CONFESSION time. Those raunchy writers who took up Mills & Boon’s offer of a crash course in writing erotic fiction in Edinburgh on Thursday (in Edinburgh? What’s the world coming to?) are certainly way ahead of Bookworm in understanding the appeal of kinky sex, literary or otherwise.
Bookworm, however, is really a bit of a prude in these matters – completely unlike, it seems, some of the world’s greatest writers.
Take Graham Greene. According to Lara Feigel in her excellent The Love-charm of Bombs, a group biography of Greene and some of his literary contemporaries in the Second World War published this week by Bloomsbury, Greene loved nothing more than a woman who would scream and fight – and burn him with cigarettes. Catherine Walston, the rich married woman to whom he dedicated The End of the Affair, was clearly good at this: in one of his love letters to her in 1947 he notes that his cigarette burn “had completely gone and needed renewal”.
She wasn’t the only one. His earlier lover Dorothy Glover, who often accompanied him in his rounds as an ARP warden during the London Blitz, also apparently used Greene as a human ashtray. When he left London to go to work for the Secret Intelligence Service in West Africa, he passed Glover on to his elder brother Hugh, although Feigel fails to inform us whether being aroused by cigarettes stubbed out on one’s flesh was a family trait.
As one of the writers in Greene’s wartime coterie was Elizabeth Bowen, in the acknowledgements section at the end of her book Feigel thanks Victoria Glendinning, who wrote Bowen’s biography in 1977. Since then, however, biography has lost much of its lustre to publishers, and an article by Glendinning in the latest issue of The Author magazine shows by how much.
Glendinning reveals that for her latest biography – of Singapore founder Stamford Raffles – she received a mere 5.6 per cent of the largest advance she was given in the 1990s. Essentially, she says, it was the same figure she received for her Bowen biography 36 years ago – although obviously, now that buys a lot less.
“This is bad for literary agents, whose percentages are decimated,” notes Glendinning. “And I do not see how new authors can hope to make a living from writing biography.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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