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Skidmore's Island: Publishers Be Damned

"Kindle ‘deniers’ are the sort of people who prefer magic lanterns to the cinema and enjoy driving vintage cars rather than new ones,'' writes Ian Skidmore.

Palme seemed an apposite name for a trade symbolised by the outstretched palm. It’s OK now because my two publishers are old friends, newspapermen I have known for years, and my royalties go to charities. My earlier publishers were monsters, almost without exception. Always excepting from this condemnation the lady publisher who reads this blog and is a pearl among women And as the thriving business in remaindered books shows, not very good at their jobs either..

Books have been the mainstay of my life. I have a book room in the garden and there are bookshelves in most rooms in the house. I completely understood a blind friend who said she still drew comfort from being surrounded by books, though she could no longer read them. I am comforted too, surrounded by them but I still prefer to read my Kindle.

That is even true of Dickens. I have an early limited edition of his works into which are bound first state engravings by Cruickshank and his other illustrators and the covers of the original part issues.

Nevertheless I am reading Edwin Drood on my Kindle. I have not much patience with people who say they prefer “bound” books because of the smell and the touch of the pages. I would hate to think people bought my books to sniff them.

Dickens is my favourite “classical “author. His novels are not just stories. They are slices of a life which seems to be already happening when you open the book and will continue after you close it. He is not very good writing about women but his portrayal of male characters is equal, in my view, to Shakespeare. His plots, of course, are far more original. Claire Tomalin, a self appointed guru of the poor man, doubts whether children have the attention span to tackle Dickens. What rubbish. Dickens wrote and published his novels in digestible instalments precisely to attract people with short attention spans. I prefer to think he was a greater authority on Dickens than either Tomalin or Simon Callow who have books of their own to peddle.

I am sure Tomalin hates e-books. Kindle ‘deniers’ are the sort of people who prefer magic lanterns to the cinema and enjoy driving vintage cars rather than new ones - much superior feats of engineering.

One of the advantages of my Kindle is that I have been able to download Jane Austen, Dickens, Montaigne, Herodotus, Homer and most poets free of charge and, until recently, even contemporary works were much cheaper. It costs so much less to produce them. But alas, the outstretched Palmes of today are itching and there is now little difference between the price of many e-books and paperbacks. Nice little earner for the publishers but there has been no increase in the royalties the authors get.

So I am for Kindle and am putting my books where my mouth is. I have three books coming out this year with Bewrite Books and they will only be available as e-books.

Having said that, I still buy books I cannot get on Kindle. At the moment I am reading “Hemingway’s Boat” by Paul Hendrikson, the only half way decent biography of that great writer, and a delightful memoir, “With Hemingway; a year in Key West” by Arnold Samuelson, a fan who worked for him as a boat sitter.

It is a given in the book trade that for fifty years after their death authors disappear and I suspect one of the reasons is the warts-and-all quality of their post-mortem biographies. Eager relatives push to publish manuscripts they find in an author’s desk drawers; books that the author had abandoned because he realised they were rubbish. The more I read these biographies of Hemingway the less I liked the man. He came across as a bully, a drunk, a boaster, a false friend and worst of all as uber-butch.

He was all of those things. Any author is a kaleidoscope of personalities. It goes with the territory and has everything to do with his writing but if you call in a builder you don’t do it on the grounds of his social skills otherwise your house would fall down.

Hemingway’s public persona was, it turns out, a desperate attempt to hide his homosexuality. The clues were there. As an infant his batty mother dressed him in girl’s clothes, as a young man he accepted an Italian holiday paid for by a homosexual heir to the Palmolive fortune Every other journey he made became the raw material of his writing but when he returned from his Italian holiday he refused even to speak about it. His favourite son, Gigi, was a transsexual who died, a woman, in a Mexican gaol. “Hemingway’s Boat” is the only biography of him that reveals, sympathetically, this secret he tried so desperately to hide which explains so much.

Samuelson was a young would-be writer who crossed America from Minneapolis to Key West riding a box car in the hope that Hemingway would spare him a few moments to talk about writing. In the event Hemingway’s hospitality was far greater than Samuelson dreamed. He stayed with the family for nearly a year, was paid a dollar a day to guard Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, and travelled with Hemingway, his kids and his wife Pauline all over Cuba. In his book he passes on the advice about writing which he was given. Buy the book and there will be no need to waste time on writers’ courses. As a bonus you will learn a good deal about fishing and about the real Hemingway.


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