Fickle Fiction

Cover: The sea the seaHappy Birthday, Iris Murdoch! She was pretty much up there with Doris Lessing for a while and was worthy of being played by Dame Judi Dench in the biopic about her tragic battle with Alzheimer’s. But then Lessing won the Nobel Prize and it seems Murdoch has gone out of fashion and few people read her now.

Fashion is just as fickle in books, or rather in writers, as it is in clothes. A movie or television adaptation can send a writer who has been ignored for years into the best seller lists, and a new biography, preferably with a few salacious details, can do the same.

Dickens keeps on keeping on and probably didn’t need a push from The Invisible Woman, but Trollope seems to have lost the impetus Barchester Towers gave him a few years ago. Swings and roundabouts – Anthony’s time may come again if a director with an eye for a great story decides to film The Eustace Diamonds.

Cover: The Fairy DollChildren’s books seem to ride the winds of fashion better, perhaps because they get a new set of readers every generation and parents and present-buyers hark back to what they loved when choosing.

A nice new cover helps, like the lovely Jane Ray illustration gracing Rumer Godden‘s The Fairy Doll, first published in 1956. Virago should have taught that lesson years ago when they single-handedly brought some unfairly ignored women writers back to readers’ attention.

Do you have a favourite who has dropped out of fashion, one you dream of bringing back?

It’s D-Day

cover2012 is the year of Charles Dickens. Around the world people will be celebrating 200 years since his birth on 7 February, 1812.

Charles Dickens was a writing and publishing machine when he was alive. Serialised stories, speakers tours – Charles went where there was good money to be made. No doubt his “Dickensian” childhood of poverty and uncertainty left its mark. In 2012 the industry will be churning out eBooks, DVDs, audiobooks, book books, Muppet versions, Classic comics, Graphic novels – he’s even been zombified. Old Charles would love it and embrace the money making potential as enthusiastically as he did when he was alive.

There are many exhibitions, debates, films and plays launching throughout 2012. The British Library, Museum of London, and British Film Institute have begun early by staging some of their Dickens fare this month. The British Council is hosting events in 50 countries and Dickens 2012, the umbrella group co-ordinating festivities, anticipates a rewarding return investment.

This is all a  monument to the power of the storyteller. “I am born….” What confidence to launch your novel like that. Not only has he entered the language – Dickensian London, a pecksniff etc etc but many of us will have had powerful visual images implanted while reading his novels or watching film adaptations. Great Expectations is perhaps the best with characters like Miss Havisham and her house, and the convict Abel Magwitch. A certain English themed television channel in New Zealand is screening  Great Expectations, Bleak House, and  The Mystery of Edwin Drood during February.

If you don’t have that channel we have a number of film and television adaptations you can borrow. Not to mention a vast supply of Charles Dickens books. I must make a point of reading at least one of his novels this year. If you want to know more about the man, there is a sizeable biography industry represented here.

For all that there are many Dickens fans and societies, there is also a sizeable group who can’t abide Dickens. Where do you fall? And do you have a favourite Dickensian word?

What the Dickens?

Cover The seventh of February marks the 199th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. I know because it’s also my birthday, and somehow this has always been a source of irrational pride. Yes it’s silly to feel reflected glory due to a random coincidence of birth dates but I’ve loved his books since my first Deans & Son edition of Oliver Twist terrified me with that murderer and dog-beater Bill Sikes (the dog beating seemed worse than the murder somehow and Bill’s death haunted me for years).

The 200th anniversary in 2012 will be huge for Dickensians around the world, but 2011 is a big year for the locals as the 105th International Dickens Fellowship conference will be held in Christchurch. It’s the first time in 105 years that the conference has been held in New Zealand.  The conference goes from Thursday 14 to Tuesday 19 April.

The Fellowship’s aims are “to knit together in a common bond of friendship, lovers of that great master of humour and pathos, Charles Dickens; to promote the knowledge and appreciation of his works; to spread the love of humanity, which is the keynote of all his works”, and there has been a branch in Christchurch since 1931.

Every year the Christchurch branch chooses a book,  some minor works and some journalism to study (this year the book is Nicholas Nickleby). They meet once a month and they produce a newsletter – Dickens Down Under.  Christchurch City Libraries has copies of the newsletter as well as holding the Fellowship’s archives from 1931 to 2001.

Happy birthday Charles Dickens; capable of being studied at school without becoming loathed for ever more, source of endless films and television series and creator of some of the most memorable characters, names and expressions in literature.

Hard as it is to choose, my favourite book is Great Expectations; adaptation for film or television Bleak House featuring Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock; favourite female  character Miss Havisham (largely for her fashion sense). Steerforth wins favourite male, a judgement shared  by Nancy Mitford‘s Radlett sisters. Favourite name, Uriah Heep; expression “Judy, shake me up a little“.

What are yours?