THE HOOPLA LITERARY SOCIETY
“We published some very good books, and some with great success, and yet we ended up losing a significant amount of money on one title that resulted in the performance of the company as a whole being the worst in many years.”
- Canongate Publishing House Managing Director, Jamie Byng on their 2011 financial results
And what was that one title that saw Edinburgh based publishing house Canongate go from a profitable £1.08 million to an operating loss of £368,467? If you guessed Julian Assange’s memoirs, give yourself a pat on the back.
In December 2010, Canongate contracted Julian Assange to write a book described as part memoir, part manifesto. After spending 50 hours taping interviews with his chosen ghostwriter (rumoured to be highly successful author Andrew O’Hagan) and despite having 38 publishing houses around the world committed to publishing the book, upon reading the draft manuscript, Assange decided to pull out of the deal, reportedly stating, “all memoir is prostitution.”
That’s all well and good but there was the small matter of the rumoured £500,000 advance that Mr Assange was unable to repay due to the fact he had already used the money to settle his outstanding legal bills in relation to the Wikileaks furore. Following extended negotiations to rescue the project since the money was no longer available and in order to recoup some return on their investment and honour the still binding contract, Canongate published Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography.
All in all, it turned out to be a pretty raw deal for this highly respected publishing house. However, it’s not all doom and gloom at Canongate. They sold their 70% stake in Australian house Text Publishing and they own the rights to Life of Pi, which will be re-released as a movie tie in later this year.
There’s plenty of other news to share this week, so let’s to it!
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Ascension Parish, 2009
It was during the Thompson-Delacroix wedding, Caren’s first week on the job, that a cottonmouth, measuring the length of a Cadillac, fell some twenty feet from a live oak on the front lawn, landing like a coil of rope in the lap of the bride’s future mother-in-law.
It only briefly stopped the ceremony, this being Louisiana after all. Within minutes, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy on the groom’s side found a 12-gauge in the groundskeeper’s shed and shot the thing dead, and after, one of the cater-waiters was kind enough to hose down the grass. The bride and groom moved on to their vows, staying on schedule for a planned kiss at sunset, the mighty Mississippi blowing a breeze through the line of stately, hundred-year-old trees.
The uninvited guest certainly made for lively dinner conversation at the reception in the main hall. By the time the servers made their fourth round with bottles of imported champagne, several men, including prim little Father Haliwell, were lining up to have their pictures taken with the viper, before somebody from parish services finally came to haul the carcass away.
Still, she took it as a sign.
A reminder, really, that Belle Vie, its beauty, was not to be trusted.
Belle Vie, once the centre of plantation life has entered it’s final days as a reception centre. Caren Gray manages the business and few know that she also grew up on this Southern Belle of a property whilst it was still home to the Clancy family.
The Grays and the Clancys go way back, five generations have lived and worked here, and Caren cannot believe she has returned to her childhood home as its caretaker, organising wedding receptions, corporate functions and a ensuring the tourists are treated to three performances a day as the cast of the Belle Vie players reenact a kind of Gone With the Wind version of the glory days of southern plantation life.
Across the fence, corporate interests, not family, now farm the sugar cane but in so many other respects, nothing else has changed.
The night Salvadorian cane worker Inés Avalo is found in a shallow grave behind the slave quarters with her throat slit, signals the unraveling of five generations of secrets.
Trying to solve they mystery of who killed Inés Avalo is one thing but what Caren never expects is that the death of an illegal cane worker is not that far removed from the mysterious disappearance of her own great-great-great grandfather, freed slave Jason, who reportedly just walked off the plantation in 1872, never to be seen again.
Attica Locke’s (pictured right) writing credentials includes years writing screen plays for all the major motion picture companies which no doubt influences her wonderful sense of dramatic timing, pacing and gripping plot.
The noise about her second book, The Cutting Season, has been building in the months leading up to its Australian release. Perhaps that’s because her first novel, Black Water Rising was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, amongst many other accolades, but almost certainly because Locke writes mystery with such an assured hand.
Everything about this book sings, from the historical setting in the pre Civil War south to the modern day where Caren, smart if a little emotionally lost, only really returns to her roots at Belle Vie because Hurricane Katrina destroyed her house. Locke explores the way shared history represents itself in modern relationships through Caren’s interactions with the Clancy boys, ambitious Raymond and drunkard Bobby, but also with the staff that report to her.
People like sixty-year-old cook Louisa who used to work under Caren’s mother Helen and still insists in calling Caren ‘baby’. As the story unfolds, Locke places the disappearance of Jason parallel to the murder of Inés. The resolution of each mystery is reliant upon the other and Caren must revisit the past to make any sense of the events unfolding around her.
The Cutting Season was one of those books where I was torn between racing ahead to finish it and wanting to linger over the exquisite writing.
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