Sunday, March 04, 2012


The Observer republishes a great 1992 piece by Anthony Burgess.  All sorts of good things in there, but here's one of my perennial favorite Burgess anecdotes:
For the average reader cannot imagine the immense number of books that are published until he has actually handled them. In the 1960s I was shocked to discover how many novels are published in a year. This was when I was given the job of fiction editor for the Yorkshire Post, a very reputable journal, much read in the dales and the clubs of wool and steel magnates. I had to furnish a fortnightly article in which five or six new books had to be given serious treatment and, in a kind of coda, 10 or so others granted a phrasal summation — like 'All too putdownable' or, rather ambiguous, 'For insomniacs', or 'India encapsulated in a poppadom' or 'Sex on Ilkley Moor — baht more than 'at'. When the stint began, in the January of 1960, I felt that it might be easy enough, for few novels arrived. I had forgotten that the New Year was always a slack time for publishing. As the year burgeoned, so did fiction. I was living in a small Sussex village, and extra staff had to be taken on at the local post office to cope with the flood.

The pay for the fortnightly article was very small — £6 in pre-decimal money — but the incidental rewards were considerable. Every other Monday morning I staggered to the local railway station, weighed down with two suitcases full of new fiction. The villagers, whose memories were short, assumed on each occasion that I was leaving my wife. These suitcases were emptied on to the floor of the back room of Louis Simmonds, a bookseller on the Strand. He paid 50% of the sale price of each book, in crisp new notes. This was non-taxable cash, and my walk back to Charing Cross Station was usually an irregular one.
Here's my old post  on Andrew Biswell's superb Burgess biography.

The competition is for "promising new arts journalists," and it sounds as though it would be a very good way of trying to break into bigger markets - take a look if you're starting out in that sort of line...

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