Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Christmas Carol

Dedicated to the corporate Scrooges who have hijacked much of the book trade.

Deck the shelves with celebrity folly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis the season when booksellers are jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Returns are what we publishers will reap,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

See their greedy grins before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Strike the tills and join the chorus,
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Hail the age of commodification,
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Driving poor publishers to starvation,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Gert - Publicist

Friday, 14 December 2007

Editors — A Breed Apart…

We may walk upright, require three square meals a day and bear a striking physical resemblance to our fellow mankind, but don’t be fooled by these superficial attributes, editors are, in my opinion, a breed apart.

I’m not suggesting that we are superheroes, or freaks of nature, or anything like that, but we do possess certain traits that tend to attract funny glances from our peers and have the potential to empty a room in record-breaking time. It is a basic prerequisite of a job as an editor that you are at least a little neurotic; the misplacement of a comma or the omission of a full stop can assume an Armageddon-like magnitude capable of reducing even the strongest of editors to a blubbering mess. But it is these finer details that have the power to transform a good piece of writing into a masterpiece.

These neuroses can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand the gnawing terror of putting a comma wrong, if you’ll pardon the pun, is what makes us good at our jobs. But on the other hand, there is only so much time you can spend deliberating over the capitalisation of a certain word, or trying to decipher an anagram-like sentence, before you begin to feel like shaking your fist at the tedium of it all. But that’s only on the rare bad days. Mostly editors take great pleasure in correcting punctuation and tweaking the flow of language—with each uncovered error feeling like a small personal triumph. Sadly this sense of triumph is lost on many of our peers. I have been known to point out errors in restaurant menus when dining with friends, proudly indicating where a double space has accidentally been inserted between words, or an apostrophe has been misplaced—which completely changes the meaning of the word, or so I try and explain to my completely disinterested dinner guests. A long silence usually ensues, with conversation struggling to recover from the blow I have apparently just dealt it. Perhaps such details may seem trivial to many but that is exactly why editors are so important. If we didn’t lie awake pondering the great mysteries and complexities of language, then who would?

The saying, ‘Behind every great man, there is a great woman’, applies in equal measure to authors and their editors. Next to a pen and paper (or a laptop rather), an editor is oftentimes an author’s most valuable tool. Editors are the mechanics of language—undervalued linguaphiles whose mission in life is to add oil to creaky joints and bring a body of text to life.

- Bridgette, Editor

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Word Made Flesh

There is a book on my shelves that I have never read but will never throw out. It is a schoolbook edition of Silas Marner from the early part of the 20th century. I’d already read the story in my own textbook by the time I acquired it, and had no especial fondness for the characters. Nevertheless, I had to have this book. The cloth of its hardback cover is worn to a delightful softness, and the weight of the book is perfectly proportioned to its size. I still sometimes take the book from the shelves just to let it rest in my hand. Then I might open the book and finger the slightly yellowed pages, imagining that all its readers have handled it this tenderly (though knowing what I do of school children, I doubt this to be the case). Silas Marner was the first book I loved purely for its physicality.

With this in mind I read of the projected success of ebook readers like Kindle and iLiad, and I can only give a noncommittal shrug. As a fairly frequent traveller (who can never remember to redeem her miles), I can imagine the advantages of packing a whole library in the space of just one book. What I can’t imagine is reading The Hobbit via anything other than my 1960s edition with Tolkien smoking a pipe on the back and a thumb-sized tear on the front cover, exactly where my thumb goes when I open the book.

Isn’t a book an incarnated idea—‘the word made flesh to dwell among us’? And shouldn’t that flesh be clothed appropriately? No tawdry covers for my favourite books, please. Make them like my copy of The Grass is Singing, its white cover interrupted with a few spikey blades of grass, looking ever so grassy, I could swear they really were singing. Let the pages be grainy and inviting and not too white, and most of all let the text be worthy of its trappings.

For all my friends this Christmas, and for you, I wish good stories, wrapped in suitable covers, that feel just right in your hands.
- Jessica, Editor

Friday, 7 December 2007

A brief encounter

Author Nicola Pierce on meeting the subject of her new book:

The first thing that struck me about Bua was how young she looked — about ten years younger than her actual age. I met her at the office of Maverick House Publishers in Bangkok where she arrives every evening at 7pm to be interviewed by Pornchai, the Thai researcher and editor. She stays for an hour, after first clocking in, and then must go to Patpong to get ready for the evening’s work. However, if a client needs her at 7pm she attends to him, cancelling us at the last minute, as he is her priority.
She’s tiny, with big brown eyes, prominent cheekbones, shoulder-length brown hair and has the most beautiful smile. Always shy at first it takes her a while to get going but once she does she is ready to laugh softly and make self-deprecating remarks about herself and her life. Not that there’s much to laugh about. She’s the mother of three children, the common-law wife of an unemployed wife-beater and a go-go dancer — she also needs to sell her body, at the very least, once a week to supplement her monthly income. It’s alright for me to sit there and stare at her, wondering how she does it but she doesn’t have the luxury of wondering, she just has to get on with it.
There are people ready here to help her do something else but she’s not ready yet to make a plan. The husband hasn’t beaten her in two months because she pretended that she rang a women’s centre who will take her and the kids away to a secret place if he hits her again. Last night she turned up with a badly bruised upper lip and started to cry when Pornchai asked her about it. I assumed it was the husband but no, she was beaten up in Patpong by a mafia-woman she borrowed money from a few years reviously. The woman’s henchmen surrounded the scene to prevent two western men, or anyone else, from intervening.
Pornchai took me to the bar where she worked. It was 10pm on a hot Wednesday night and we had to weave our way in and out of the crowds of tourists and hawkers selling their wares. There are also the noisy hustlers waving their price lists to entice you into their bar, promising sex shows and cheap drink. These shows take place upstairs and are performed by the less than perfect looking girls – once the girls begins to sag or put on weight they are demoted to the sex shows which they can’t afford to refuse or else they are simply fired. Bua works downstairs and talks vaguely about getting out of the industry before she gets too old.
Entering the bar was like crashing a party that was waiting to get started. The atmosphere was full of anticipation and there weren’t many customers yet. Really bad, and too loud, dance music greets you before you’re over the threshold. Immediately you’re warmly greeted by a waitress who leads you to a table to take your order. When Pornchai tried to ask for a soft drink he was effortlessly persuaded to buy a more expensive beverage. She checked back with us every few minutes, with the pretence of wiping down the table, picking up our bottles to see how much we had left and whether it was time to ‘suggest’ we buy another one. It was the friendliest place I’ve been in since my arrival in Bangkok, everywhere you looked a staff member was beaming in our direction as if they had been waiting especially for us. Of course when it became apparent that we were going to sit over one drink and just look at the girls without wanting to buy one the smiles dimmed just a little.
The narrow stage is surrounded by the bar which takes up most of the room. There’s no doubt about it the girls are absolutely gorgeous. About 30 or so young, slim, bikini-clad girls moved monotonously from side to side, alternating between hugging their steel poles and just holding them. Even if they wanted to dance properly there isn’t enough room, so they give up trying and simply stand there waiting to attract a buyer. In fact, some girls were sitting by the wall, moodily staring at the stage, waiting until some space was freed up. I was surprised to see one tall girl wearing a pair of glasses but you have to be able to see if a man is looking at you in particular in order to approach him at the break to either seduce him into buying lots of drinks – or just plain seduce him. You are constantly in competition with the other beauties beside you.
I’m not going to waste time here talking about my opinion of the sex industry. I hated it — no surprise there — but this is Bua’s book. She was delighted to see us and came over to clink our beer bottles, welcoming me, with some pride, to where she worked and introducing me to her best friend. She was a little drunk as she needs to drink to be confident enough to get up on stage. The make-up made her look even younger again. I have to say that nobody looked like they hated what they were doing. The girls appear to be great friends and greeted each other fondly, grabbing a few minutes of excited chat when the mamasan’s (the manager) back was turned. We could have been in a staff canteen anywhere except that most of them looked too young to be working. Two or three descended on a couple of middle-aged Japanese guys and they looked to be having a great laugh with one another in between massaging and flirting with the men. About ten minutes later the guys left with one of the girls, she was dressed in her own clothes and no longer smiling and laughing. The light seemed to go out of their eyes once a man had made his choice. Two tables down from us a girl was having her bare back stroked by a guy who was probably 30 years older than her. Bua’s colleagues melted away to find someone else and she was left staring into space, looking neither right nor left. The fun part was over. Bua was now on the stage and could see I wasn’t comfortable, I caught her eye and she shrugged as if to say, ‘Welcome to my world.’

- Miss Bangkok by Bua Boonmee and Nicola Pierce will be published by Maverick House in Asia (December 2007) and in Ireland and the United Kingdom (January 2008).