Between The Covers: The London Stone, The Costa Prize and Salman Rushdie
Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books
Sunday 29 January 2012
News that the London Stone is to be moved from its niche at 111 Cannon Street has shocked the superstitious. This unassuming block of limestone has been linked with the fate of London since medieval times. Its origins mysterious, it has been associated with both the Druids and King Arthur; it may be the stone from which Excalibur was pulled. Merlin Coverley's Occult London (Pocket Essentials) fills in the history: according to the antiquary John Stow it was used as a place where debtors and creditors settled up. It could be a Roman milestone, or the top of a funerary monument whose remains lie under Cannon Street Station. But London is likely to survive the re-positioning: it was moved from across the road after the Second World War when the Wren church it stood by was bombed. As long as it remains within the line of the City walls, where it's been since at least 1198, London will be safe.
*To the Costa Prize ceremony last week, to hear the now traditional CEO speech associating books with coffee: "the perfect match". (Between The Covers prefers a pint with its paperback.) The chair of the judges Geordie Greig saw fit to reveal the book that nearly made it – Matthew Hollis's book (inset, top) about Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, Now All Roads Lead to France. Revelations of wrangles are of no comfort to the runner-up and detract from the winner's achievement. BTC remembers with fondness the old days, when no one admitted to anything short of unanimity. Note to Costa – try not to strike the set the moment the party officially ends. The whine of electric drills is such an atmosphere-killer. As for Pure, Andrew Miller's (inset, bottom) worthy winner has seemingly spawned a trend. Published this week is Julianna Baggott's dystopian thriller Pure (Headline), March brings The Pure by Jake Simons (Polygon) while Claire Gillian opts for The P.U.R.E., a romantic thriller out in April.
*One of the judges of the Costa First Novel Award, Henry Layte of Norwich's The Book Hive bookshop, is to launch a new imprint, Galley Beggar Press. The launch title in August is Simon Gough's The White Goddess, a novelised account of time spent in Deya with his great-uncle, Robert Graves, who died in 1985. After an idyllic holiday aged 10, Gough (son of actors Michael Gough and Diana Graves) did not return to Deya until his late teens, whereupon he fell in love with his great-uncle's then muse, Margo Callas. Many literary luminaries were drawn to Deya, in Graves's time a rugged and primitive place, now a millionaire's playground; Gough aims to capture the spirit of this unique place and time. Graves remains an extraordinary figure; author of a classic First World War memoir, Goodbye to All That, he also rewrote the Greek myths and is one of the great 20th-century poets. Gough's title echoes that of Graves's account of the muse of poetry, a Celtic goddess as destructive and terrifying as she is inspiring.
*As the row surrounding Salman Rushdie festers on, BTC remembers happier times at the Jaipur Literary Festival. Not so very long ago Rushdie was the guest of honour, boasting about his lack of bodyguards and billowing round the Diggi Palace like a king. BTC was privileged to watch him in action. First he targeted the Muslims in the audience, while everyone else laughed. Then he lined up Hinduism, and the laughter changed places. Finally he had a go at the only people left unscathed: the foreign press. Here's hoping sanity soon returns to this most civilised of literary festivals.
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