Monday, 20 December 2010

I bet you can't become the biggest selling female author in the World. Or, Agatha Christie's The Mysterious affair at Styles.

Agatha Christie apparently wrote The mysterious affair at Styles as the result of a bet.
The loser of this bet, Her Sister, thought  that Christie couldn't write a Crime Detective story that kept the reader guessing the identity of the Murderer until the end, despite knowing everything that the Detective knew throughout.
She not only lost the bet in a spectacular fashion but in the process kick started the career of the biggest selling Female author the world has known. Shakespeare beats Christie's 3 - 4 Billion estimated books sold, but he does have 300 years head start by dying in 1616. Christie wrote "Styles" in 1916.

Originally serialised in the London Times Newspapers Colonial edition, The Weekly Times, from February 27  to June 26, 1920, the book edition was first published in October of that year, in New York, by John Lane. The UK Edition followed on 1st February 1921, published in London by The Bodley Head.

This attractively designed book, with its architectural design stamped in black to the spine and front board of the publishers brown cloth binding, introduced one of the most popular and enduring characters in the Genre. Hurcule Poirot, the dapper Belgian detective with a head "exactly the shape of an egg" was to appear in another 32 novels as well as 54 short stories, alongside his colleagues Lieutenant Hastings (the narrator of Mysterious Affair at Styles), and Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard.

The combination of being the Author's first book, the introduction of one of the most popular fictional characters of the 20th century, and a great read as well, have made The Mysterious Affair at Styles a much sought after book in First Edition, with copies of the London Bodley Head edition most prized by collectors . Copies in fine condition are scarce on the market. Copies in the original Alfred J Dewey illustrated dustwrapper don't turn up at all.

So, ninety years after the appearence of her first book, Agatha Christie maintains not only her place in readers affections as one of the most popular writers, but also in the Guinness book of World Records as the biggest selling novelist.

Regular broadcasts of Radio, Film and Television adaptations, including the hugely popular portrayal of Poirot by David Suchet, as well as translations of the books into over 100 languages are sure to keep her there for a long time and must even make J. K. Rowling envious.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cranford. By Mrs Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

One of the most popular Victorian novels I try to keep in stock is Cranford, by Mrs.Gaskell (1810 - 1865). A gentle insight into life in mid nineteenth century England, specifically Knutsford in Cheshire, it is as popular today as it when it first appeared over 150 years ago.

Cranford was first published in book form in 1853, by Chapman & Hall of London. The work had originally been published as a series of stories in various issues of Household Words magazine between 13th December 1851 and 21st May 1853. Household words was a popular journal started under the editorship of Charles Dickens in 1850. Mrs Gaskell was a favourite of Dickens and a regular contributor, including the story Lizzie Leigh which was serialised in the first issues of March and April 1850.

The collection of these pieces into one novel was originally published anonymously, the title page just listing it as "by the Author of "Mary Barton," "Ruth," &c." . A small book (I have recently sold a copy of this First Edition. It measured just 6.9 x 4.5 inches), it was issued in an attractive green cloth binding with gilt lettering and blocking on the spine. The boards were decorated with a decorative "Blind" block. This is the term used to descibe a stamped impression without any gilt, or any other colouring, used to accent the design. It is an attractive little book, although copies in this original cloth binding are rarely found in good condition. Most copies that do turn up in the cloth have had repairs and restoration of some sort. More often than not the book has been rebound, as in the case of the copy I have at the moment, in leather. The two major collectors of 19th century fiction, Michael Sadleir and Robert Lee Wolf, both spent many years assembling large and impressive libraries of Victorian period novels and published detailed catalogues of their collections. Both collected Mrs. Gaskell but only Sadleir owned a copy of Cranford in First Edition and his copy had restoration to the endpapers.

So, the First Edition is a scarce book, genuinly rare in fine original condition. What are the alternatives for collectors?

There are many illustrated editions that can be found quite easily and for considerably less money that the 1853 First Edition. The first Illustrated edition was published in 1864 by Smith, Elder and featured a decorative title page and just two engraved plates by George Du Maurier.

By far the most popular editions were published featuring illustrations by Hugh Thomson in 1891 (Macmillan & Company), and Charles E. Brock in 1898 (Service and Paton). This Brock edition featured only 16 line drawings. The complete Brock edition was issued in 1904 with 25 plates , all in colour, by J. M.Dent.

Both these editions are beautifully illustrated by two of the major book artists in England at the end of the 19th century and were re-printed many times making copies affordable and readily available. The publishers made these editions available in delux bindings of cloth (and in the case of the 1904 Brock edition a full extra gilt-tooled vellum binding) with highly decorative covers to compliment the beautiful illustrations within. Many more were rebound in attractive leather bindings which make great gifts. For many, a wonderfully illustrated copy of a favourite book in a fine leather binding is irresistible.

Of the 20th century illustrated editions, my favourite is the one issued with fine wood engravings by Joan Hassall, published by George Harrap & Co. in 1940. Unfortunately most of this edition was destroyed by German bombs, while awaiting distribution in the publishers warehouse, during the Blitz. Luckily the plates survived and the book was reprinted after the war.

Various television adaptations, in 1951, 1972 and most recently in 2007, starring Dame Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, have brought the characters to life for new generations, and in turn led to increased demand for the books. Television is often cited as a reason for the decline of literacy but as a bookseller I have noticed that a good film or TV adaptation can actually increase the readership for an author or particular title. In fact, there are several book dealers who make a good living specialising in selling books that have been televised or filmed.

To see the copies of Cranford that I have available at the moment, just type the word Gaskell in the quick search box on my home page and search by author.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Working from home.

I work from home.
The important word in that statement is Work. Because I am at home all day many of my friends and colleagues think I spend my day lounging in bed, watching daytime TV and scratching myself. Okay, I do time my lunch break to coincide with the early afternoon showing of Neighbours ( for those not familiar with this Australian TV soap, it is mainly about some good looking Aussies who all live in one street and hate each other while pretending to be friends. This show helped launch the careers of Kylie Minogue & Guy Pearce and even a young Russell Crowe appeared in four episodes), but everyone is entitled to half an hour break for a cup of tea and a sandwich.
I have conducted a brief study of my working hours since I closed my bookshop a while back and the results surprised me.
When I had to "go to work" I averaged a 60 hour working week. Since taking the "easy option" of working from home I am averaging 70 hours a week.
How does this happen?
Easy. The lines between work and home life get blurred. That is why I sometimes find myself sitting at the computer answering emails still in my dressing gown at 8am, talking to a customer on the 'phone while waiting for my morning toast to pop up, or packing a parcel at 8pm while my dinner is cooking itself on the stove. When your home is where you work there is always work to be done. You can't leave it all behind by leaving the ofiice or shop at 6pm. I've lost count of the times that I look up from my work to discover that it is past midnight and I've worked into the next day, getting lost in both the task at hand, and the always playing music in my bookroom ( music is an essential part of my working day, and indeed my life, but more of that in another blog).
Don't feel sorry for me. I love my job. I have a lazy streak a mile wide and can sloth it with the best of them when I'm bored, but when I'm engaged I can keep working all day long. As long as I get a couple of nights a week to go out and see friends, and a couple of weeks lounging in the Mediterranean sun each summer, I am happy to keep on working away while at home.

The point of all this?
Be careful what you wish for. Many friends have told me that they envy me working at home. It's true I don't have to endure the rush hour each day, but don't think it is the easy option. Quite the opposite.

Is that the time? Neighbours starts soon. Time to put the kettle on.