Related to: 'All That Matters'

Sceptre

The Professor of Poetry

Grace McCleen
Authors:
Grace McCleen
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The Enchanter's Forest

Alys Clare
Authors:
Alys Clare
A short story by the author of The Saint series, Leslie Charteris

The Uncritical Publisher

Even the strongest men have their weak moments. Peter Quentin once wrote a book. Many young men do, but usually with more disastrous results. Moreover he did it without saying a word to anyone, which is perhaps even more uncommon; and even the Saint did not hear about it until after the crime had been committed. ‘Next time you’re thinking of being rude to me,’ said Peter Quentin, on that night of revelation, ‘please remember that you’re talking to a budding novelist whose work has been compared to Dumas, Tolstoy, Conan Doyle and others.’ Simon Templar choked over his highball. ‘Only pansies bud,’ he said severely. ‘Novelists fester. Of course, it’s possible to be both.’ ‘I mean it,’ insisted Peter seriously. ‘I was keeping it quiet until I heard the verdict, and I had a letter from the publishers today.’ There was no mistaking his earnestness; and the Saint regarded him with affectionate gloom. His vision of the future filled him with overwhelming pessimism. He had seen the fate of other young men – healthy, upright young men who had had a book published. He had seen them tread the downhill path of pink shirts, velvet coats, long hair, quill pens, cocktail parties and beards, until finally they sank into the awful limbos of Bloomsbury and were no longer visible to the naked eye. The prospect of such a doom for anyone like Peter Quentin, who had been with him in so many bigger and better crimes, cast a shadow of great melancholy across his spirits. ‘Didn’t Kathleen try to stop you?’ he asked. ‘Of course not,’ said Peter proudly. ‘She helped me. I owe—’ ‘—it all to her,’ said the Saint cynically. ‘All right. I know the line. But if you ever come out with “My Work” within my hearing, I shall throw you under a bus... You’d better let me see this letter. And order me some more Old Curio while I’m reading it – I need strength.’ He took the document with his fingertips, as if it were unclean, and opened it out on the bar. But after his first glance at the letter-head his twinkling blue eyes steadied abruptly, and he read the epistle through with more than ordinary interest. Dear Sir, We have now gone into your novel THE GAY ADVENTURER, and our readers report that it is very entertaining and ably written, with the verve of Dumas, the dramatic power of Tolstoy, and ingenuity of Conan Doyle. We shall therefore be delighted to set up same in best small pica type to form a volume of about 320 p.p., machine on good antique paper, bind in red cloth with title in gold lettering, and put up in specially designed artistic wrapper, at cost to yourself of only £600 (Six Hundred Pounds) and to publish same at our own expense in the United Kingdom at a net price of 15/ (Fifteen Shillings); and believe it will form a most acceptable and popular volume which should command a wide sale. We will further agree to send you on date of publication twelve presentation copies and to send copies for review to all principal magazines and newspapers; and further to pay you a royalty of 25% (twenty-five per cent) on all copies sold of this Work. The work can be put in hand immediately on receipt of your acceptance of these terms. Trusting to hear from you at your earliest convenience, We beg to remain, dear Sir, Faithfully yours, for HERBERT G. PARSTONE & Co. Herbert G. Parstone, Managing Director Simon folded the letter and handed it back with a sigh of relief. ‘Okay, Peter,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I bought that one. What’s the swindle, and can I come in on it?’ ‘I don’t know of any swindle,’ said Peter puzzledly. ‘What do you mean?’ The Saint frowned. ‘D’you mean to tell me you sent your book to Parstone in all seriousness?’ ‘Of course I did. I saw an advertisement of his in some literary paper, and I don’t know much about publishers—’ ‘You’ve never heard of him before?’ ‘No.’ Simon picked up his glass and strengthened himself with a deep draught. ‘Herbert G. Parstone,’ he said, ‘is England’s premier exponent of the publishing racket. Since you don’t seem to know it, Peter, let me tell you that no reputable publisher in this or any other country publishes books at the author’s expense, except an occasional highly technical work which goes out for posterity rather than profit. I gather that your book is by no means technical. Therefore you don’t pay the publisher: he pays you – and if he’s any use he stands you expensive lunches as well.’ ‘But Parstone offers to pay—’ ‘A twenty-five per cent royalty. I know. Well, if you were something like a bestseller you might get that; but on a first novel no publisher would give you more than ten, and then he’d probably lose money. After six months Parstone would probably send you a statement showing a sale of two hundred copies, you’d get a cheque from him for thirty-seven pounds ten, and that’s the last trace you’d see of your six hundred quid. He’s simply trading on the fact that one out of every three people you meet thinks he could write a book if he tried, one out of every three of ’em try it, and one out of every three of those tries to get it published. ‘The very fact that a manuscript is sent to him tells him that the author is a potential sucker, because anyone who goes into the writing business seriously takes the trouble to find out a bit about publishers before he starts slinging his stuff around. The rest of his game is just playing on the vanity of mugs. And the mugs – mugs like yourself, Peter – old gents with political theories, hideous women with ghastly poems, schoolgirls with nauseating love stories – rush up to pour their money into his lap for the joy of seeing their repulsive tripe in print. I’ve known about Herbert for many years, old lad, but I never thought you’d be the sap to fall for him.’ ‘I don’t believe you,’ said Peter glumly. An elderly mouse-like man who was drinking at the bar beside him coughed apologetically and edged bashfully nearer. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said diffidently, ‘but your friend’s telling the truth.’ ‘How do you know?’ asked Peter suspiciously. ‘I can usually guess when he’s telling the truth – he makes a face as if it hurt him.’ ‘He isn’t pulling your leg this time, sir,’ said the man. ‘I happen to be a proof-reader at Parstone’s.’ The surprising thing about coincidences is that they so often happen. The mouse-like man was one of those amazing accidents on which the fate of nations may hinge, but there was no logical reason why he should not have been drinking at that bar as probably as at any other hostel in the district. And yet there is no doubt that if Mr Herbert Parstone could have foreseen the accident he would have bought that particular public house for the simple pleasure of closing it down lest any such coincidence should happen; but unhappily for him Mr Herbert Parstone was not a clairvoyant. This proof-reader – the term, by the way, refers to the occupation and not necessarily to the alcoholic content of the man –had been with Parstone for twelve years, and he was ready for a change. ‘I was with Parstone when he was just a small jobbing printer,’ he said, ‘before he took up this publishing game. That’s all he is now, really – a printer. But he’s going to have to get along without me. In the last three years I’ve taken one cut after another, till I don’t earn enough money to feed myself properly; and I can’t stand it any longer. I’ve got four more months on my contract, but after that I’m going to take another job.’ ‘Did you read my book?’ asked Peter. The man shook his head. ‘Nobody read your book, sir – if you’ll excuse my telling you. It was just put on a shelf for three weeks, and after that Parstone sent you his usual letter. That’s what happens to everything that’s sent in to him. If he gets his money, the book goes straight into the shop, and the proof-reader’s the first man who has to wade through it. Parstone doesn’t care whether it’s written in Hindustani.’ ‘But surely,’ protested Peter half-heartedly, ‘he couldn’t carry on a racket like that in broad daylight and get away with it?’ The reader looked at him with a rather tired smile on his mouse-like features. ‘It’s perfectly legal, sir. Parstone publishes the book. He prints copies and sends them around. It isn’t his fault if the reviewers won’t review it and the booksellers won’t buy it. He carries out his legal undertaking. But it’s a dirty business.’ After a considerably longer conversation, in the course of which a good deal more Scotch was consumed, Peter Quentin was convinced. He was so crestfallen on the way home that Simon took pity on him. ‘Let me read this opus,’ he said, ‘if you’ve got a spare copy. Maybe it isn’t so lousy, and if there’s anything in it we’ll send it along to some other place.’ He had the book the next day; and after ploughing through the first dozen pages his worst fears were realised. Peter Quentin was not destined to take his place in the genealogy of literature with Dumas, Tolstoy and Conan Doyle. The art of writing was not in him. His spelling had a grand simplicity that would have delighted the more progressive orthographists, his grammatical constructions followed in the footsteps of Gertrude Stein, and his punctuation marks seemed to have more connection with intervals for thought and opening beer-bottles than with the requirements of syntax. Moreover, like most first novels, it was embarrassingly personal. It was this fact which made Simon follow it to the bitter end, for the hero of the story was one ‘Ivan Grail, the Robbin Hood of modern crime,’ who could without difficulty be identified with the Saint himself, his ‘beutiful wife’, and ‘Frank Morris his acomplis whos hard-bitten featurs consealed a very clever brain and witt’. Simon Templar swallowed all the flattering evidences of hero-worship that adorned the untidy pages, and actually blushed. But after he had reached the conclusion – inscribed ‘FINNIS’ in triumphant capitals – he did some heavy thinking. Later on he saw Peter again. ‘What was it that bit your features so hard?’ he asked. ‘Did you try to kiss an alligator?’ Peter turned pink. ‘I had to describe them somehow,’ he said defensively. ‘You’re too modest,’ said the Saint, after inspecting him again. ‘They were not merely bitten – they were thoroughly chewed.’ ‘Well, what about the book?’ said Peter hopefully. ‘Was it any good?’ ‘It was lousy,’ Simon informed him, with the privileged candour of friendship. ‘It would have made Dumas turn in his grave. All the same, it may be more readable after I’ve revised it for you. And perhaps we will let Comrade Parstone publish it after all.’ Peter blinked. ‘But I thought—’ ‘I have an idea,’ said the Saint. ‘Parstone has published dud books too long. It’s time he had a good one. Will you get your manuscript back from him, Peter – tell him you want to make a few corrections, and that you’ll send him his money and let him print it. For anyone who so successfully conceals a very clever brain and wit,’ he added cruelly, ‘there are much more profitable ways of employing them than writing books, as you ought to know.’ For two weeks after that the Saint sat at his typewriter for seven hours a day, hammering out page after page of neat manuscript at astonishing speed. He did not merely revise Peter Quentin’s story – he re-wrote it from cover to cover, and the result would certainly not have been recognised by its original creator. The book was sent in again from his own address, and consequently Peter did not see the proofs. Simon Templar read them himself; and his ribs were aching long before he had finished. The Gay Adventurer, by Peter Quentin, was formally pushed out upon a callous world about two months later. The Times did not notice it, the library buyers did not refill their fountain pens to sign the order forms, the lynx-eyed scouts of Hollywood did not rush in with open contracts; but nevertheless it was possible for a man with vast patience and dogged determination to procure a copy, by which achievement Mr Parstone had fulfilled the letter of his contract. Simon Templar did not need to exercise patience and determination to obtain his copy, because the author’s presentation dozen came to his apartment; and it happened that Peter Quentin came there on the same morning. Peter noticed the open parcel of books, and fell on them at once, whinnying like an eager stallion. But he had scarcely glanced over the first page when he turned to the Saint with wrathful eyes. ‘This isn’t my book at all,’ he shouted indignantly. ‘We’ll call it a collaboration if you like,’ said the Saint generously. ‘But I thought you might as well have the credit. My name is so famous already—’ Peter had been turning the pages frantically. ‘But this – this is awful!’ he expostulated. ‘It’s – it’s—’ ‘Of course it is,’ agreed the Saint. ‘And that’s why you must never tell anyone that I had anything to do with it. When the case comes to court, I shall expect you to perjure yourself blue in the face on that subject.’ After the revelations that have been made in the early stages of this story, no one will imagine that on the same morning Mr Herbert Parstone was pacing feverishly up and down his office, quivering with anxiety and parental pride, stopping every now and then to peer at the latest circulation figures rushed in by scurrying office-boys and bawling frantic orders to an excited staff of secretaries, salesmen, shippers, clerks, exporters and truck drivers. As a matter of fact, even the most important and reputable publishers do not behave like that. They are usually too busy concentrating on mastering that loose shoulder and smooth follow-through which carries the ball well over that nasty bunker on the way to the fourteenth. Mr Herbert Parstone was not playing golf, because he had a bad cold; and he was in his office when the Saint called. The name on the card that was sent in to him was unfamiliar, but Mr Parstone never refused to see anyone who was kind enough to walk into his parlour. He was a short ginger-haired man with the kind of stomach without which no morning coat and gold watch-chain can be seen to their best advantage; and the redness of his prominent nose was not entirely due to his temporary affliction. ‘Mr Teblar?’ he said, with great but obstructed geniality. ‘Please sit dowd. I dode thig I’ve had the pleasure of beetig you before, have I?’ ‘I don’t think so,’ said the Saint pleasantly. ‘But any real pleasure is worth waiting for.’ He took the precious volume which he was carrying from under his arm, and held it up. ‘Did you publish this?’ Mr Parstone looked at it. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is one of our publicashuds. A bost excelledd ad ibportad book, if I bay perbid byself to say so. A book, I bight say, which answers problebs which are dear to every wud of us today.’ ‘It will certainly have some problems to answer,’ said the Saint; ‘and I expect they’ll be dear enough. Do you know the name of the principal character in this book? Do you know who this biography is alleged to be about?’ ‘Biography?’ stammered Mr Parstone, blinking at the cover. ‘The book is a dovel. A work of fickshud. It is clearly explaid—’ ‘The book is supposed to be a biography,’ said the Saint. ‘And do you know the name of the principal character?’ Mr Parstone’s brow creased with thought. ‘Pridcipal character?’ he repeated. ‘Led be see, led be see. I ought to dough, oughtud I?’ He blew his nose several times, sniffed, sighed, and spread out his hand uncertainly. ‘Iddn it abazing?’ he said. ‘The dabe was od the tip of by tug, but dow I cadd rebember id.’ ‘The name is Simon Templar,’ said the Saint grimly; and Mr Parstone sat up. ‘What?’ he ejaculated. Simon opened the book and showed him the name in plain print. Then he took it away to a chair and lighted a cigarette. ‘Rather rude of you, wasn’t it?’ he murmured. ‘Well, by dear Bister Teblar,’ said Parstone winningly. ‘I trust you are dot thinkig that any uncomblibendary referedds was intended. Far frob id. These rebarkable coidcidedces will happud. Ad yet it is dot every yug bad of your age who fides his dabe preserved for posterity id such a work as that. The hero of that book, as I rebember him, was a fellow of outstaddig charb—’ ‘He was a low criminal,’ said the Saint virtuously. ‘Your memory is failing you, Herbert. Let me read you some of the best passages.’ He turned to a page he had marked. ‘Listen to this, Herbert,’ he said. ‘“Simon Templar was never particular about how he made money, so long as he made it. The drug traffic was only one of his many sources of income, and his conscience was never touched by the thought of the hundreds of lives he ruined by his insatiable avarice. Once, in a night club, he pointed out to me a fine and beautiful girl on whose lovely face the ravages of dope were already beginning to make their mark. ‘I’ve had two thousand pounds from her since I started her on the stuff,’ he said gloatingly, ‘and I’ll have five thousand more before it kills her.’ I could multiply instances of that kind by the score, and refrain only from fear of nauseating my readers. Sufficient, at least, has already been said to show what an unspeakable ruffian was this man who called himself the Saint.”’ However hard it might have been for Mr Parstone to place the name of Simon Templar, he was by no means ignorant of the Saint. His watery eyes popped halfway out of their sockets, and his jaw hardened at the same time. ‘So you’re the Saind?’ he said. ‘Of course,’ murmured Simon. ‘Id your own words, a low cribidal—’ Simon shook his head. ‘Oh, no, Herbert,’ he said. ‘By no means as low as that. My reputation may be bad, but it’s only rumour. You may whisper it to your friends, but the law doesn’t allow you to put it in writing. That’s libel. And you couldn’t even get Chief Inspector Teal to testify that my record would justify anything like the language this book of yours has used about me. ‘My sins were always fairly idealistic, and devoted to the squashing of beetles like yourself – not to trading in drugs and grinding the faces of the poor. But you haven’t heard anything like the whole of it. Listen to some more.’ He turned to another selected passage. ‘“The Saint”,’ he read, ‘“always seemed to derive a peculiar malicious pleasure from robbing and swindling those who could least afford to lose. To my dying day, I shall be haunted by the memory of the fiendish glee which distorted his face when he told me that he had stolen five pounds from a woman with seven children, who had scraped and saved for months to get the money together. He accepted the money from her as a fee for trying to trace the grave of her father, who had been reported ‘missing’ in 1943. Of course he never made any attempt to carry out his share of the bargain. He played this cruel trick on several occasions, and always with the same sadistic pleasure, which I believe meant far more to him than the actual cash which he derived from it.”’ ‘Is that id the book too?’ asked Parstone hoarsely. ‘Naturally,’ said the Saint. ‘That’s what I’m reading it from. And there are lots more interesting things. Look here. “The bogus companies floated by Templar, in which thousands upon thousands of widows and orphans were deprived—”’ ‘Wait!’ interrupted Parstone tremblingly. ‘This is terrible – a terrible coidcideds. The book will be withdrawd at wuds. Hardly eddywud will have had tibe to read it. Ad if eddy sball cobbensation I cad give—’ Simon closed his book with a smile and laid it on Mr Parstone’s desk. ‘Shall we say fifty thousand pounds?’ he suggested affably. Mr Parstone’s face reddened to the verge of an apoplectic stroke, and he brought up his handkerchief with shaking hands. ‘How buch?’ he whispered. ‘Fifty thousand pounds,’ repeated the Saint. ‘After all, that’s a very small amount of damages to ask for a libel like this. If the case has to go to court, I think it will be admitted that never in the whole history of modern law has such a colossal libel been put on paper. If there is any crime under the sun of which I’m not accused in that book, I’ll sit down right now and eat it. And there are three hundred and twenty pages of it – eighty thousand words of continuous and unbridled insult. For a thing like that, Herbert, I think fifty thousand pounds is pretty cheap.’ ‘You could’n get it,’ said Parstone harshly. ‘It’s the author’s liability—’ ‘I know that clause,’ answered the Saint coolly, ‘and you may be interested to know that it has no legal value whatever. In a successful libel action, the author, printer and publisher are joint tortfeasors, and none of them can indemnify the other. Ask your solicitor. As a matter of fact,’ he added prophetically, ‘I don’t expect I shall be able to recover anything from the author, anyway. Authors are usually broke. But you are both the printer and the publisher, and I’m sure I can collect from you.’ Mr Parstone stared at him with blanched lips. ‘But fifty thousad pouds is ibpossible,’ he whined. ‘It would ruid be!’ ‘That’s what I mean to do, dear old bird,’ said the Saint gently. ‘You’ve gone on swindling a lot of harmless idiots for too long already, and now I want you to see what it feels like when it happens to you.’ He stood up, and collected his hat. ‘I’ll leave you the book,’ he said, ‘in case you want to entertain yourself some more. But I’ve got another copy; and if I don’t receive your cheque by the first post on Friday morning it will go straight to my solicitors. And you can’t kid yourself about what that will mean.’ For a long time after he had gone Mr Herbert Parstone sat quivering in his chair. And then he reached out for the book and began to skim through its pages. And with every page his livid face went greyer. There was no doubt about it. Simon Templar had spoken the truth. The book was the most monumental libel that could ever have found its way into print. Parstone’s brain reeled before the accumulation of calumnies which it unfolded. His furious ringing of the bell brought his secretary running. ‘Fide me that proof-reader!’ he howled. ‘Fide be the dab fool who passed this book!’ He flung the volume on to the floor at her feet. ‘Sed hib to be at wuds! I’ll show hib. I’ll bake hib suffer. By God, I’ll—’ The other things that Mr Parstone said he would do cannot be recorded in such a respectable publication as this. His secretary picked up the book and looked at the title. ‘Mr Timmins left yesterday – he was the man you fired four months ago,’ she said; but even then Mr Parstone was no wiser.

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Sophie Hannah on her female protagonists

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a journalist about, among other things, stroppy and sarcastic female protagonists in crime fiction. I can't imagine why. I mean, none of my main characters is ever sarcastic, as I'm sure readers will have noticed. No, siree! My heroines never have sharp tongues or acerbic thoughts or a ruthless steely edge; on the contrary, they're among the sweetest, loveliest ladies in fiction: unsuspicious, quick to think the best of everyone they meet (even the rabidly dysfunctional maniacs who are aching to bump them off in a cryptic fashion), and they are truly in their element when beaming at their spouses, lovers, siblings, parents and colleagues in an anodyne, Melanie-from-the-film-of-Gone-With-The-Wind kind of way. Oh, all right, then. None of the above is true. I'm being sarcastic. I'm being sarcastic because I'm beginning to wonder if, in order for the heroines of my novels to become sweeter and lovelier - in order that they might win the moral accolade of 'Unambiguously Sympathetic Character' - I need to become harsher and/or stand up for myself a bit more. There's a kind of portrait-in-the-attic thing going on between me and my books, I fear. It's nothing to do with looking young; it's about personality, not appearance (my books and I are not shallow, you'll be glad to hear.) In particular, it's about repressed negative feelings. We all have them, but I suspect I might have more than most. I notice nearly every day that many people give vent to their negative feelings as and when they arise, in an uninhibited and no doubt refreshing way. Lucky old them. I, for some reason, have an inner law that I find virtually impossible to break. The law is this: I must be as diplomatic as I can at all times. I must smooth over any hint of conflict or unpleasantness by being a pacifier and never an agitator. I must always, in every situation, say the thing that will make the person I'm speaking to feel better, rather than the thing that might make me feel better - except it wouldn't, because I'd be too worried about the other person and how they would feel if they didn't like what I had to say. You may put this claim of mine to the test if you wish. Next time you bump into me, tell me I'm a frizzy-haired douchecanoe (my current favourite insult) whose books are utter rubbish. I will smile brightly at you and say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry you feel that way. Haha! I suppose you can't please everyone, haha! I do hope you find some other books you like more than mine, and I'll certainly make a note to buy some Frizz Ease next time I go to Waitrose. Unless you'd prefer that I went to Aldi, instead? Yes? Oh, okay then!' It's very odd, because in my head I'm reasonably confident, and secretly I would be thinking 'How rude this person is', but I'd never dream of saying 'How rude you are, old beanie,' because...what if I'd somehow misunderstood the remark? What if I was being too sensitive? What if I was in the wrong, and didn't realise, and then something terrible happened? What if that person was as rude and out-of-order as I'd thought, but they'd only lashed out because they were suffering from a broken heart, or they'd lost their entire family in an earthquake last week? Do I really want to add to their pain? One can't argue with something utterly irrational, and I have a deeply-rooted irrational belief that if I openly and directly express anger or upset - even politely and without raising my voice - something unimaginably terrible will happen. I have no idea what the awful thing might be - it's a dark, hazy rumble of horror in the distance. All I know is that I've suffered from this bizarre internal restriction for as long as I can remember. Certainly, it was firmly embedded by the time I started primary school. In the playground, I was supremely tactful, even to the point of giving my best friend my Jaffa Cake snack every day because...well, she wanted it and would have been upset not to get it. Say what I really think, without first putting it through the filter of 'What trouble might it cause?'? What a preposterous idea! Only about three times in my life have I felt strongly enough to express anger without mitigating sweeteners. Usually the sweeteners are so delightful that the person on the receiving end has no idea that I'm annoyed with them. By far the most enjoyable of my visible anger incidents was when I sent an email to my then boss with the subject heading 'Very, very angry' (as in, I was). I haven't worked for her for years, but I'm absolutely certain she's hated me ever since. You see? Tell someone you're angry with them and they'll loathe you forever - and what if they're right to do so? Better to be quietly angry, cry while locked in the bathroom on your own, and never say anything about it. Except I know that it's not really better, and that's why I allow my female protagonists to be stroppy when they need to be, for the sake of self-preservation. Indeed, I cheer them on. I wish I were more like them. In my latest psychological thriller The Carrier, Gaby, the heroine, is accosted at an airport by an abusive, irrational stranger. Gaby gives as good as she gets, and even has the cheek to point out the other woman's stupidity in contrast to her own cleverness. She gives Lauren a good talking to and doesn't take any nonsense. Many readers will think, 'Oh, come on, that's a bit harsh. There's no need for her to be quite so abrasive.' Well, I felt the need and here's why: a few years ago, also in a German airport, I was similarly accosted by an abusive, irrational stranger. I stayed up all night with her (we were forced to share a hotel room - long story!) smiling my face off and there-there-ing soothingly in my carefully-worded, non-incendiary attempts to prevent this young woman from subjecting the airport staff and our fellow passengers to a constant stream of verbal horrors. I gave her lots of money (because she asked for it) and agreed not to read a book in front of her (because she found it annoying). That's why Gaby gives as good as she gets: because I didn't, and I very rarely do. And yet, I still hold out the hope that one day I will succeed in convincing myself that my feelings matter as much as everyone else's. My readers will be able to tell if and when that day ever comes from the heroines of my books, and how sarcastic and stroppy they are or aren't.

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Gerald Seymour discusses Iran as a setting for his recent novel THE CORPORAL'S WIFE, his love of sport, and how he conducts his research.

Gerald Seymour Q&A

1. Do you find Iran, where you set THE CORPORAL’S WIFE, your new thriller, particularly interesting at the moment? Iran is a top target, and not only for contemporary thriller writers. There are plenty of well sourced stories of espionage runs inside the Islamic Republic by agents of the CIA, the UK's MI6, French and German agencies, and the secretive but obviously highly successful Israeli Mossad. The men who do this work - I've not heard of female spies arrested inside Iran - have to be either excessively greedy and want the money, or desperately hostile to the regime and that leads them towards huge personal danger, or they have been compromised and turned (in the jargon) and so are between a rock and a hard place, and finally the option is that they may have an excessive belief in their own skills and reckon that will keep them safe, a big ask. They usually fall into the MICE profile: Money, Ideology, Compromise or Ego. What makes Iran difficult for the recruiters is that there is no Glienicke Bridge (outside of old Cold War Berlin and where captured agents were swapped routinely by the Americans and the Soviets). If taken in Iran the agent will hang in the yard of the Evin gaol ... and many do. So, Iran and its secrets are a fertile area for writers, and because the stakes are so high, matters of life and death, the characters who play the games are fascinating. 2. Is there anywhere in the world you wouldn’t set one of your novels? Is there an island or a country where every citizen is smiling and there are no secret police with unpleasant habits in their holding cells, and no mafia groups ripping off the general public? I'm not sure where such a place is and if it exists then it would be much too boring to write about ... that means pretty much everywhere else in the world is on the radar - which means I have to keep slogging away because there are so many good stories to be written. 3. Is there anywhere in which you particularly relish doing your research? I'm always so grateful to journalists and police officers and soldiers and the 'ordinary' people I meet up with if they accept my assurance that any conversation is 'off the record' and 'non-attrib' and they have enough trust in me to tell it like it is and not with a public relations gloss. Anywhere in the world where I can conjure up a few dark corners and lengthening shadows, and where I can wander and learn is as good a place as any other. It could be Belfast, or the roads around the old hanging gaol in Pretoria, or a bazaar in the North West Frontier, or Sarajevo ... I don't have favourites and still get a huge adrenaline surge when I am on new territory and a story seems to be sliding into my notebook. I am very lucky. 4. You love your sports … do you think you will involve sportsmen in a future novel? Or should they be kept separate! Sport is a great relaxation for me: sadly, the playing days and participating are now in the dim past. I watch Premiership rugby and first class cricket, and get great pleasure from seeing my grandchildren taking part. Sport is a huge relaxation after a week at the keyboard and I don't permit that to nudge into a story ... it is switch-off time. But, I do believe that sportsman and artists (painters, sculptors, composers, writers) are similar. They walk out into a stadium and don't know how they are going to perform, however well coached. The artists settle in their studio or wherever and don't know whether ideas will materialise, nor where such ideas may be sourced from. We both fly on the seat of our pants: stressful and exciting. For neither of us are there any guarantees of quality or success. 5. Your novels have huge cast lists. How do you keep all your characters in line? I have big casts of characters and they are an indulgence. It seems worthwhile to invent and create the people in the stories, a part of the privilege of being a novelist. I sketch out their biographies before I start on Chapter One but am quite prepared for any of them go off on their own sweet way and take me with them. I know how a story will begin but rarely have a clear idea of how it will end. They lead me and I'm happy with that freedom given them. 6. Is there one of your books you’d yet like to see made into a drama – either big screen or little? There are four of the books that are currently either contracted to a film/tv company or are being negotiated for ... that is a different world. If a story gets to the screen then that is a bonus but not something I aim for when writing. It is rare that you hear somebody say they enjoyed the film more than reading the book. But, Harry's Game on UK television and also in dozens of countries, was a strong shop window for what I try to achieve. The screen is good for the ego but, for me, books come first by a long distance. 7. Will you ever revisit Ireland in fiction? Yes - watch this space.

Author Stephen Leather discusses the importance of character names.

What's In A Name?

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to a character in a novel, pretty much everything.Choosing the right name can mean that a reader instantly identifies with a character and cares about what happens to them. Choosing the wrong name can put a reader off before you’ve even got started on the story. So making the right choice is crucial.I have created two long-running characters: undercover cop Dan “Spider” Shepherd and supernatural detective Jack Nightingale. And I went to a lot of trouble choosing both of those names.With action heroes, a single syllable first name followed by a double syllable family name seems to work best – think Jack Reacher (created by Lee Child) or Joe Hunter (created by Matt Hilton). Both Reacher and Hunter are great surnames for loners who are happy to kill at will, but I chose Shepherd because the name evokes a feeling of security and safety – a shepherd takes care of his flock, after all. Dan is simple and uncomplicated and goes well with Shepherd. Dan Shepherd has the sound of a hero, whereas Reginald Shepherd doesn’t. With Jack Nightingale, I again wanted a simple and direct first name. Jack works as a heroic name. As does Mick. Bob does as well, but Robert not so much. Then for the family name I wanted something with several syllables, but a name that was very distinctive. I also wanted the name to be soft, because Jack Nightingale often finds himself in danger and out of his depth. Nightingales are sweet and innocent, and although my character has his dark side, the name does emphasise his vulnerability.Every name in a book matters and has to be right. So how do I come up with names for the dozens of minor characters that populate a novel? One thing I do is to collect names. If a fan goes to the trouble of writing to me, I’ll often jot the name down in my Filofax. I do the same for readers who have gone to the trouble of writing a flattering review of one of my books. Then when I find myself short of a name I can open the Filofax and pick a suitable one from the list.I tend to write with the television on – for some reason I find it impossible to be creative in silence – and if I still need a name I will often look at the credits of a TV show or movie as they scroll by. I can take the first name of an actor and the family name of a producer and I have a new character!And I can let you into a writer’s trick – you never want to have two characters whose surnames are about the same length and start with the same letter. When you’re reading, your brain take short cuts and often recognises a name by its length and starting letter. So as you scan a page, Mackenzie can look like Mitchell which can look like Macdonald. Ditto John, Jack, Jake and Jane. That can cause all sorts of confusion, so before I send my finished novel to my publishers I always make a list of the characters in it and make sure that no two names have the same first letter! What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to a character in a novel, pretty much everything. Choosing the right name can mean that a reader instantly identifies with a character and cares about what happens to them. Choosing the wrong name can put a reader off before you’ve even got started on the story. So making the right choice is crucial. I have created two long-running characters: undercover cop Dan “Spider” Shepherd and supernatural detective Jack Nightingale. And I went to a lot of trouble choosing both of those names. With action heroes, a single syllable first name followed by a double syllable family name seems to work best – think Jack Reacher (created by Lee Child) or Joe Hunter (created by Matt Hilton). Both Reacher and Hunter are great surnames for loners who are happy to kill at will, but I chose Shepherd because the name evokes a feeling of security and safety – a shepherd takes care of his flock, after all. Dan is simple and uncomplicated and goes well with Shepherd. Dan Shepherd has the sound of a hero, whereas Reginald Shepherd doesn’t. With Jack Nightingale, I again wanted a simple and direct first name. Jack works as a heroic name. As does Mick. Bob does as well, but Robert not so much. Then for the family name I wanted something with several syllables, but a name that was very distinctive. I also wanted the name to be soft, because Jack Nightingale often finds himself in danger and out of his depth. Nightingales are sweet and innocent, and although my character has his dark side, the name does emphasise his vulnerability. Every name in a book matters and has to be right. So how do I come up with names for the dozens of minor characters that populate a novel? One thing I do is to collect names. If a fan goes to the trouble of writing to me, I’ll often jot the name down in my Filofax. I do the same for readers who have gone to the trouble of writing a flattering review of one of my books. Then when I find myself short of a name I can open the Filofax and pick a suitable one from the list. I tend to write with the television on – for some reason I find it impossible to be creative in silence – and if I still need a name I will often look at the credits of a TV show or movie as they scroll by. I can take the first name of an actor and the family name of a producer and I have a new character! And I can let you into a writer’s trick – you never want to have two characters whose surnames are about the same length and start with the same letter. When you’re reading, your brain take short cuts and often recognises a name by its length and starting letter. So as you scan a page, Mackenzie can look like Mitchell which can look like Macdonald. Ditto John, Jack, Jake and Jane. That can cause all sorts of confusion, so before I send my finished novel to my publishers I always make a list of the characters in it and make sure that no two names have the same first letter!

27 Nov
Glasgow

Paul Younger at John Smith's Bookshop - Book Launch for All That Matters: Energy

5:30pm - 7:30pm

Paul Younger at John Smith's Bookshop

By Alexandra Potter

Love Legends Around the World

Join THE LOVE DETECTIVE author Alexandra Potter on a journey around the globe on a magical, mystery tour called LOVE.

John Murray Publishers, an imprint of John Murray Press, will publish the book to accompany a major new BBC Radio 4 series Plants: From Roots to Riches.

PLANTS: FROM ROOTS TO RICHES – John Murray to publish book to accompany landmark 25-part BBC Radio 4 series with the Royal Botanic Gardens,Kew

Plant: From Roots to Riches Press Release

The Course of True Love . . .

BEATRICE & BENEDICK author Marina Fiorato debates which of Shakespeare's lovers would have lasted . . .

Chapter One

XO by Jeffery Deaver

Read the first chapter of Jeffery Deaver's newest Kathryn Dance thriller, XO.

My South Africa

Deon Meyer on the new South Africa

If books are windows on the world,1 crime fiction mostly provides a view of the underbelly and back alleys of cities and countries. This is my only genuine regret writing as an author in this genre. Because the real South Africa, the one that I love so passionately, is very different from the narrow and dim view my books probably allow. It is also quite unlike the one you see in those pessimistic fifteen second television news reports in the UK, Europe or Australia. So let me try and set the record straight. My country is breathtakingly beautiful – from the lush, sub-tropical east coast of Kwazulu-Natal, to the serene semi-desert stretching along the Atlantic in the west (which blooms in inde- scribable colour and splendour in Spring). In between, there’s the magnificence of the Lowveld, the Bushveld, the Highveld, the towering Drakensberg mountains, the aching vastness of the Karoo and the dense silence of the Knysna forests . . . Diversity is everywhere. In the climate (mostly perfect sunshine and balmy weather, but we have extremes too, summer highs of more than 50°C in Upington, and winter lows of -15°C in Sutherland – both in the same Northern Cape province), and in the cities (Durban is an intoxicating fusion of Zulu, Indian and British colonial cultures, Cape Town is a heady mix of Malay, Dutch-Afrikaans and Xhosa, Johannesburg is . . . well, modern African-cosmopolitan, utterly unique, and always exciting). The biodiversity of South Africa is truly astonishing. “With a land surface area of 1.2 million square kilometres representing just 1% of the earth’s total land surface, South Africa boasts six biospheres, and contains almost 10% of the world’s total known bird, fish and plant species, and over 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species.”2 Of course we are also world-famous for our huge collection of wildlife regions and game parks – both public and private – encompassing every possible landscape from deserts to forests, mountains to coast, teeming with wildlife species, including Africa’s Big Five: Leopard, Lion, Buffalo, Elephant and Rhinoceros.3 But most of all, the diversity is in the people who constitute the Rainbow Nation. Our black ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho, Bapedi, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele.The so-called ‘coloured’ (no, it’s not a derogatory term over here) population is mainly concentrated in the Western Cape region, and come from a combination of ethnic backgrounds including Malay, White, Khoi, San, and Griqua. White South Africans are descendants of Dutch, German, French Huguenots, English and other European and Jewish settlers. And our Indian population came to South Africa as indentured labourers to work in the sugar plantations in the British colony of Natal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population of more than fifty million people is made up of African (40.2 million, or 79.5%),White (4.6 million, or 9.0%), Coloured (4.5 million, or 9.0%), and Indian/Asian (1.3 million, or 2.5%). And, having travelled most of the world, I can confidently say, you won’t find friendlier, more hospitable and accommodating people anywhere, irrespective of their race, culture, language or creed. We have nine provinces (Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu- Natal, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Limpopo, North West, Free State, and Western Cape) and eleven official languages: Afrikaans (13%), English (8%), isiNdebele (1.6%), isiXhosa (18%), isiZulu (24%), Sesotho sa Leboa (9%), Sesotho (8%), Setswana (8%), siSwati (3%),Tshivenda (2%), and Xitsonga (4%).4 Throw all of this together in a democracy not quite twenty years old (a tempestuous teenager, if ever there was one), and you get an effervescent, energetic, dynamic, and often a little chaotic, melting pot – of cultures, people, views, politics, opinions, and circumstance. After the tragedy and oppression of Apartheid, we are still very much coming to terms with – and are sometimes a little overwhelmed by – all the facets of the freedom-diamond. Which means that we argue incessantly, shout, point fingers, blame, accuse, denounce, complain, and criticize, mostly loudly and publicly, like all enthusiastic democrats should. But when our beloved Bafana-Bafana (the national football team), Springboks (our twice World Cup-winning rugby team) or Proteas (the cricket guys) walk onto the field, we stand united, shoulder to shoulder. And mostly, in our day-to-day-lives, we get along rather well. We increasingly study and work and live and love and socialise together, in great harmony. Of course, we have our problems. Poverty is the major one. “There is a consensus amongst most economic and political analysts that approximately 40% of South Africans are living in poverty – with the poorest 15% in a desperate struggle to survive.” However, we are making steady progress. The percentage of the South African population with access to clean drinking water has increased from 62% in 1994, to 93% in 2011. Access to electricity has increased from 34% in 1994, to 84% in 2011.5 In 2010, 13.5 million South Africans benefited from access to social grants, 8.5 million of whom were children, 3.5 million pensioners and 1.5 million people with disabilities. In 1994, only 2.5 million people had access to social grants, the majority of whom were pensioners. And since 1994, 435 houses have been built every day for the poor.6 And you might have heard about our other challenge – South Africa has a bit of a reputation when it comes to crime. I am most definitely going out on a limb here, but having studied the statistics, and looked at the (often unfair) comparisons over the past five years, I honestly believe we don’t quite deserve it. “. . . in relation to the overall risk of victimisation, South Africans are not much more likely to become victims of crime than people in other parts of the world,” Anthony Altbeker recently wrote in a carefully considered and exhaustively researched contribution to the marvellous Opinion Pieces by South African Thought Leaders.7 To put the matter into further perspective: In the two years leading up to the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in 2010, almost every British, French and German journalist who interviewed me, asked the same question, more or less: “How big a slaughter is it going to be for fans attending the games?” Some were downright accusatory: “How dare you host this magnificent event in such a hazardous country?” A British tabloid even predicted a ‘machete race war’ waiting for visitors.8 And how many soccer fans died during the tournament? None.9 Furthermore, the attendees who were affected by crime-related incidents represented a very meagre 0.009% of the fans. That is far, far less than, for instance, the crime rate in Wales. When World Cup tourists were asked if they would consider visiting South Africa again, 96% said ‘yes’. As a matter of fact, if you are a tourist from the Northern Hemisphere visiting my beautiful country, your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime is less than 0.67%.10 (Compare this to the fact that “the 2011 British Behaviour Abroad Report published by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) noted that the death rate (including murder and natural causes) of Britons in Thailand was forty-one per 100,000 tourists and for those visiting Germany was twenty-four. Tourists from the UK are far safer visiting South Africa”11 – with just 14.6 per 100,000.12) South Africa’s murder rate dropped by 6.5% in 2010-2011, attempted murder by 12.2%, robbery with aggravating circumstances was down by 12%, and house robberies by 10%.13 Our police services are slowly but surely turning the tide. We struggle with inadequate service delivery, our politicians don’t always live up to our expectations, and our unemployment rate is too high. But our economy is robust, and easily out-performs first-world countries like Greece (no surprise there), Italy, and Spain. South African Tax Revenue has increased from R100 billion in 1994 to R640 billion in 2010. Our debt to GDP ratio is 32% (USA 100%, Japan 200%, UK 90%). (The World Bank recommends a ratio of 60%.) And we are ranked first out of 142 countries in respect of regulation of security exchanges by the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2011/12.14 According to the Open Budget Index, South Africa has the most transparent budget in the world. We are the only African country that is a member of the G20. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Survey of Democratic Freedom, South Africa ranks 31st out of 184 countries. And according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2010/11, South Africa has the 34th most efficient government out of the 139 countries ranked.15 The number of tourists visiting South Africa has grown from 3.9 million in 1994 to 11.3 million in 2010. South Africa is ranked among the top five countries in the world in respect of tourism growth (growing at three times the global average).16 I could go on. South Africa’s learner-to-teacher ratio improved from 1:50 in 1994 to 1:31 in 2010. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2011/12, South Africa is ranked 13th out of 142 countries for its quality of management schools. 61% of South African primary school children and 30% of high school children receive free meals as part of the school feeding scheme.17 But none of these facts and figures, as inspiring as they are, will reveal the real reason why I am so unwaveringly optimistic about my country’s future. It is one of the major reasons for the peaceful transition miracle of 1994, it is something woven into the texture of everyday South African life, hidden from the fleeting eyes of foreign journalists on a flying visit, mostly talking only to important folks: The goodwill of ordinary people. Every day, in cities, towns, and tiny villages, small acts of kindness happen between human beings. Individuals who extend a helping hand across racial, cultural, political and linguistic divides, who extend friendship and kindness and empathy. I have been witnessing this for more than forty years, and I absolutely believe it is this goodwill that will carry us through, no matter how challenging the future may be. 1 “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.” - Barbara W. Tuchman, American popular historian and author, 1912-1989. 2 http://www.bcb.uwc.ac.za/envfacts/facts/biosa.htm 3 http://www.sa-venues.com/game_lodges_nationwide_south_afr.htm
 4 http://www.safrica.info/about/facts.htm (percentages rounded off)
 5 http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/fast_facts_and_quick_stats/index.html
 6 Ibid. 7 Penguin, 2011. p. 47.
 8 http://www.dailystar.co.uk/posts/view/129402/WORLD-CUP-MACHETE- THREAT/
 9 http://www.truecrimexpo.co.za/
 10 http://www.info.gov.za/issues/crime/crime_aprsept_ppt.pdf
 11 http://www.issafrica.org/iss_today.php?ID=1394
 12 Ibid.
 13 http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/crime/crime_statistics_show_drop_in_ murder_rate.html
 14 http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/fast_facts_and_quick_stats/index.html 15 Ibid.
 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid.

Prologue

LIFESAVING FOR BEGINNERS by Ciara Geraghty

Read the prologue of Ciara Geraghty's newest novel, LIFESAVING FOR BEGINNERS.

Our favourite father moments in fiction

There are some truly fantastic father characters in our favourite books - some wonderfully warm and others mean and heartless, but all great characters that stay with us long after the story is over. In celebration of Father's Day, here are some remembered.