A pair of
THE ‘‘publishing event of the year’’ varies depending on which publisher you are talking to, but few would argue the looming release of Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall, Bringing up the Bodies, is not a very big deal indeed. Wolf Hall, which charts Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the Tudor court, won the 2009 Booker Prize and has sold in the hundreds of thousands. Bringing Up the Bodies has at its centre a sensational subject: the life and death of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Harpercollins will publish the novel on May 19, the anniversary of Boleyn’s beheading on Tower Green. RECENT studies in Britain have revealed disturbingly poor literarcy levels among schoolchildren, particularly boys, and unsurprisingly the problem is worst in the poorest areas. Indeed, when Charles Dickens turned 200 this month, Schools Minister Nick Gibb admitted there were ‘‘still shadows of Dickens’ world in our own’’. Now publisher Random House has released Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!, in which 11 well-known writers expound on the pleasures of reading, and its power. The book is a ‘‘manifesto’’ that aims to convince people to make reading part of their daily lives, and especially of their children’s lives. Several of the contributors urge us to read more slowly and deeply, a challenge indeed when time is so Tweeting. (And before I forget, ‘‘Mrs Stephen Fry’s’’ bicentennary tweet that Twitter is like a Dickens’ novel — ‘‘140 characters, lots of silly names and it goes on forever’’ — was a gem.) But back to the book. I like this from Tim Parks: ‘‘However fast you like to read a book overall, make sure you read the opening page or two with the utmost care, savouring every word, thinking about where this writer is coming from’’. Jeanette Winterson recommends reading to ‘‘protect your soul’’, Zadie Smith is eloquent in praise of libraries and Carmen Callil offers a counterintuitive take on claims we’re too busy to read. And in reading Mark Haddon on the writers who, when he was 14, ‘‘lit up the inside of my head’’, it is lovely to see the Australian poet Peter Porter mentioned. Stop What You’re Doing and Read This! (Vintage, 181pp) is good value at $12.95.
‘‘Writing is hard work: frustration, dead ends and above all failure, failure and more failure, until you arrive at the final form and none of this changes with genre’’. Sydney novelist Debra Adelaide in an excellent piece on the differences — and important similarities — between fiction and nonfiction in Newswrite, the journal of the NSW Writers Centre. I should add that she concludes by noting that when writers get it right it ‘‘makes the result seem fluid and effortless, as if the story is warm honey the author has poured out in a single act, but also makes us feel the work is written for us alone’’.