Thursday, September 27, 2012

Star treatment?

A long-established aspect of the American publishing scene is the so-called ‘pre-pub’ review. These are not reviews written, as you might think, before the first double scotch of the day (many, I wouldn’t wonder, are written after it...); they are reviews published in the months running up to publication. Their target audience is not the general reading public, but retailers, who order books in advance, libraries and book reviewers in the wider media. Some pre-pubs, especially those that offer a neat summary of a book’s plot, are read by film scouts on the look-out for attractive adaptation opportunities, although this is less significant than it was twenty years ago, when novels were optioned for screen development more frequently than they are today. Nonetheless, strongly positive pre-pubs can help a book get noticed in what remains a very crowded marketplace, even if, by themselves, they’re no guarantee.

Among the four pre-pub reviewing journals - Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist- it is Kirkus that authors and publishers most fear. Its slogan is ‘Life’s too short to read bad books’, which pretty much tells you all you need to know. Three years ago Kirkus briefly closed before re-opening under new ownership, its apparent demise reportedly toasted by a number of literary agents in New York.

Kirkus, like the other journals, awards a star to the books it most likes. Although it has been generally pretty positive about my previous outings in the US, it has hitherto only awarded a star once, to Omega, way back in 1997. Omega was the second Patrick Lynch novel to be published stateside, and went on to be a bestseller there. The second star turned up earlier this week, for The Valley of Unknowing. ‘Holy catfish!’ my American publisher declared. And he should know.
"A compelling story of jealousy and betrayal behind the Iron Curtain. Personal and political limitations shape this subtle novel... which balances serious and menacing questions of moral compromise with ironic comments on Actually Existing Socialism... Atmospheric, poignant, witty, but mournful too, Sington's novel cleverly considers what might have been the back story to real life tragedies.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Life imitates Watteau?

In Kensington Palace Gardens last Sunday... Pictures by Claudi and/or Heiko.

Leo is background middle and Katja on the right. (The beagle was a gatecrasher....)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Swindler's List

'Are you saying I have worms?'
Since this month began I’ve received a telephone call pretty much every day at about 6pm. It is always from India, and the caller either works for Microsoft (to be exact, the Windows Operating System Support  Team),  or is concerned with a compensation claim I’m apparently making without knowing it. Either way, his aim is to scam me, of course. The first type of caller claims to have identified a worm on my computer which will need to be removed with his help. The second type – well his effort at deception is so hopeless I’ve never stayed on the line long enough to find out what he claims. I assume he wants my bank details so he can send me money or something.

On one level these calls are very annoying. How did these con men get my number? (Well, maybe by looking in the phone book…). And just how gullible do they think I am? But on another, less edifying level, I’m almost starting to enjoy them . There is something weirdly empowering about not being taken in by a swindler. One is completely at liberty to string them along, hurl abuse at them or twist them in knots. I read of one person who handled the Microsoft scammers by claiming that he was working for Microsoft himself.  “Son, have you opened your heart to Jeezus?”  -  that might be another good repost.  Probably the wise thing to do is put the phone down at once, but the temptation to indulge in a little catharsis is not always easy to pass up.

This afternoon I intend to pick up the receiver claiming to be a market research organisation. “Answer a few simple lifestyle questions and you could win a cruise!” I shall say. Then we’ll see who hangs up on whom.

'No, I am not the bill payer.'