided that the only way to dispose of the body was to parcel it up and throw it in the Thames.

She placed the pieces in a box, and put the box into a large black bag. Then she assumed Mrs Thomas's identity.

On the late afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, she walked to her friends the Porters, whom she had not seen for months, and told them that she was now called Mrs Thomas and that her aunt had left her a house in Richmond.

Webster asked Mr Porter if he knew of an agent who could sell the house for her.

A little later, Webster, Mr Porter and his teenage son Robert went for a drink at a nearby pub. Robert carried the black bag, and it sat under the table while the three had ales.

Then Webster left  -  saying that she had to quickly see someone. When she returned, Porter saw that she no longer had the bag.

In fact, she had thrown it off Hammersmith Bridge.

Webster's greed knew no bounds. As well as trying to sell her victim's house, she also attempted to sell all its contents.

A man called John Church offered her £68 for some of the furniture, and she took £18 as a down-payment  -  insisting it be in cash or gold.

However, Webster was worried her crime would soon be discovered, and on or around March 18 she fled back to County Wexford.

Back in London, John Church began to grow suspicious and tracked down a friend of the real Mrs Thomas, who informed him that she was in fact in her 50s  -  and was most certainly not in her 30s with an Irish accent.
Church informed the police and, with evidence from Church and the Porters, they quickly put the puzzle together. On the 25th, Webster was arrested and detained at Clerkenwell prison.
At her trial that April, huge crowds thronged around the Central Criminal Court in London. Webster was found guilty, although she denied the murder.

She finally confessed the night before she was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on July 29.

What she never admitted was the location of Mrs Thomas's head, a secret which she took to her death at the end of the long rope.

Now, thanks to the unwitting help of Sir David Attenborough, the case can be finally closed.

Matt Fullerty's author site is

His novel based on the crime, THE MURDERESS AND THE HANGMAN, is currently with Watson, Little Ltd, and looking for a publisher. 

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Beryl Bainbridge dies, aged 75

The grande dame of British literature passed away in the early hours of this morning, her literary agent has confirmed.

Writer Beryl Bainbridge at home
Grande dame of British literature ... Beryl Bainbridge. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Maverick, unique and horribly funny, according to her fellow authors: the world of British literature felt an emptier place today following the death of Beryl Bainbridge, aged 75.

She was admitted to hospital last week following a recurrence of cancer, and died suddenly in the early hours of this morning.

One of the grandes dames of the UK's literary scene, Bainbridge was a prolific writer whose short, dark comic novels – which invariably included a streak of tragedy - landed her five shortlistings for the Man Booker prize (and the label of perennial Booker bridesmaid), made her a two-time winner of the Whitbread award and saw her awarded a DBE in 2000.

"She was a wonderful writer in the tradition of British petit guignol that included Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: coolly stylish, meticulous, beady-eyed and horribly funny. I would have wished her more injury time, but her record stands," said the Man Booker prize-winning author John Banville. "I met [her] on a couple of occasions and was much taken with her manner of stark lugubriousness tempered with high and subversive irony - just like her books."

"Beryl had an absolutely original voice: she was a serious comedian, all of whose novels ended tragically," said the biographer Michael Holroyd. "She presented herself sometimes as a clown, an entertainer, but behind that mask was a committed novelist. She was unique."

"What was so splendid about her was that she was completely maverick," agreed the novelist Penelope Lively, winner of the Booker and Carnegie awards. "When she first began you were very aware of her fresh, startling voice. I remember coming across her first novels and thinking 'goodness, I haven't read anything like this before'."

"Very sad," tweeted Margaret Atwood of her "old pal" Bainbridge this afternoon. "Wondrous original, great sport, loved her books. Hope she has champagne in heaven & a smoke..."

Bainbridge's literary career can be divided neatly in two: her earlier novels, from The Dressmaker and Sweet William to Guardian fiction prize winner The Bottle Factory Outing, drew on her own life – her upbringing in Liverpool, her time working as an actor (including a stint on Coronation Street), her life in Camden in the 1960s. She then began to write historical novels, tackling Scott of the Antarctic in The Birthday Boys, Samuel Johnson in According to Queeney and the voyage of the Titanic in Every Man for Himself, and died with 18 novels, two collections of short stories and a handful of plays for stage and television to her name.
She was, said Lively, "so versatile". Her historical novels "were completely different from her earlier books. She had a distinctive voice, but also a wonderfully pliable and versatile one".

Bainbridge was "putting the finishing touches" to a novel – her 19th – which she had been working on for the last six months when she died, said Ed Wilson at her literary agency Johnson & Alcock. Little, Brown will publish the book, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress – about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy - next year.
It's "fantastic - more like her early, more comic work", said Richard Beswick, her editor at Little, Brown, who called her "a one-off, a total original, a legend that deserves to be a legend". "I don't think anybody else writes like her [although] she's got elements of other people - bits of Harold Pinter and Kafka, that morbidly humorous take on life, that very dark humour," he added.

Known to chain-smoke while she wrote her novels (at an ancient computer), Bainbridge gave up smoking in 2004 but took it up again - "though I smoke far fewer now - about six a day", she told the Observer last year. She was also a keen whisky drinker, getting through half a bottle a week. "It began as a social thing because if you go out to launches you were always offered a drink," she said. "I never saw the point of drinking wine, because you have to drink so much to get that feeling, so I'd always have a whisky."

Lively said that Bainbridge "was always good fun at a party - and unexpected, because you never knew what she was going to say or do".

"I have huge admiration and respect for her," she added. "She was someone who, when she entered a room, you thought 'oh good, there's Beryl'."

Bainbridge told the Guardian in 2007 of how she had become convinced that she would die at the age of 71, like her parents and grandparents. "My generation weren't expected to get as old as this; they all died off quite soon," she said. "I've always been interested in death."

In an interview with the Guardian in 2005, Bainbridge said that she had "everything ready" for her death. "In files. I'm extremely ... no, I'm very ordered in that sort of way. I think it's important. You have to know where things are and how and what."
Alison Flood, The Guardian, Friday 2 July, 2010
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is Bernie Madoff 'Free at Last'?

In a recent New York magazine article, writer Steve Fishman sheds light on Bernie Madoff's life behind bars. The lengthy profile reveals a string of insider details, some far more telling than accounts of Madoff's prison rumble back in October.

For starters, the disgraced financier viewed by most as a thief and criminal for swindling an estimated $65 billion in history's worst Ponzi scheme, is regarded as somewhat of a celebrity at the federal correctional complex in Butner, N.C. He has an entourage of "groupies," according to the article, and though he shuns all autograph requests, he has managed to cultivate these relationships over time. Some even go as far as dubbing him "a hero" and turn to him for advice on anything from investing to entrepreneurship.

Then there's Madoff's talent for delegating duties on to others, hiring an inmate to do his laundry for $8 a month -- negotiating a discounted rate nonetheless. On the flip side, Madoff has energetically thrown himself into the prison-work world, even though he's exempted from chores because of his age. Fishman writes:

"He proposed that he serve as the clerk in charge of budget. He had qualifications—he'd been chairman of NASDAQ. 'Hell, no,' said the supervisor to Evans, laughing. 'I do my own budget. I know what he did on the outside.'"

Instead, Madoff was assigned to maintenance and cafeteria floor-sweeping duty.

Perhaps the most startling inclusion in the article is that Madoff reportedly feels little remorse for what he has done. Instead, Fishman suggests he might even be relieved that he is no longer living a lie. The article explains:

"'It was a nightmare for me,' he told investigators, using the word over and over, as if he were the real victim. 'I wish they caught me six years ago, eight years ago,' he said in a little-noticed interview with them."

As for his victims...

"'F--k my victims,' he said, loud enough for other inmates to hear. 'I carried them for twenty years, and now I'm doing 150 years.'"

For an in-depth view on Madoff's life in prison, read Steve Fishman's full article in New York magazine.


Message Edited by ReneeDeFranco on 06-09-2010 10:08 AM
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Porfiry Does Perugia

Regular readers of The Rap Sheet will undoubtedly recognize the name Roger (or “R.N.”) Morris. He’s not only an infrequent contributor to this blog, but he’s also the author of a pair of novels that feature the fictional mid-19th-century Russian detective, Porfiry Petrovich, introduced in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866): 2007’s The Gentle Axe (published in Great Britain as A Gentle Axe) and 2008’s A Vengeful Longing.

This author was born in Manchester, England, and studied Classics at Cambridge. He worked for many years as a freelance
advertising copywriter, while simultaneously penning fiction. He has a composed a horror story, “The Devil’s Drum,” which became a short opera, and was performed at the Purcell Room in London. His first novel, Taking Comfort (Macmillian, 2006) was a contemporary urban thriller. Building on the popularity of his first two Porfiry Petrovich yarns, Morris has recently submitted to his publisher the third book in that series, A Razor Wrapped in Silk.

Morris’ prose is polished, his plotting is superb, and he has a refined sense of black humor. He’s a writer from whom other writers might learn. So, when Morris and his family arrived on holiday recently in the Umbria region of central Italy, we asked him to speak to readers in the local capital of Perugia. The temperature at that time was in the mid-30s, which we feared would put off all but the most enthusiastic fans. Fortunately, though, almost three dozen people turned up to hear us ask Morris questions (and ask a few questions of their own) about The Gentle Axe (which was published in Italy as Il Giudice Porfirij), his evolution as a writer, and his associations with the land and literature of Russia.

Michael Gregorio: Tell us about the curious dedication which introduces A Gentle Axe: “For my mother, Norma, who likes a good murder.” Surely there’s a story there.

R.N. Morris: My mother was a keen reader of what we would probably call “pulp.” She liked nothing better than a good thriller. A good murder, too. I suppose that’s where my own interest in the genre springs from. There were always crime books scattered round the house, and it was inevitable that I would start to read them sooner or later.

MG: What kind of thing were you first drawn to?

RNM: Well, initially, I suppose, Agatha Christie and the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but even before that I had got a taste for suspense by reading Enid Blyton. Do you remember the series of books that she wrote for children featuring the Secret Seven and the Famous Five, where a minor mystery turns into an adventure for the kids who stumble on it? I really loved those books!

MG: So, how did you graduate, let’s say, from reading to writing about crime?

RNM: It all started at school. I always seemed to love writing, and I liked telling stories. And then at secondary school, we had an English teacher who gave us homework at the weekends, and often we had to write a short story. Well, that was fine by me. I didn’t attach much importance to it, until, one day, our teacher was absent, and another teacher sat in with the class and decided that we ought to read our stories out loud. “Who shall we begin with?” he asked the class, and all the kids called out in a single voice, more or less: “Roger, Roger Morris!” That was when I began to wonder whether I might eventually become a writer ...

MG: How did you eventually become a writer?

RNM: Well, it all comes down to mum again. As well as crime novels, she used to read women’s magazines, like Woman and Woman’s Own, and so on, and they all contained short stories. I’d pick them up and read them, and I suppose I learnt from them because I began trying to write stories along the same lines. Inevitably, I began to submit them, too. But I just kept getting rejection after rejection ...

MG: But that changed, too.

RNM: Well, yes. I suddenly realized that I was trying to write for older women, and that maybe I wasn’t ready for it. I also realized that there were other magazines aimed at teenagers--mainly girls, again--and I had a go at writing for them. And finally, one of my stories was published. That was a real thrill for me. Well, I did some more of those while I was studying at university, and, of course, the next step was to think about writing a novel.

MG: Which you did.

RNM: Well, I did, but they didn’t really go anywhere. I have a suitcase full of unpublished novels under the bed. Eventually, I found myself an agent, and the books were sent out to publishers, and they came back again, and all with the same result. Zilch!

MG: Just like us! Mike [aka Michael G. Jacob, the English half of the husband-and-wife writing team who publish as “Michael Gregorio”] has had three agents, Daniela [De Gregorio] has had two, and we have the same stack of old papers hidden away somewhere. What about you, Roger?

RNM: I’ve had two agents, as well. The second one, my present agent, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, did the rounds with the books, and it was just the same, they didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. He was on the point of giving up, I think, but then I had this idea for a crime novel featuring Porfiry Petrovich and St. Petersburg. His eyes lit up at that and I could tell I was on to something.

MG: People in Italy don’t really understand how important a literary agent is. Here, they hardly exist, you know, because so much fiction--over 90 percent--is imported from America and the European countries. OK, Roger, so you had an agent, you were writing novels, and suddenly you got a break. Well, in fact you got two breaks!

RNM: Yeah, that was funny, really. I wrote the first Porfiry book, A Gentle Axe, my agent sent it out, and [publisher] Faber and Faber expressed an immediate interest. At almost the same moment, Macmillan were keen to take on a literary novel--let’s call it a novel of “contemporary interest”--which I had written, entitled Taking Comfort. Well, that caused a bit of confusion. I didn’t want to tell either publisher in case they both pulled out.

MG: And thus, you published both books. One as R.N. Morris, the other as Roger Morris. So, in a sense, you were free to choose the direction that you wanted to take after that experience. Why did you concentrate on crime-writing?

RNM: Can I say “for the money”? It wasn’t only that, of course. When Faber bought the first Porfiry book, A Gentle Axe, the contract was for two books, so I was lined up straight away to write a second one, and I already had ideas for four novels featuring him … Also, I was fascinated by the prospect of working in the crime genre; I saw it as a real challenge. I wanted to know if I could do it.

MG: Where did your interest in Porfiry Petrovich come from?

RNM: Well, I had started reading the Russians in English translation, and I picked up a copy of Crime and Punishment from the library. I was taken in by the amazing blurb on the back cover, really. It concentrated almost entirely on the figure of Porfiry, who was described as being “one of the very first detectives in fiction.” It made the book sound like a crime novel--which it was, of course--though when I read it, I realized how minor a role Porfiry actually plays. Still, I was fascinated by the book, hooked by the crime that Dostoevsky described, the leaden atmosphere and the crushing poverty of the time, as well as by the huge religious and philosophical ideas in the book. I saw a lot of scope in the character of Porfiry Petrovich, too, and I dreamt of doing something with him. At the same time, it all seemed a bit daunting. I didn’t speak Russian, I hadn’t been to Russia. I didn’t really know how to go about it. The more I thought about it, however, the more I wanted to do it. In the end, I sat down and I tried.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE:How did you go about researching the book?

RNM: Mainly through reading Russian novels of the time, particularly Dostoevsky, of course. Also, I studied street maps of St. Petersburg, did a lot of reading, used the Internet. It was more complicated than it sounds, because so much had changed--the names of streets and squares, for example--as a consequence of the [1917 Russian] Revolution. Finally, I thought, well, it’s all there, Dostoevsky knew the place, and it worked for him. I sort of followed the topography as he had laid it out ...

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: And you’d never been to Russia?

RNM: Not then. I went on holiday shortly after the first book was published, and while I was writing the second novel, A Vengeful Longing. I was amazed, you know. It was a surreal sort of experience. Very dreamlike. I seemed to know the place like the back of my hand, it matched up pretty well with what I had imagined and written. And with what I’d read of Dostoevsky, obviously. I met a Russian guy--a genuine St. Petersburgian called Andrey--who was on my flight over. We got chatting on the Metro into St. Petersburg. He told me his life story and offered to take me on a walking tour of the city. I gave him a copy of A Gentle Axe and he contacted me after he had read it and told me he was struck by “the strong Russian, St. Petersburg feel of it.” I think he had been a bit skeptical, with me being an Englishman.

MG: And there’s more of Porfiry Petrovich in the pipeline, right?

RNM: Well, I have just submitted the third novel in the series, and I’m pretty pleased with it. It is entitled A Razor Wrapped in Silk, and it features the abduction of a child factory laborer and the sensational murder of a society beauty--two crimes from opposite ends of the social spectrum.

MG: It sounds fantastic. We look forward to reading it, and to seeing the Italian translation of A Vengeful Longing, which should be appearing soon in Italy. A final question, Roger: Will A Razor Wrapped in Silk bring the Porfiry Petrovich series to an end?

RNM: Book 4 is all planned out and I’m ready to start writing it just as soon as we get home!

(Author photo by Claire Morris.)
Michael Gregorio, The Rap Sheet, Tuesday September 8, 2009
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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Unpublished Stieg Larsson manuscripts discovered

Stieg Larsson
A young Stieg Larsson on holiday in 1987. Photograph: Per Jarl / Expo / SCANPIX/Press Association Images

Sci-fi stories The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo author wrote when he was 17 and sent to a magazine discovered in library.

The National Library of Sweden has unearthed unpublished manuscripts by a young Stieg Larsson, author of the bestselling Millennium Trilogy, which begins with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

According to Sweden's deputy national librarian, Magdalena Gram, "they were donated to the national library in 2007 and well known by us. The manuscripts were an integrated part of an archive from the Jules Verne Magasinet, a magazine with science fiction materials."

The science fiction stories, written around 1970 when Larsson was 17 and called The Crystal Balls and The Flies, were sent to the magazine by the teenager in the hope of having them published, but were rejected. In his accompanying letter to the magazine, Larsson described himself as "a 17-year old guy from Umea with dreams of becoming an author and journalist". Larsson did go on to become a founding editor of the magazine Expo, and then a hugely popular author, but did not live to see all his dreams become reality.
Larsson died suddenly at the age of 50 in 2004, just a few months after selling the first book in the Millennium series and leaving completed manuscripts of the two subsequent books. There are also believed to be 200 pages of a sequel to the trilogy stored on the late author's laptop.

Given the global success of the trilogy – the books have sold 22m copies in 42 countries and a Hollywood adaptation is under way – there is likely to be massive interest in any unpublished material, despite its age.
However, the discovery is also likely to intensify the bitter dispute around Larsson's estate. When the author died intestate, his partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, lost all rights to his estate to Larsson's father and brother. In 2005, she refused an offer by the family to hand over Larsson's computer in exchange for the half of the flat she had shared with him. There is speculation that outlines for six further novels are also contained in the laptop.

Gram could not say if the stories would ever be read by a wider audience. "A national library is not a publisher. The rights to the texts are owned by Stieg Larsson's father and his brother," she said, and confirmed that the library was in contact with Larsson's heirs.

While fans devour posthumously discovered and published work, its publication does not always enhance a writer's reputation. Philip Larkin's Trouble at Willow Gables and Michaelmas Term at St Bride's, two novels of lesbian intrigue set at a girls' boarding school, published after his death in 1985, led many to agree wholeheartedly with Larkin's own note that they were "unforgettably bad". Last year saw the publication of Vladimir Nabokov's uncompleted final novel, The Original of Laura, that he had requested be destroyed upon his death. Again the critical response was overwhelmingly negative.
Michelle Pauli
The Guardian
Wednesday 9 June 2010
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Saturday, June 05, 2010

New Yorker unveils '20 under 40' young writers list

New Yorker

New Yorker editor David Remnick said the list was “meant to shine a light on writers and get people to pay attention". Photograph: Harry Bliss/AP
Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes made a list of the best young British novelists in 1983; David Foster Wallace, Jhumpa Lahiri and Jeffrey Eugenides were named among the best American writers under 40 in 1999. Now the New Yorker has selected the 20 young writers it believes we'll be reading in years to come, with Jonathan Safran Foer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Joshua Ferris and Wells Tower all making the cut.

The eminent American literary magazine will publish the '20 under 40' fiction writers it believes are worth watching in its Monday issue. Ranging from the 24-year-old Téa Obreht, whose debut novel will be published next year, to the 39-year-old writer Chris Adrian, the list is an eclectic mix of famous and lesser-known names, neatly dividing between the genders and providing readers with a guide to potential future literary stars.

The list, compiled by the magazine's fiction team, is restricted to writers who are from or based in north America.

"I was a boy when my family left the Soviet Union," said the award-winning Canadian author and filmmaker David Bezmozgis, 37. "We came to Canada with nothing and my parents had never heard about the New Yorker or most anything else. It seems strange and remarkable to me that 30 years later I would find myself on such a list.

"But then, it seems that a number of writers on this list are from somewhere else. So I suppose it means that the trend in American life is being reflected in new American writing."

New Yorker editor David Remnick said the list was "meant to shine a light on writers and get people to pay attention". "What matters is that someone pays attention to a writer they might not have known, and that they read – that's all I want."

36-year-old Philipp Meyer, whose debut novel American Rust was published last year, said it was "enormously validating" to be chosen by the New Yorker – though he admitted that such an exercise "seems very useful when you're the one picked, but if you are not picked, you need to ignore it completely."

Some acclaimed American writers just missed out by dint of age; Dave Eggers is 40, Aleksandar Hemon 45, Colson Whitehead 40.

"It's disappointing they didn't manage to find a space for Dave Eggers but I suppose that's their rules," said the Booker-shortlisted British author Philip Hensher, who was picked as one of Granta's best young British novelists in 2003, at the age of 37. Although he admitted that it made his publishing career "a bit easier overseas", he did feel that "these age-related things are a bit artificial".
The New Yorker list might include 10 women, but Hensher said that in general such line-ups can be "rather unfair to women novelists".

"There's a well-known phenomenon of the woman novelist who puts off her career, maybe to have children," said Hensher, "so she doesn't really make an impact until after she's 40 … a good example is Penelope Fitzgerald, who only emerged about five years before the first Granta list, and of course she was 60."
He suggested it might make more sense to select the authors "who have just emerged in the last five years", rather than basing it on age. "Novel writing isn't necessarily something that young people are very good at," he said. "I was 29 when I published my first novel, but I wish I'd waited."

Ben Okri, who won the Booker prize aged 32 for The Famished Road, said he felt lists like the New Yorker's could be "pretty dangerous".

"They're very helpful for writers and they are encouraging, and can identify future talents, but on the other hand sometimes they're too soon," said the author at the Guardian Hay festival.
"We will see in 10 years' time [how these authors have fared]. What matters is not the list but that mystical quality called genius – and a bit of luck."

Beijing-born Yiyun Li, who like two other authors on the list – Jonathan Safran Foer and Dinaw Mengestu – won the Guardian First Book Award, praised the New Yorker for including a host of short story writers in its line-up. "[That] means a lot to me, as I love stories, and it is always encouraging that The New Yorker treats stories and story writers seriously," she said.

The top 20

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32
Chris Adrian, 39
Daniel Alarcón, 33
David Bezmozgis, 37
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38
Joshua Ferris, 35
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33
Nell Freudenberger, 35
Rivka Galchen, 34
Nicole Krauss, 35
Dinaw Mengestu, 31
Philipp Meyer, 36
C  E Morgan, 33
Téa Obreht, 24
Yiyun Li, 37
ZZ Packer, 37
Karen Russell, 28
Salvatore Scibona, 35
Gary Shteyngart, 37
Wells Tower, 37
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Regrouping After the MFA: How to Find Community Postprogram

After a brief but torrential thunderstorm in mid-June, eight writers of poetry and prose, myself included, huddled around a picnic table crowded with three-buck beer and leaves of printed-out poems, stories, and essays in the concrete garden of a Brooklyn bar. It had been almost a year since I'd taken a seat at a table with other writers to talk about the stuff, the meat of our writing—inspirations, obsessions, discoveries—and the project at hand every time each of us settles in to confront the blank page. All of us had spent an intense two years together at the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts school nestled in woody Bronxville, north of New York City. Many of us had migrated to the city after graduation, and while we saw one another often enough, touching base at parties and readings, our writing lives had become privatized, with only the most dramatic aspects—I haven't been excited by a word in three months! My thesis is moldering!—shared among us. So, about thirteen months after graduating, a group of friends and I, guided by our assiduous organizer, Hossannah Asuncion, decided to create a new program in order to reestablish the connection that the MFA experience had provided. We would get together once a month to check in with one another, warm ourselves up with a few brief free-writes, and discuss a predetermined topic on which we had all read a few essays before meeting. We could also bring works-in-progress to share, though workshop-style critiquing would not be on the agenda—our gatherings would celebrate our writing as art, and our work as artists.

Perhaps the shocking burst of rain was an apt metaphor for the two brief years we'd been ensconced in, and saturated by, a lively stream of words. The way whole days of digging in to work felt like a deluge after which the world often shone. The way words became new again in the voice of a classmate, and how the dross would be purged by the workshop process, revealing the tender bones and pulse of a piece. A creative writing program had offered to many of us an ideal experience—and then it was over. Of course, a workshop-heavy curriculum can have debilitating effects as well: Participants can tire of their work's being scrutinized in its infancy; differences in critical approaches can stifle discussion; and the compounded anxieties of the final semester can weigh on relationships, especially as solitary time to write becomes precious and staunchly defended. I'm sure the capacity for inducing this exhaustion informs our universities' having limited the MFA track to two or three years. After a while we're inundated and need to move out on our own. But writing programs don't tend to teach the skill set required to work fruitfully—and joyfully—beyond their gilt walls.

The MFA experience does not necessarily prepare us to be writers in the world. Our time as students is set apart as a sacrosanct period during which we perform the very important work of honing and polishing our craft, but little guidance is given as to how we might preserve that sacred lifestyle (as well as the more profane, yet necessary, moments of criticism and editing) once outside the bubble. On the other hand, no one could have told us then that our devotions would flag and that distractions—such as earning a living and making our way in the world—would threaten to prevent us from writing altogether.

This is not to say that constant connection to a writing community is necessary, or even entirely healthy. Once I'd successfully cast off those workshops and conferences, a momentary sense of liberation washed over me. When my thesis crossed over into the hands of my advisers, I was immediately walloped by a profound exhaustion, and there was freedom in that fatigue. I needed a break from the intensity of the MFA experience—from workshops, and even from writing. The project I had immersed myself in for two years (at times a desperate, sinking immersion) had worn me out, and I required some time to let the omnipresent criticism, however sparkling or seductively constructive, settle within me. It was like recovery after a marathon, when my legs were ripped and clunky and I needed to cross-train for a while, to teach myself how to move again. But the respite from writing and talking about writing soon devolved into a drab routine. Instead of slowly starting over, I had let myself stiffen, and the loss of my teammates—and our shared field—made the process of resuming the race profoundly difficult.

Excuses abounded. At first, no amount of time seemed long enough to sit and work, and when I'd attempt to write in short spurts, the words danced only on the surface of ideas and questions. Sometimes language simply felt inert. I often had the sense that I was playing with plastic blocks rather than textured, living things. Some pleasure had seeped out of the project of making art with words—a joy that I have discovered came from sharing both my poetry and the process of writing it. While I can't say this perception was common to all my peers, it seems that each of us has experienced an occasion—however extended—of craving community.

In Asuncion's experience, it has been a struggle to continue the writer's life after leaving an MFA program. In a society that often diminishes the value of the written word, students of fine writing can find their ventures trivialized as flighty or idealistic. "More often than not, I feel like the world is telling me that doing an MFA program was a bad decision," she says. "And more often than not, I'm like, ‘Yeah, time to start studying for the LSATs.'"

"I often feel stuck in my writing life," fellow salon member Rena Priest recently told me. "I have long patches of time where nothing I write is satisfying to me, and I have periods where nothing I read is resonating. When I am with other writers talking about writing and all the triumphs and struggles it involves, the ennui recedes." For Hila Ratzabi, another member of our group, connecting with other writers forces her to think about writing and to return it to the forefront of her mind where it belongs—but from which it can quietly slip as the static of the world interferes with our creative frequencies. "Thinking and talking about writing are not the same as writing, but having a community where it's safe to say, ‘I haven't written in months, and it sucks, but here's who I read when I can't write' is a blessing," Ratzabi says.

Without the meeting of friends and colleagues to help reframe myself in my project—and in the living portrait of us all doing this work together—writing began to feel like a secret game of limited consequence. I felt as if my contributions to anything larger than myself were nil. In fact, at our second salon, the question was posed, "To whom do you write?" For several months, I noticed, I had been writing primarily to words themselves, fiddling with language with nothing much at stake. My work on the page was reflective of my practice: scrawling on the train or for a few minutes at lunchtime, or making mental notes while running. I didn't feel I had an audience, and, curiously, my writing had even receded from conversation with my imaginary listeners, Dickinson and Stein among them. During my time at graduate school, the writing process itself had induced an exceptional sense of accomplishment, a purposefulness that comes from knowing that one is doing the work that one is supposed to be doing.

At times, the validation that we achieve through being and acting—in this case, writing—genuinely wavers, and we are compelled to look to one another not for appraisal but for support. Asuncion, who had rounded us up with the aid of a Google group she and others had created for Sarah Lawrence MFA alums, was inspired to start the salon by a similar series of gatherings she'd been attending that had been organized by Kundiman, the Asian American poets organization, whose members began running informal salons in January. She experienced the salon format as more of a generative field than an editing session for pieces in assorted stages of existence. Asuncion herself has written several pieces this year as a result of short salon exercises. For our group, exercises have ranged from creating a portrait based on a character we frequently noticed at our meeting spot—the mustachioed fellow leaning over his Belgian ale doesn't know how many weird narratives were spun about him—to drafting radical rewrites of work we'd each brought to the table. But most central to the salon, and for me its most vital aspect, is topical discussion.

I have always thrived in arenas that celebrate and engage ideas in all their intricacy and malleability, particularly ideas relating to perceptions of language. While not all classrooms are equally conducive to such vigorous exploration, the MFA roundtable at which I participated provided such a space and, ultimately, fed my writing. The salon reinvigorated that part of me that had been too easily neglected after leaving school, quelled by the seeming urgency of daily routines and pursuits unrelated to writing. In several of our conversations we've discussed how we can each create a space, physical and mental, where writing matters and can thrive after the intensity of the MFA experience. I've found that before establishing that room of one's own, separate from the mesh of the world, one needs to acknowledge that each of us is not alone in our endeavor; we are part of both a tradition and a living multitude of others.

As the very act of coming together on equal terms for a salon has reminded us that we are not isolated as writers, the material of our discourse has illuminated the fact that, despite having distinct styles and drives, we share a mutual human project. For discussion during our second meeting, Asuncion chose two essays on spirituality: Federico García Lorca's 1933 lecture "Theory and Play of the Duende" and Fanny Howe's "A Leaf on the Half-Shadow," published in the journal English Language Notes in 2006. These works stimulated a conversation that took off from group members' personal accounts of having sensed attunement to the spiritual while engaged in the process of writing—feeling the pull of flow, not knowing from where words were arriving; being moored in a mind state so lush and tangible, but beyond the realm of the known; approaching meditative clarity while working. My most gratifying writing hasn't been fed by my head, but by a universal, oceanic "something" exterior to ego. Without clear language to discuss phenomena such as this, experiences can feel ephemeral, or even inconsequential. But gathering with a group that understands and empathizes with the challenges posed by the shifting creative mind, and the elations that arise from meeting those challenges, I see that the importance of my work becomes more resonant.

In her essay "Survival in Two Worlds at Once: Federico García Lorca and Duende," Tracy K. Smith writes, "There are two worlds that exist together, and there is one that pushes against the other, that claims the other doesn't, or need not, exist." She refers to the capacity of duende, or the dark spirit (which some in our salon group perceived as death itself, the palpable movement of our own mortality within us), to both pull us toward and repel us from what some might call a higher state, a vaster consciousness, a discovery. In some ways, our lives outside of writing facilitate that centrifugal pushing away, and as I and many of my compatriots have found, a community that validates the opposite—a fearless movement toward the dark other—encourages the writing to approach those uncomfortable places. Talking about the act of writing has helped each of us to realize how much that wilder world does need to exist, and to negotiate its importance in our lives.

According to that Psych 101 standard, Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when certain basic human requirements are met, our minds are free to explore more philosophical realms. Granted, as graduate students none of us was living a plush life, but we were able to focus less on the minutiae of survival and ego-driven pursuits (notwithstanding the occasional lovesick breakdown or ravenous scavenge for leftovers after a school event) and more on larger pursuits. There was art to be served, and it was our one and only job to serve it. In some respect, many of us joined an MFA program believing that if we wanted our writing to evolve from the fruit of our labor into art, it had to enter the public realm. It had to take a place at the table and enter into discourse with all of the other works that have been and continue to be written. While submitting pieces for publication and seeking opportunities to read remain excellent means of propelling the work into the world, nothing beats offering the tiny body of a poem or story to the live hands of a reader, or feeling that your quietest, most shuttered of lives is in conversation with another. Our postprogram salon has offered us not only a lively arena for sharing our writing with others, but, more important, it's given us a renewed opportunity to share our writing selves with a community of kindred minds each encountering distinct but similar challenges, as emerging artists in the wider world.


Send us a glimpse of your post-MFA story: your toughest—or brightest—transitioning moment, the virtues and vices of your program in retrospect, or a way you found to keep your community solid. Include "Post-MFA Story" in the subject line of an e-mail to

Jean Hartig is the editorial assistant of Poets & Writers Magazine. Her chapbook, Ave, Materia, won the Poetry Society of America's New York City Chapbook Contest and is forthcoming in 2009.

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I Think I Learned About This in Health Class

Barnes & Noble has recently announced their self-publishing service—named, rather unfortunately, "PubIt!"—which is due to launch this summer, thereby making thousands of heretofore unread self-published novels available on the vast, increasingly terrifying state (world?) fair midway that is the Internet.

Digital rights will apparently be protected via Barnes & Noble's proprietary DRM, but no word yet on the "competitive" royalty structure that will draw market share away from other self-publishing operations, most notably Amazon's. According to B&N, PubIt! (no, I will not stop saying it) will make content available on the Nook, as well as PCs and the entire Mac Empire line (personal computers, the iPhone, the iPad, the iDon'tKnow, &c). Interesting times, meine Autoren!

With the proliferation of e-books, Internet platforms from which to launch them, and devices with which to read them, I think the next two to five years are going to be extraordinarily interesting. If you'd asked me a few months ago, I would have told you I expected the Kindle and the iPad to assume the majority of the market share and that they would squeeze the Nook out in a couple of years; with PubIt! (ha!) now on the scene, I'm not sure that's true anymore. It will really depend on how many people associate the brick-and-mortar brand of Barnes & Noble with 1.) book sales (relatively easy) and 2.) e-book sales (not as easy, especially with Amazon currently monopolizing that market). Given the choice, I think most people will still choose to self-publish their e-books with Amazon, since the Kindle for iPad app allows them to enjoy the best of both worlds, whereas PubIt! (okay, I'll stop now) only allows authors access to the iPad and the Nook.

What do you think, fair readers?
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Top 10 Recut Movie Trailers on YouTube

The recut trailer has become an art form in its own right, with the trend to mix-up existing trailer or film footage to give the montage new meaning taking off back in 2005 when a competition from the Association of Independent Creative Editors led to The Shining being recut as a family comedy.

We’ve picked ten of the best that add a horror angle to the most light-hearted of films, and show just what’s possible with clever editing, emotive music and of course, voice-over man’s authoritative input. See our selection below and let us know any of your favorites in the comments.

1. Mary Poppins

One of the original recut trailers shows just how powerful the technique is by taking the upbeat, song-filled Mary Poppins and turning it into “Scary Mary,” a bone-chilling horror. A spoonful of sugar, this ain’t.

2. Uncle Buck

If you thought the scariest thing about Uncle Buck was John Candy’s back-firing Mercury Marquis coupe, then this recut will make you see the John Hughes flick with new eyes — new, scared eyes.

3. Amelie

We always knew there was something sinister about Amelie, and this trailer edits the original film beautifully to show a darker side of the French waitress. Though we’re let down slightly by a poor voice-over, it’s nonetheless worth a watch.

4. Sleepless in Seattle

Nora Ephron takes an uncharacteristic stroll on the dark side when a call into a radio advice show looks to have triggered an obsession that will almost certainly end in tragedy for Seattle resident Sam Baldwin and his young son Jonah.

5. Office Space

All hell breaks lose at Initech in this clever recut that turns the geek fave into a chilling thriller. You’ll never look at a red Swingline stapler in quite the same way again.

6. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Gone are the fun teenage antics as Edward Rooney becomes a crazed killer in this version of Ferris Bueller, set on Friday 13th.

7. Toy Story

It’s not just Sid’s freakish playthings that will give you willies in this take on Toy Story. Sentient toys pose a threat to children, and in fact all mankind, in this animated horror fest from Pixar. Play nice…

8. Home Alone

Old Man Marley takes center stage as the shovel murderer in another re-imagined John Hughes movie.

9. Groundhog Day

There’s no cute marmot in this version of Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s deja vu takes a decidedly darker turn.

10. The Shining

We’re ending the list with the classic The Shining recut that takes the opposite approach to the videos above, turning a terrifying thriller into a family-friendly romantic comedy. That Jack Torrance sure looks like a swell guy…

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Edith's War - author interview

Below is an interview I conducted with Andrew Smith about his novel EDITH'S WAR (recently released on March 26 2010).

"EDITH'S WAR is a story of hardship, love, passion, and motherhood during Liverpool's Blitz of World War II. In early summer of 1940 young Edith Maguire witnesses the internment of her Italian neighbours following Mussolini's declaration of war against Britain. Edith is swept up in the unthinkable event of her Italian friends' deportation to Canada on the Arandora Star and experiences first-hand the hardships and grief that ensue as a result of the ship's fateful voyage..."

Andrew Smith tells how he wrote the book, his inspiration and the connections between Britain, Canada and Italy below:


EDITH'S WAR tells a little-known story about Italian internment in Britain during WWII. How did you first encounter this information (new to me), and decide it would make a good novel?

I knew I wanted to write about how WWII changed British society, how the war was the mechanism that caused people to examine the way society worked and to call into question many of the conventions that had existed for centuries. I was researching this at the Imperial War Museum in London when I stumbled across the story of Italian internment in UK. The addition of Italians to the book, who are generally viewed as easy-going and uninhibited, especially compared to the British, fulfilled a welcome contrast to the depiction of an uptight British population. Also the accounts of their internment by harmless Italian men were classic examples of the stupidity of war and also of the way normal standards can change and deteriorate during wartime. This wartime shift in morality in relation to how the British Italians were treated, so different to how they might have been treated in peacetime, appalled and fascinated me.


I greatly enjoyed your evocation of place in the book - Liverpool, Venice (I am from Warrington, a town near Liverpool). Why/how did you choose these cities in particular to tell the story?

As you know, Liverpool was one of the hardest hit cities in Britain during bombing by the Germans. Liverpudlians suffered greatly during WWII. It was also the port from which many "aliens" were shipped to Canada or Australia, including hundreds of British Italian men. And the juxtaposition of the easy-going hedonistic and sensual city of Venice with the somewhat stiff and proper character that the younger brother had become, made him seem even more inhibited. And I made Venice the original home of the Italian couple who had lived in Liverpool during the war as a device to move the plot along. And finally you tend to write about what you know. I grew up on Merseyside, in Huyton, not far from Warrington, in the 40s and 50s. And I also know Venice well having spent a lot of time there during the last twenty years.


What was the greatest struggle you faced in writing the book?

There are good struggles and bad struggles. It's a huge struggle to write a novel like Edith's War because I had to do so much research and then the struggle that all author's face in developing characters, evolving a plot, etc. etc. But these are good struggles; I loved every minute of the research and writing stage. Then there is another huge struggle to get published. I tried long and hard to find an agent and a publisher and experienced many rejections along the way. This part of the process is excruciating and can be depressing if you start to take the rejections personally. One has to be strong, stick by the courage of your convictions, and realize that publishing is a business like any other.


Do you feel you are making a political point in writing this story? You decided to address the subject matter in the form of a novel. Why not non-fiction, or some other form?

If I'm making a political point it has to do with emphasizing the omnipresence and senselessness of war, and the fact that society seems unable to change in any significant way. I've written and published two non-fiction books, which I enjoyed writing, but I think it's difficult to impose passion and a distinct point of view into non-fiction. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I think it's easier to do it more effectively in fiction. I wanted to state very clearly how humankind seems unable to avoid war (witness the presence of wars constantly throughout history), yet how senseless and unfair war always is. Even WWII, which might be seen as justified from the Allies' perspective, has hundreds if not thousands of examples of inhumanity and unnecessary suffering imposed by all sides. The novel form allowed me to portray actual events and have the reader make no mistake that I viewed them as senseless and unnecessary. I also wanted to imply how difficult it is for any of us to change, on a personal level but also on a larger scale, as a society. A non-fiction book usually only tells the story, whereas a novel can show the effects of a story and be so much more emotive in the telling.


How are you enjoying the publishing process, having your first book released? If there's one thing you could change about publishing a novel, what would it be?

It's very rewarding to hold the finished product of so much work in one's hands. But, to go back to my point about publishing being a business, I don't think many authors are prepared for the dog-eat-dog commercial side of publishing. I'm fortunate because I was somewhat prepared by my work in publishing, I'm a book designer, but even I wasn't ready for the alarming truths of how difficult it is to get one's book noticed and into the bookstores. If there's one thing I could change it would be that books are sold on their merit alone, and not because a publisher paid for a prominent position in a bookstore, or because the author has a TV show, or has won a literary prize, or one of the hundred other reasons a book gets noticed other than for the quality of writing or cleverness of plot, etc. But I'm sounding cynical. I'm really not, and I do still believe that if a book is good it'll get the readership it deserves.


A good amount of the novel is set in and about Italy. Do you feel personally connected to Italy?

Not particularly, other than I've spent a lot of time there since I was in my twenties and have quite a few Italian friends whom I love, and I like Italy better than almost anywhere else.


Do you remember when you first wanted to be a writer?

Yes I do, because I started writing late in life. It was 1988 and I was forty-years-old, when I took my first creative writing course. Just previous to that I had taken a bus trip over the Himalayas from Kashmir to Ladakh in Northern India and written a magazine article about it, the first piece of writing I'd ever published. The article won an award for travel writing, which inspired me to write more. So I took some courses and started writing short fiction, which I love writing. I don't know why it took me so long. I don't think being a writer was presented as an option at the school I went to in Liverpool so I never thought of it. So I went to art school and became a graphic designer. I've been lucky to have found writing, and to have another profession that allows me time to write but also keeps the wolf from the door. Because, as we know, books rarely provide much of an income.


How important are family relations in telling a good story?

I think human relations of any kind are crucial to a good story. We all need something we can relate to and human relations provide a great deal that is familiar to us all. I suppose family relations are often the most intense and usually the most influential on our lives so they hold a certain gravitas that no other relations hold, they're what forms us. So, while not necessary to a good story, family relations are certainly wonderful additions to a story.


What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

Once I've done research and am into the writing stage I tend to get up fairly early in the morning and write solidly for four to six hours. Once I actually sit down and put fingers to keyboard the time usually flies by. But I'm as bad as most writers about starting, I'll make a cup of tea I don't really need or thumb through a magazine I've already read. I don't know why many writers find it hard to actually start writing; maybe because it's so intense, it's hard work to write, and it's rather tiring. Often when I eventually stop I'm fairly drained. But once I start I rarely look up, except to check research, until I just run out of steam some half-a-dozen hours later.


What are you working on right now? A departure, or something related to historical fiction across different times and places like EDITH'S WAR?

Some months ago, at a stage when Edith's War was out of my hands with an editor, I wrote the first two chapters of a book set in contemporary London. Unlike Edith's War it'll be a straight single time period narrative. The story is about a paparazzi photographer who is down on his luck having lost his business and his wife. He's a recovering alcoholic, estranged from his family, and broke. But he has a cache of photos of celebrities that might be worth a great deal. But because of his alcoholism and past indiscretions nobody wants to know. There's a whole plot in my head about how an opportunity to get exclusive photos of a drugged-out music star falls in his lap. Actually it's a ploy by the recording company to get publicity, etc. etc. The idea comes from a fascination I have with the symbiotic relationship that celebrities often have with the press. Princess Di being a prime example. I'm also interested in the whole phenomenon of celebrity, especially in our society with the proliferation of shows like American Idol and with people like Paris Hilton who have no talent or skill (they don't even model) but who have become celebrities earning millions. I'm keen to get back to writing it, but first we have to get out there and sell Edith's War.

Thank you for your time, Andrew. You can read more about EDITH'S WAR at and on Facebook here.

I'll also be posting this interview on and a link from my website

Andrew Smith was born in Liverpool, England. He moved to Toronto, Canada in 1974 since when he's worked in magazines and book publishing. Andrew Smith's writing has been included in the Journey Prize Anthology, has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards, and has garnered a Western Magazine Award for Travel Writing. He has published two non-fiction books: Highlights, an illustrated history of cannabis (co-author) and Strangers in the Garden, the secret lives of our favorite flowers. He's enjoyed writing fiction since 1990, which, fortunately, is when he began.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time, Part 2

Proust: mentally defective (according to Mr.Waugh).

Missed the initial installment of the 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time? Catch up on the first 25 highly vitriolic remarks here.

And now, on with the jollity.

26. Marcel Proust, according to Evelyn Waugh (1948)

I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.

27. William Faulkner, according to Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You're thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes -- and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he's had his first one.

28. E.M. Forster's Howards End, according to according to Katherine Mansfield (1915)

Putting my weakest books to the wall last night I came across a copy of 'Howards End' and had a look into it. Not good enough. E.M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.

And I can never be perfectly certain whether Helen was got with child by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella. All things considered, I think it must have been the umbrella.

29. Voltaire, according to Charles Baudelaire (1864)

I grow bored in France -- and the main reason is that everybody here resembles Voltaire...the king of nincompoops, the prince of the superficial, the anti-artist, the spokesman of janitresses, the Father Gigone of the editors of Siecle.

30. Charles Dickens, according to George Meredith

Not much of Dickens will live, because it has so little correspondence to life...If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them.

31. Jane Austen, according to Mark Twain (1898)

I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

32. Gustave Flaubert, according to George Moore (1888)

Flaubert bores me. What nonsense has been talked about him!

33. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, according to Gore Vidal (1980)

He is a bad novelist and a fool. The combination usually makes for great popularity in the US.

Solzhenitsyn: "a bad novelist and a fool'

34. Ernest Hemingway, according to Tom Wolfe

Take Hemingway. People always think that the reason he's easy to read is that he is concise. He isn't. I hate conciseness -- it's too difficult. The reason Hemingway is easy to read is that he repeats himself all the time, using 'and' for padding.

35. James Joyce's Ulysses, according to Virginia Woolf (1922)

I dislike 'Ulysses' more and more -- that is I think it more and more unimportant; and don't even trouble conscientiously to make out its meanings. Thank God, I need not write about it.

36. William Shakespeare, according to George Bernard Shaw (1896)

With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity.

37. Charles Lamb, according to Thomas Carlyle

Charles Lamb I sincerely believe to be in some considerable degree insane. A more pitiful, rickety, gasping, staggering, stammering tomfool I do not know. He is witty by denying truisms and abjuring good manners. His speech wriggles hither and thither with an incessant painful fluctuation; not an opinion in it or a fact or even a phrase that you can thank him for....

38. Edith Sitwell, according to Dylan Thomas (1934)

Isn't she a poisonous thing of a woman, lying, concealing, flipping, plagiarising, misquoting, and being as clever a crooked literary publicist as ever.

39. James Jones, according to Ernest Hemingway (1951)

To me he is an enormously skillful f#*&-up and his book will do great damage to our country. Probably I should re-read it again to give you a truer answer. But I do not have to eat an entire bowl of scabs to know they are scabs...I hope he kills himself....

40. Sir Walter Scott, according to Mark Twain (1883)

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks...progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the silliness and emptiness, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote.

41. Jane Austen, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world.

42. Robert Frost, according to James Dickey (1981)

If it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes....a more sententious, holding-forth old bore, who expected every hero-worshipping adenoidal little twerp of a student-poet to hang on his every word I never saw.

43. Tom Wolfe, according to John Irving (1999)

He doesn't know how to write fiction, he can't create a character, he can't create a situation...You see people reading him on airplanes, the same people who are reading John Grisham, for Christ's sake....I'm using the argument against him that he can't write, that his sentences are bad, that it makes you wince. It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine....You know, if you were a good skater, could you watch someone just fall down all the time? Could you do that? I can't do that.

Bret Harte: liar, thief, swindler, snob

44. Bret Harte, according to Mark Twain (1878)

Harte is a liar, a thief, a swindler, a snob, a sot, a sponge, a coward, a Jeremy Diddler, he is brim full of treachery, and he conceals his Jewish birth as carefully as if he considered it a disgrace. How do I know? By the best of all evidence, personal observation.

45. Thomas Carlyle, according to Anthony Trollope (1850)

I have read -- nay, I have bought! -- Carlyle's 'Latter Day Pamphlets,' and look on my eight shillings as very much thrown away. To me it appears that the grain of sense is so smothered up in a sack of the sheerest trash, that the former is valueless....I look on him as a man who was always in danger of going mad in literature and who has now done so.

46. Henry James, according to Arnold Bennett

It took me years to ascertain that Henry James's work was giving me little pleasure....In each case I asked myself: 'What the dickens is this novel about, and where does it think it's going to?' Question unanswerable! I gave up. Today I have no recollection whatever of any characters or any events in either novel.

47. James Fenimore Cooper, according to Mark Twain (1895)

Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

48. Gore Vidal, according to Martin Amis (1995)

Vidal gives the impression of believing that the entire heterosexual edifice -- registry offices, 'Romeo and Juliet,' the disposable diaper -- is just a sorry story of self-hypnosis and mass hysteria: a hoax, a racket, or sheer propaganda.

49. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, according to Edward Fitzgerald (1861)

She and her sex had better mind the kitchen and her children; and perhaps the poor; except in such things as little novels, they only devote themselves to what men do much better, leaving that which men do worse or not at all.

I did say at the start of this unending Marah that these snippets of snarkiness weren't necessarily in order. I have, however, saved my absolute favorite for the end:

50. Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, according to Norman Mailer (1998)

The book has gas and runs out of gas, fills up again, goes dry. It is a 742-page work that reads as if it is fifteen hundred pages long....

At certain points, reading the work can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a three-hundred pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated. So you read and you grab and you even find delight in some of these mounds of material. Yet all the while you resist -- how you resist! -- letting three hundred pounds take you over.

Now, that's a non-clichéd review for you.
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