As you’ve no doubt heard by now, J.K. Rowling yesterday posted a new, 1,500 word Harry Potter story on Pottermore, the series’ subscription-only web platform. “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites” is written as a newspaper article by the books’ resident tabloid hack Rita Skeeter, and finds Rowling’s teenage heroes now in their mid-30s and attending the Quidditch World Cup. Naturally, Rowling’s avid fans got a wee bit excited and, even though you might expect the site to brace itself for the inevitability that every one of its subscribers would instantly want to read the first new material in the series for seven years, Pottermore crashed soon after the story went live. The site is now fully operational again, however, so fans can read the story over and over as they wait in line at Universal Studios’ new Diagon Alley attraction, which coincidentally (ahem) also opened yesterday.
2015 marks 150 years since the initial publication of Lewis Carroll’s immortal Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and to mark the occasion Carroll’s publisher, Macmillan, is releasing new editions of both Carroll’s own work and contextual material for the books
along with a remastered 48th anniversary limited edition 12″ of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”.
Happy Independence Day – the American arm of World Book Night is no more, having failed to secure outside funding. The independent charity’s US events began in 2011, with volunteers distributing half a million free books on 23 April each year to mark the UNESCO International Day of the Book and the anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes, who died on the same day in 1616. The primary aim of the scheme was to share a love of literature with adults who don’t regularly read for pleasure or own books, and that will presumably continue with the next British event this coming April, which is as yet unaffected by these developments (as is World Book Day, its counterpart aimed at children and teenagers).
American Gods, one of the most fervently beloved titles in the bibliography of the fervently beloved Neil Gaiman, has been mooted as a prospective show for American gods (of TV) HBO for the past three years but has struggled through the development stages, the network asking Gaiman to rewrite his pilot script to bring it closer to the book amidst rumours either pegging it as picked up for a six season run or with its chances damaged by the massive success of fellow cult-book-to-small-screen-hit Game of Thrones. Gaiman eventually confirmed last November that the network was no longer involved.
Finally, however, fans can expect some progress on this front: HBO may no longer be interested in taking the project further, but it has instead been picked up by fellow premium cable network Starz, with Hannibal‘s Bryan Fuller appointed to write the pilot and Kings creator Michael Green showrunner. Gaiman will executive produce.
Following a similar act of philanthropy in the US last year, hyperbestseller James Patterson is set to donate £250,000 to independent booksellers across Britain and Ireland in a bid to ensure no children have to live lives without books. Patterson’s pledge coincides with the beginning of Independent Booksellers Week, which starts this coming Saturday. The awards scheme is open to any independent bookshop featuring a dedicated children’s section whose annual turnover is under £1 million. Grants will be awarded ranging from £250 to £5,000 (which, for the maths-impaired, means somewhere between 50 and 1,000 bookshops stand to benefit).
As part of history festival Previously… this past weekend, Professor Germaine Greer unveiled a flagstone in Edinburgh commemorating the life and work of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, the first woman to be published in Scotland. The memorial is inscribed with suitably recalcitrant lines from Melville’s Ane Godlie Dream, her groundbreaking debut work, a narrative poem first printed in 1603: ‘Though tyrants threat, though Lyons rage and rore / Defy them all, and feare not to win out.’ The flagstone lies, appropriately, in the city’s Makars’ Court in the Lawnmarket (‘makar’ being a Scots word meaning poet). Greer previously included Melville in her Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th-Century Women’s Verse.
Comic book publishers Dynamite Entertainment teaming with industry titans DC to publish the work of a writer new to the world of comics might not qualify as particularly huge news under regular circumstances, but most newcomers aren’t Quentin Tarantino and their debut series usually isn’t a sequel to their most recent, massively successful, Oscar-winning film, so in this case, it is in fact particularly huge news. Tarantino is co-plotting a series due to debut later this year that is not only a direct sequel to his 2012 slavery revenge western Django Unchained but also a crossover with another pulpy hero usually found in the more southerly regions of the United States: Zorro.
Django/Zorro will be written by Matt Wagner, famed creator of the series Mage and Grendel, with a plot devised by Wagner and Tarantino, and editorial input from Reginald Hudlin, a producer on Django Unchained whose comic book adaptation of that film earned an Eisner nomination. It is the first time Tarantino has authorised a direct sequel, in any medium, to any of his films (bearing in mind Kill Bill was originally intended as one long film). The Hollywood Reporter has described the series as ‘the least likely way imaginable’ for Tarantino to return to the world of the film, which suggests that The Hollywood Reporter has a severely limited imagination (just sitting here waiting for the licensing deal to come through on my commemorative postage stamp continuation of Jackie Brown).
Tarantino, with characteristic humility, says of the series: ‘I’m very very excited about both this story and the opportunity to work with Matt. It was reading his Zorro stories that convinced me what a good idea it was to join these two icons together. And the story idea we came up with is thrilling, and I think will be an exciting new chapter for both characters.‘
The long-awaited new flagship Foyles store at 107 Charing Cross Road opened to much fanfare last week. Emma Smith went to the launch party to check it out.
White walls, bright lights, airy spaces, sleek lines and celestial voices (in the form of Foyles Festival Chorus choir) greeted the eager throngs of publishing industry guests at the Foyles launch last Monday. This is the bookshop upon whose brand new shoulders lies the hefty weight of bookselling hope.
Awash with those staples of any book event worth its salt – champagne and canapés – there was a great hum of conversation and curiosity at the former Central St. Martin’s site. Even Nick from The Apprentice was there. People were hungry to see what this bookshop was capable of delivering. Way back in February 2013, I went along to a Foyles workshop to help re-imagine the store – talk of gin palaces and ‘retail theatre’ buzzed around the room. And now it’s come to life. But without so much gin.
Light from the central atrium filtered down onto company chairman, Christopher Foyle, as he welcomed the crowd. Brothers William and Gilbert Foyle opened the Charing Cross branch in the 1920s and it has stood as a pillar of London literary life ever since. Christopher likened the developments in independent bookselling to that of the relationship between electric lighting and candles. Despite new technology, the earlier method sells on. Foyles hopes to be that eternal flame; a source of illumination rekindled to serve book buyers and to continue being ‘the greatest bookshop in the world’.
In reality, everyone knows what Foyles is up against – referred to graciously as something to do with ‘great rivers’ or ‘female warriors in Greek mythology’ – yet you can’t help but admire what they’ve done and what they might become. Staff working overtime to move half a million books just shows the collective goodwill towards this new venture. And with an ambitious star-studded launch festival (guests include Grayson Perry, Hilary Mantel, Jarvis Cocker and Michael Palin to name a few) there are no signs of momentum wavering. It’s a very human kind of warmth which ultimately pervades this shop; the personal knowledge, the heritage and the sheer drive, culture and spirit of Foyles leaves you with a feeling of optimism, albeit a cautious one for now.
Paring back the whizz-bang ideas of the workshop last year, they’ve created a streamlined and realistic cultural hub – keeping books at its heart, of course. Four miles of shelving is definitely enough to get lost in. Branching out from the standard bookseller remit, Foyles have introduced literary tours, built café space, created an exhibition area and have produced a healthy roster of events and talks to reach out to customers. They are really trying to make books come alive and speak to people.
At the launch, Caitlin Moran declared bookshops ‘the sexiest places’ to hang out in. While I’m not sure I totally agree with her hypothesis, I do think that there is something visceral about being in a bookstore; a physical feeling that isn’t experienced in the same way online. They should be places of excitement, exploration, intimacy and inspiration all at once (and maybe also a place to buy that last minute birthday card). Familiarity and nostalgia is one thing to encompass, but shining a light on a new bookselling path is quite another. Foyles have certainly gone at it all cylinders firing, and I, for one, hope that they will remain as a beacon burning bright.
The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award – reputedly the world’s richest short story prize, awarding €25,000 annually to the author of the year’s best short story collection – has revealed its six-strong 2014 shortlist. The field is led by A. L. Kennedy and Lorrie Moore, both writers who have found great success with short stories in the past. Their respective titles All the Rage and Bark are joined on the shortlist by Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth, Ben Marcus’ Leaving the Sea and the work of two debuting authors, Phil Klay’s Redeployment and Colin Barrett’s Young Skins. Four of the six authors are American, with Kennedy and Barrett the only representatives of, respectively, Scotland and Ireland.
The prize’s winner will be announced in July after deliberations by a judging panel consisting of novelists and short story writers Manuel Gonzales and Alison MacLeod and poet Matthew Sweeney. MacLeod told The Guardian ‘The stories in these collections moved me, provoked me, and knocked the breath out of me. They take the reader down deep; they bring him or her up short. With every great short story – and they are numerous across these six collections – the world expands. So does life itself. With a powerful collection, one grows bigger by at least several lives.’
The award was established in 2005 by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork as an offshoot of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival, itself named in honour of the famed Irish writer, with its first prize given to Yiyun Li for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Since then, it has been awarded to authors including Haruki Murakami, Miranda July, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edna O’Brien and Nathan Englander, with other notable nominees including Joyce Carol Oates, Colm Tóibín and T. C. Boyle. Last year’s winner was David Constantine, for his Tea at the Midland and Other Stories.
Yes, that Murakami. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival was unveiled yesterday, and while the presence of noted hat-wearing wolf-lover George R. R. Martin grabbed the spotlight in the mainstream press, the real coup is in the festival’s attainment of an elusive giant of world literature: Haruki Murakami.