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The Editor's View November 05


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

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What about a banana prize for men?

Romantic Novelists pipped in quiz final

. . . the Christie saga goes on

PAULA TEGGE writes in this issue on the current furore over positive discrimination for female writers. Why is it that whenever I hear a wail that there should be more support for women writers I burst into hysterical laughter?

Can it be because, until I have to pause for breath, I can name bookshelves full of them: George Eliot, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy L Sayers, Daphne du Maurier, Anya Seton, Margaret Atwood, Betty Smith, Harper Lee, Nadine Gordimer, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Mitchell, Barbara Cartland, Iris Murdoch, Margaret Drabble, P D James, Jilly Cooper, Catherine Cookson, Maeve Binchy and the biggest seller of all time: Crime Queen Agatha Christie. Yes, bigger even than J K Rowling or Dan Brown.

Much as it will disappoint many people, books are not rejected because of gender (ask Gore Vidal, Gertrude Stein or better still Jan Morris), but because they are either no good or unlucky enough to be read by an editor or publisher who is off form, angry, fed up or just not in a buying mood.

Perhaps we should have a Banana Prize for Fiction, restricted to men? No. I don’t think so. And there’s really no need for chaps to don wigs, make-up and tights to get a publishing contract.

The battle was fought and won years ago. The only worthwhile questions are: Can you write? Can you entertain?

* * *

WARM congratulations to the Romantic Novelists who reached the final of University Challenge’s Professional competition on BBC2.

They lost heroically to the Privy Council staff in the final, but were far from disgraced.

Such snooty lots as the editorial staffs of the Economist and Times perished along the way. In fact The Times team was awful.

"Still scribbling away," a doctor asked an RNA friend of mine whose last book sold 75,000 copies.

"Ah, yes doctor," she replied. "Still mixing up bottles of sach. ust?"

The RNA team was Jenny Haddon, Anne Ashurst, Stephen Bowden and Catherine Jones.

* * *

MENTION of Agatha Christie reminds me that she is still our best-selling author with more than two billion copies of her books sold.

The National Trust told me recently that they are to open her magnificent house to the public in three years' time. Greenway House, an eight-bedroomed mansion on a bend in the River Dart in Devon was bought by Christie in 1938 and owned by her and her family for 60 years.

More than £2 million is to be spent on the property which stands in an estate of 278 acres given to the National Trust in 2000 by Christie’s daughter Rosalind Hicks.

The public will be allowed to see the ground floor of what Agatha called the loveliest place in the world.

One puzzle for visitors will be a frieze in the library painted by Lieutenant Marshall Lee of the United States Navy in 1944 when the house was taken over by US servicemen.

He painted the locations where his flotilla had been stationed: Key West, Morocco and Devon. Christie was so taken with the work she never had it painted over.

At the moment you can visit the gardens using the ferry from Dartmouth.

Talking of Miss Christie, old film buffs, or even buffs of old films, can enjoy Witness for the Prosecution at the National Film Theatre in London in November. Her long running court-room drama was filmed by the great Billy Wilder with Tyrone Power accused of murder, Marlene Dietrich standing by him as the conspiratorial wife and Charles Laughton appearing for the defence.

There’s also a wonderful performance from Elsa Lanchester and I’m tempted to say "they don’t make films like that any more. . ." It is showing on November 6 and 27.

* * *

WRITERS are a little like farmers and taxi drivers. Nothing is as good today as it was yesterday. Every shift in publishing emphasis is to be deplored. Can’t agree with that. Research is now much easier with the World Wide Web, the agony of editing and re-typing is no longer the problem it once was and the number of books published each year continues to increase.

Furthermore, for those willing to embrace change there are audio editions and a cheaper route into self-publishing.

Nevertheless there are still some who prefer to write standing up with a pencil on a pad at a lectern, following in the steps of Papa Hemingway, while others bash away at an old sit-up-and-beg Imperial typewriter with the 'e' out of alignment and a ribbon more faded than a politician’s promise.

Does it matter? Not at all. If you want to write then do so. But do it every day. That is really the only way to learn after you have been introduced to the basics.

That way you teach yourself and find your own voice.

Good luck.


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


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

© Writers International Ltd 2005. Reproduced from the December-Januray edition of Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.