Towse: views from the hill

April 10, 2009

a fountain pen of good repute

Filed under: history,writing — Tags: , — Towse @ 7:49 pm

Letter from Joseph Conrad to his agent, J.B. Pinker

Hotel Continental
place de la Comedie
21st Febr ’06

My dear Pinker.

    I send you the first 13 pp of Verloc partly that you should see what the story is going to be like and partly as evidence that the Capri fatality is not likely to overcome me this year. After all, considering that we have been just a week here and that it takes some time to feel settled I haven’t done so badly. There is a good bit more MS actually written but I can’t part with it yet. I’ve also worked at the text of the M of the Sea. That and the balance of Verloc you’ll get in the course of a week. Meantime I hope you won’t think I am stretching the point unduly if I ask you to send me £20 on the day you receive this — which I imagine will be Friday — either in English notes or by draft on the Credit Lyonnais who have a house here — whichever is less trouble.
    Don’t imagine that the story’ll be unduly long. It may be longer than the Brute but not very much so. What has delayed me was just trying to put a short turn into it. I think I’ve got it. I haven’t done anything to Chance of course. I imagine it would go easiest at the Pent. But that or some other MS you are sure to have from here. I feel well and have a few ideas.

Yours always

PS Would you have the extreme kindness to buy for me and send out by parcel post a fountain pen of good repute — even if it has to cost 10/6. I am doing much of my writing in the gardens of Peyron under a sunny wall and the horrible stylo I’ve got with me is a nuisance.


n.b. Verloc became The Secret Agent

April 9, 2009

Write Your Nonfiction Book

Filed under: blog,book promotion,URL,writing — Towse @ 9:31 pm

New blog from Crawford Kilian: Write Your Nonfiction Book … Online!

The blog is new (only three posts so far) but I’m expecting some interesting content. Currently online, the book proposal.

Blog also includes links, links, links to blogs, links to online magazines, links to a collection of Kilian blogs, links to Web writing resources, more.

Query Shark

Filed under: writing — Towse @ 6:49 pm

Query Shark

How an agent =really= feels. Query critiques for the strong-at-heart.

e.g. Please don’t ever put I look forward to hearing from you soon in a query letter. It sets my teeth on edge. Other agents may not have quite the ..ah…toothy! reaction that I do, but why risk they do. Be safe. Don’t say it.

Hosted by Janet (Jet) Reid at FinePrint Literary.

Her voice may sound familiar to you.


Alexander McCall Smith (Lost in Fiction –

Filed under: writers,writing — Towse @ 5:04 pm

Lost in Fiction – Alexander McCall Smith on the intense personal relationships readers form with characters and the ways that complicates the lives of authors.


It can be very inhibiting for an author if he or she knows that what happens in fiction is going to be taken so seriously. I write serial novels in newspapers and have learned the hard way that people will readily attribute the views expressed by characters to their authors. In one of my “Scotland Street” novels a character called Bruce, a rather narcissistic young man, made disparaging remarks about his hometown. Although these were not the views I hold about that particular town, I was roundly taken to task, with the local member of the Scottish Parliament suggesting that I should be forced to apologize to the offended citizens. I pointed out that these were the views of a fictional character, who was just the type to make such remarks. That did not help.

In another novel, I had Isabel Dalhousie give up breastfeeding rather too quickly for the liking of the leader of a pro-breastfeeding organization. Again I was told that I should make a public apology to those who believed in persisting with breastfeeding. That sort of thing is quite alarming, and it is such people who need to be told, politely but firmly, that it is just a story.


April 8, 2009

Simon Wood on writing with dyslexia

Filed under: books,mystery,video,writers,writing — Towse @ 12:41 am

TV interview on ABC News 10′s Sacramento and Co.

Simon talks about dyslexia and his writing and the back doors you learn to use to do what you want to do when the dyslexia is holding you back. Simon, for those who don’t know him, writes thrillers (as Simon Wood) and horror (as Simon Janus) and (under yet another pseudonym, Simon Oaks) has a nonfiction book out last month, WILL MARRY FOR FOOD SEX AND LAUNDRY.

Simon’s Web site

March 17, 2009

Christopher G. Moore and Christopher Moore

Filed under: books,writers,writing — Towse @ 5:59 pm

Christopher G. Moore was at Left Coast Crime 2009.
Christopher Moore was not.

The book dealer who brought Christopher Moore’s books to sell to conference attendees didn’t know the difference, or thought that conference attendees didn’t. No excuse, really. The list of conference attendees included a hot link to Christopher G. Moore’s Web site where ’tis obvious he writes a very different tale than Christopher not-G Moore.

Imagine your surprise if you’d purchased a Christopher Moore book from the book dealer and, having reached the head of the “have Christopher Moore sign your book” line, you discovered the Christopher Moore (Christopher G. Moore) in front of you looked nothing like the author photo on the (Christopher Moore) book you had in hand.

Here’s the basic difference ‘twixt the two:

“Think Dashiell Hammett in Bangkok.” —San Francisco Chronicle (Christopher G. Moore)

“Moore’s storytelling style is reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams.” — Philadelphia Inquirer (Christopher Moore)

Now you know …

Buy either. Buy both. Different reads. Very different reads. Both worth reading.

February 21, 2009

The whole affair is wrapped in mystery.

Filed under: history,San Francisco,writing — Towse @ 10:49 pm

Was surfing and found a San Francisco history site, with some interesting snippets that could evolve into a story …

[22 Dec 1857] A dreadful murder and suicide took place at the Red House, near the Race Course. The proprietor, SYLVESTER MURPHY, aged 27, a native of PITTSBURG, PA; murdered a servant named MARY ANN MCGLYNN, aged 23, by shooting her in the head and then cutting her throat; afterwards he took his own life by inflicting with a small knife, eight stabs upon his left breast and also by cutting his own throat. The whole affair is wrapped in mystery.

February 10, 2009

The Past Times Book of Diaries

Filed under: history,writing — Towse @ 10:10 pm

Feb 10th.

The Ceremony was very imposing, and fine and simple, and I think ought to make an everlasting impression on everyone who promises at the altar to keep what he or she promises. Dearest Albert repeated everything very distinctly. I felts so happy when the ring was put on, and by Albert. As soon as the Service was over, the procession returned as it came, with the exception that my beloved Albert led me out. The applause was very great, in the Colour Court as we came through: Lord Melbourne, good man was very much affected during the Ceremony and at the applause. We all returned to the Throne-room, where the Signing of the Register took place: it was first signed by the Archbishop, then by Albert and me, and all the Royal Family, and by: The Lord Chancellor, the Lord President, the Lord Privy Seal, the Duke of Norfolk (as Earl Marshal), the Archbishop of York, and Lord Melbourne. We then went into the Closet, and the Royal Family waited with me there till the ladies had got into their carriages. I gave all the Train-bearers as a brooch a small eagle of turquoies. I then returned to Buckingham Palace alone with Albert: they cheered us really most warmly and heartily; the crowd was immense; and the Hall at Buckingham Palace was full of people; they cheered us again and again. The great Drawing-room and Throne-room were full of people of rank, and numbers of children were there. Lord Melbourne and Lord Clarendon, who had arrived, stood at the door of the Throne-room as we came in. I went and sat on the sofa in my dressing-room with Albert; and we talked together there from 10 m to 2 till 20m. p. 2.

Queen Victoria, 1840
Etching illustrations of the wedding and the procession accompany the entry.

And thus ends the entry for 10 February.

Just received a pkg in the mail from Auntie K who sent a book bought at the Friends of the Library book sale called THE PAST TIMES BOOK OF DIARIES, which works you through each day of the year with an entry from someone’s past diary. One hundred diarists. Four hundred years. Eye witness accounts of history (see 10 Feb) and private entries.

Famous folk (QVic, Katherine Mansfield, Beatrix Potter, Samuel Pepys) and some less famous (to me) folk (Ralph Josselin, Francis Kilvert, F.E. Witts), who may be well-known names to those with more depth than I can claim.

That’s what the Goog is for.

Ralph Josselin “was the vicar of Earls Colne in Essex from 1641 until his death in 1683. He is celebrated for his remarkable diary rivalling that of Samuel Pepys which records intimate details of everyday farming life, family and kinship in a small, isolated rural community.” [Wikipedia]

Francis Kilvert “is best known as the author of voluminous diaries describing rural life. After his death from peritonitis, his diaries were edited and censored, possibly by his widow.” [Wikipedia]

F.E. Witts, author of The diary of a Cotswold parson : Reverend F.E. Witts, 1783-1854. [WorldCat] [no Wikipedia entry. Shocking! I know!]

Thanks, Auntie K!

February 4, 2009

Michael Bierut – 26 Years, 85 Notebooks

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , — Towse @ 2:27 am

On August 12, 1982, I took a 10 x 7 1/8 inch National Blank Book Company composition book from the supply closet of my then employer, Vignelli Associates. From that moment, I have never been without one. I always have one at my desk. I take one with me to every meeting. I am now in the middle of Notebook #85. It’s in front of me right now. Together, these well-worn books create a history of my working life that spans three decades.

I tend to be obsessive-compulsive, and I am very picky about the notebooks. No fancy Moleskines for me, just standard-issue office supply composition books.

I use them in order. Tibor Kalman once asked me why I didn’t have a different notebook for every project. I have to admit, this would be more useful. But I don’t. I fill each one up and then move to the next one, the projects all jumbled together. Starting with the third one, every one of them is numbered. Except for two at the very beginning that used gridded paper, they have blank, unlined pages. I hate gridded paper (but not as much as lined paper.) There have been times when it’s been really difficult to get unlined composition books, which I gather are oddly unpopular. One time I found a supplier who would only sell them in bulk and I bought a whole boxful. I thought these would last the rest of my life, but I gave a lot away, which I regret. Now they’re gone.

… continues

His nibs gives me grief because I’m enamored with blank notebooks. I’ll be in a bookstore or stationery store and go missing and he’ll find me looking at the stacks of blank notebooks of various sorts. When we moved from the bucolic village to the fair ville I gave loads of the simple composition books that Bierut describes away to an outfit that stocks supplies for teachers. My stash is growing again because there is something about blank books that calls to me.

I’ve started an exercise similar to (although not as arty as) Michael Bierut’s. I wish I’d started decades ago. I’m on my second book and continuing forward.

My notebook of choice these days fits into my back pocket and goes on walks with me and sits beside me as I read. I also have a composition book that captures to-do lists and other bits and pieces I want to hang on to.

My inspiration for starting the exercise was a guy named Paul Madonna, who fills notebooks with his sketches and drawings and notes. He has a passel of them on the shelf in his studio (not 85 yet) and flips back in them when he’s looking for information or inspiration. His conscientiousness about maintaining the notebooks and adding content struck me as a “good” thing.

Notebooks are a “good” thing.

DesignObserver – an interesting read
Paul Madonna’s site

January 17, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce | Video on

Filed under: books,people,San Francisco,writing — Towse @ 3:26 am

Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce

The videos at are pretty cool.

We saw Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and — most recently — Outliers and also staff writer for The New Yorker) last night at the City Arts & Lectures series at Herbst Theatre (“in conversation” with Kevin Berger, Salon) with tickets my brother gave his nibs for Christmas.

What a funny, bright guy Gladwell is. Sharp. Verbal. Quick.

I really don’t care if you think he dumbs down science or puts his own spin on things. I think he’d be a great guy to hang out with at a coffee shop and discuss the world and what he was working on.

I’ll be looking for his writing in The New Yorker even more than I was before.

Bits from last night.

KB: You start Outliers talking about hockey players (and why successful professional hockey players are usually born in January, February, and March). Why?

MG: Well, because I’m Canadian.

Jeb Bush quote about the struggles he had to reach where he is today, which MG characterized as an “heroic struggle against advantage.”

MG talked about the Beatles and how they became the best band evah. He mentioned that most people don’t consider the fact that for years before they came to America and were discovered, they’d been the house band at a Hamburg strip club where they played eight hours a day for six days a week. Live. On stage. They were playing live (and getting better and better) for thousands of hours before they “made it.”

“We have chosen to overlook the extraordinary discipline they devoted to their vocation.”

We say, oh, they’re talented. Or oh, they’re lucky. They were neither. They played over a thousand live gigs before they “made it.”

The talk was very interesting. Interesting enough that I’m Googling (Hi, Sergey! Hi, Larry!) as I speak. How many other videos are there out there of Gladwell doing his schtick.

He closed with a discussion of his mother, a brown Jamaican (as he called her), mixed race, and the advantages she had, and her parents, and her parents parents going back that made her what she is today.

His point is that just because you live here and are successful and don’t worry where your next meal is coming from or where the fresh water is or the fuel you need to cook … this all isn’t due to the fact you worked so hard and sacrificed and were lucky but is more due to the fact that you were born into circumstances that put you where you are today.

Don’t forget that.

Don’t forget that those in less fortunate circumstances weren’t born to your parents.

Or, as Phil Ochs would say

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