Saturday, 23 February 2008

'Two major writers protect their distinctive brands.'

Brand Power is a marketing firm producing ads for Australian grocery retailers. The distinctive 'bee' logo and the apparently ad-hoc consumer vox pops it shows to buttress value claims, are well-known to Sydneysiders.

I hesitate to speak for Australians living in the other major conurbations.

Two recent stories show that writers, too, are very conscious of the value of their brands, and will always work strenuously to protect it.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Susan Wyndham has done something interesting today. In a week in which the news has been dominated by the Wollongong councillor corruption scandal (which threatens to unseat a state government minister), Wyndham has noticed a piece of corruption by our leading poet, Les Murray.

Murray is the fiction editor of monthly serious magazine Quadrant.

In the article Murray complains about how Australian poetry publishers routinely pester him for endorsements, for 'blurbs' as he terms them. These are the back-cover clips attributed to a notable figure.

This time, publisher Puncher & Wattmann asked for a blurb and Murray replied to the effect that one would be forthcoming if they published his wife's book, Flight From The Brothers Grimm.

Confronted, Murray told Wyndham that the offer was a joke. He said that "his intention was to say no to the publisher, "but I said it in a baroque way". Told it did not read like a joke, he replied, 'It reads like, 'Piss off', actually.'"

The disputed letter also contains a phrase to the effect that Murray is aware of the 'clout' his name carries in Australia.

A few days ago, The Australian carried a fascinating story about the notorious 'final novel', unfinished at the time of his death in 1977, by Vladimir Nabokov.

Nabokov is widely recognised as one of the premier literary talents of last century.

His son Dmitri, now 73 "and in poor health", has not decided what to do with the manuscript, which he praises (in his typically aggressive and proprietorial fashion). Academics caught in an epic battle for ownership (which will have consequences reaching into the coming millenium) note that significant quantities of work by Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson and Edward Elgar were published for the first time posthumously.

In fact, anyone who has read Stacy Schiff's excellent book on Nabokov's wife, Vera, will know that this dedicated woman prevented her husband from burning a manuscript of Lolita when they lived in Ithaca, New York. He was on his way to the steel drum in the back yard when she intercepted him, knowing of his indecision and uncertainty.

The novel catapaulted Nabokov into the highest levels of world publishing within a year of its publication.

Nabokov taught literature at Cornell University, which is located in the upstate town, for 20 years. Following the success of the novel, the couple relocated to Switzerland, where they both died.

The Original of Laura may be published, or it may not. John Banville's opinion is the same as mine.

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