Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Harper Lee and Rosemary Connolly

First, Harper Lee.

Finally, The White House are recognising the contribution this lady made to literature.

LINK to article in The Independent HERE

Whether she will turn up to the award ceremony is debatable. She has granted one interview in 33 years, at which she famously said very little, and is a recluse. Would she relish the thought of meeting the man who pushed for the impeachment of Clinton over Monica Lewinsky? I wouldn't know.

What I do know is this. The Independent article says:

"The novel is studied in more than 70 per cent of US high schools. In some ways, though, the White House is going against the grain of many academics who are unconvinced that the book's warm-heartedness is matched by a level of literary craftsmanship to warrant its stellar reputation.

The fact that Lee has never published again has led some critics to wonder whether the book's success was entirely due to Lee or the prowess of Tay Hohoff, her editor at the publishing house JB Lipincott.

Others have suggested that alcohol has played a role in Lee's subsequent writer's block."

So 'academics' do not rate the book because it does not conform to some craft rules. And these 'adacemics' are writers or just 'academics'? What on earth are they thinking? Does originality count for nothing at all? There must be a reason why 70% of US high schools s tudy the thing. Or is it a more comfortable way to study racial injustice in the Deep South? Easier than history lessons, because fiction is one step removed from a chilling (and not quite dead) reality?

(I say not quite dead, because I visited Virginia in April this year. My second visit to the USA. The first was to Florida 25 years back...enough said. I saw how black people are still treated. NOW. 21st century. Purely because of colour.)

So these 'academics' would like to lessen the book's impact, perhaps. And what colour are these 'academics'?

Then, look at the second point here.

some critics (...) wonder whether the book's success was entirely due to Lee or the prowess of Tay Hohoff, her editor at the publishing house JB Lipincott

And consider it in the light of the recent flurry of panic that Tess Gallagher's release of some of Raymond Carver's work, in the original, unedited state will burst a bubble... fear that much of his greatness was manufactured by his editor.

Where is the 'weight' in the provision of literature to the reader today? Is it with the writers, who provide the publishers with original work, and the publishers then produce that for the market? Nope. It is the publishers (I am talking the big houses here) who are driven by the need to provide dividends to shareholders, and rely on tried and tested formulae. Read any new writer's blurb, and the marketeers will say who they write like.

Carver's editor is being given the credit for a proportion of Carver's success. As is Lee's. Kudos being removed from the writers, even at this level.

Oh I know how important editors are. But stand back a moment.

I was in conversation with an excellent writer only this week, whose work has been recently anthologised next to a seriously poor piece of work by a beginner.

"Oh it would have been OK if she'd had a really good editor" said my colleague, whilst at the same time acknowledging that she had had many people saying what a poor piece of decision making his had been by the publisher.

Surely, SURELY the editor is there as an equal partner in the relationship? Not the controller of the creative result? The one who acknowledges the originality of what he/she is working with, and just enhances it? NOT rewrites the lot...., to sometimes render (as in this case) navel-gazing beginnery drivel into literature?

My colleague was seeking to allow an editor to be ghost writer, to turn a bad piece of work into a good. Good enough to be anthologised alongside some experienced, well published, original writers.

Back to Harper Lee, poor woman.

So what have they done to her? They've tried to deny her any real credit for writing well. Tried to remove the influence her work has on generations of children. Suggested that it was not her, after all, any of the good, but her editor's.

And the final insult? They've stood right back from the appalling treatment they've handed out to Lee, denied that she might just have been adversely affected by any of it. And blamed something else for sending her to the safety of her own company for years...ALCOHOL.


Where does Rosemary Connolly come in? Oh yes. I was talking to another writer yesterday, a brilliant, stellar writer. I mentioned how I felt when the organiser of a lit festival when I asked about readings and so forth, looked me up and down (I'm both chubby and height challenged) and said "But we have to sell tickets..."

"Why don't you go on a Rosemary Connolly course?" the writer said brightly.

I thought that was a writing course.

It isn't.

It was acknowledging that how I look is more important than my writing.

On The Fiction Workhouse, I was bewailing that... and a colleague posted this,


Herewith a modern covering letter to an agent. TODAY's agent, working with TODAY's big publishers. Please feel free to cut n paste. I'm sure you will have great success ...

Dear Agent,
I have recently not completed a 100,000 word novel which I would like to send you. The book deals with nothing at all, as you'll see from the enclosed 0-page synopsis.

I consider myself to be a marketable commodity. I am empty headed, orange plastic faced, have large breasts, and a stick thin rest of me. I can't sing or do much else really, but I'm very 'open', if you get my drift.

Oh, and I can't spell, but fortunately, my manager can.

Yours etc

Honey Moneymaker

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