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August 2005



Claude Simon, one of France's leading post-war novelists has died in Paris aged 91.

He was a prominent figure of the 1950s movement known as the Nouveau Roman which did not tell a story but aimed to create a dream-like atmosphere. Born in Madagascar in 1913, the writer received the Nobel prize for literature in 1985. One of his most famous novels was Road to Flanders, which was set during World War II. He was educated in France and England and later supplied guns to Spanish Republicans.

Ed McBain, the US writer whose gritty crime novels sold over 100m copies worldwide, has died of cancer, aged 78.

In a writing career that also produced plays and screenplays, he was best known for the 87th Precinct series, which paved the way for TV cop dramas. Born Salvatore Lombino in New York, he felt that Italians were not taken seriously in the literary world and changed his name to Evan Hunter under which he published The Blackboard Jungle in 1953 and later became famous as Ed McBain, starting with Cop Hater in 1956.


Stella & Rose's Books featured

Stella and Rose's, as well as being featured in "The Independent" weekend magazine "The Information" on July 9th as one of the top 10 antiquarian booksellers of the UK, selected for their wide choice of titles and award-winning customer service, Rose's - the Hay-on-Wye branch of the ibooknet member will feature in an episode of "Flog it!" later in the year.

"Flog it!" presenter Paul Martin interviewed Maria Goddard of Rose's as part of a special feature on Hay-on-Wye. Rose's stocks around 12,000 rare and out-of-print children's and illustrated books and Paul Martin was particularly taken with their Ladybird Books, some of which he remembered from his childhood.


Not all of us are Rowling!

A recent survey of children's authors shows that one third of them earn less than the national minimum wage of £8,800 per annum and that some of them work for as little as 2p an hour.

The survey was of 117 established author's who replied to a questionnaire from the Society of Authors. Thirty one percent of the sample earned over £20,000 per annum. This is all a long way from the mega earners of the world of children's book - JK Rowling earned over £10m last year, Jacqueline Wilson earned £17m, Philip Pulman £6m, Roald Dahl £19m and Enid Blyton's sales topped £14m - and these figures are for book sales alone.

I suppose the fact that JK Rowling was in a worse situation than many of the surveyed authors - they are all published and poor, Rowling was UNPUBLISHED and poor, might give the established poor some hope.


George Macdonald by
Michael Seton of Alba Books

The north east of Scotland is a rural landscape with a scattering of small towns and villages. It was in a small house in one such small town, Huntly, that George Macdonald was born in 1824 into a solid middle-class family. His grandfather was a banker and his father the nearest thing Huntly had to an industrialist. His family were deeply religious with a stern Calvinistic streak and had ambitions for George to take up a career in the church. Macdonald's early years, though, were not conventional. He went not to the local parish school, but to an independent 'adventure' school, where the discipline could be harsh. With Macdonald suffering long periods of illness his school attendance was patchy. It seems he spent much time riding, swimming, or just day-dreaming. He was, though, academically bright and at the age of sixteen won a bursary to King's College, Aberdeen. He was, reportedly, a 'strikingly colourful, if melancholy' student and his extended university career included a session out cataloguing a castle library where he read deeply in romantic literature and poetry.

On leaving university he still harboured ambitions of becoming a romantic poet, but as a dutiful son entered Highbury Theological College in London. He soon found himself at odds with its Calvinist philosophy and left without taking his degree. He was 'called' though, to minister to the congregation of a small church at Arundel in Sussex. Soon after taking up his post he married his cousin, Louisa Powell. It wasn't long before his congregation found Macdonald's beliefs somewhat at variance to their own. He lasted barely two years before moving on to Manchester where he founded his own church and in 1855 he published his major romantic poem 'Within And Without' whose admirers included Charles Kingsley and Lady Byron.

1857 found the Macdonald family in Hastings, where he wrote 'Phantastes'. In 1859 the Macdonalds, now with six children, moved to London. Macdonald was in great demand as a preacher and lecturer and he became first professor of English Literature at Bedford College. Lewis Carroll became a family friend and tried out 'Alice In Wonderland' on the Macdonald children before deciding to publish. In 1863 Macdonald’s first novel 'David Elginbrod', set here in the north-east of Scotland, was published and from then on he produced a steady stream of novels, fairy tales and sermons. Between 1867 and 1877 the Macdonalds lived at The Retreat, Hammersmith, later owned by William Morris. In that year George’s daughter Mary fell ill and the family, now numbering eleven children, moved to Bordighera on the Ligurian coast of Italy, where they built a large house. Macdonald spent the winters in Italy writing and the summers lecturing and touring in Britain. After the publication of 'Lilith' in 1895 his health began to deteriorate. In 1898 he suffered a stroke and from then on scarcely spoke a word until his death in 1905. In this year (2005), the centenary of his death, many special events have been organized: an indication of his enduring popularity.

Macdonald is most popularly known as a children's writer, the author of books like 'The Princess and the Goblin', 'The Princess and Curdie' and 'At The Back Of The North Wind', but his adult fantasy novels 'Phantastes' and 'Lilith' established a new kind of writing in English. His work influenced writers like C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton and T.S. Eliot.

Here in the north-east of Scotland his enduring popularity rests on his Scottish novels, all of which are set locally. 'Alec Forbes of Howglen’ (1865) and 'Robert Falconer' (1868), both draw largely on Macdonald's own youth, whilst 'Malcolm' (1875) and 'The Marquis of Lossie' (1877) are set to the north of Huntly in the fishing town of Cullen. Even his children's books 'The Princess and the Goblin' and 'The Princess and Curdie' take place in a realm of bygone years in a distinctly Scottish landscape.

The local library in Huntly has a collection of his books and some manuscripts. There is also a flourishing George Macdonald Society and, in the competition for tourist numbers, a George Macdonald trail around his home town. Macdonald’s works are still very collectable especially the very scarce three-deckers. Judging by the well-used condition of most of the copies of his works that I’ve come across he is also still read as well as being collected.


A Major Charity Booksale at Turville Books 

A unique charity bookshop opens its doors from Thursday August 4th to Sunday August 7th from 10.00am to 4.00pm daily. This consists of a barn full of new and second-hand books of all categories including first editions and leather-bound books, and a very large tent full of 50p books representing fantastic value!

The event will be well signposted from exit 5 of the M40 and is half a mile from Turville (just follow the pink signs) and parking is free. The charities are the Elizabeth Finn Trust and Thames Valley Adventure Playground.


Braille library saved

Historic braille books kept by the National Library for the Blind have been rescued for future generations following a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £46,700.

The collection, which is the second largest of its kind in the world, is housed at the charity's Stockport headquarters. Some of the books date back to 1836, when they were slowly typed by hand and include "The Book of Common Prayer", "Pilgrim's Progress", "The Queen's Journal: A Life In The Highlands" and poems by Tennyson and Browning.

The National Library for the Blind provides a free postal library service to blind and partially-sighted people worldwide. It houses Europe's largest collection of tactile books and music and offers a range of innovative electronic library and information services via the website at www.nlb-online.org


W. B. Yeats collection at auction

Letters and an essay by one of Ireland's greatest poets, William Butler Yeats, have fetched £72,000 at Sotheby's in London.

The collection was auctioned at the sale in London on 12th July. It was mounted in an album by Sir Sydney Cockerell, a friend of Yeats and a book collector and included 18 letters to Sir Sydney signed by Yeats. Also included was a working manuscript of Tragic Theatre written in 1910. The letters date from 1902 to 1932 and include discussions of his own work as well as other art and literature.


Next Month: The feature for September 2005 will be by Amwell Book Company


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