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April 2003



Howard Fast - US novelist with a social concience

Howard Fast, born 1914, wrote more than 40 novels in his own name and 20 as E. V. Cunningham. He joined the American Communist Party in 1943 and fell foul of the McCarthy investigations in 1950. Already a well known writer, he served three months in jail for failing divulge to the un-Americian activites committee the names of contributors to a hospital for Spanish Republicans. Blacklisted after release, mainstream publishers would not touch his books and he set up his own publishing company. Blue Heron Press published 'Spartacus' in 1951, an account of the slave revolt of 71BC, and was later filmed. It was not until 1956, after the crushing of Hungarian unprising, that he left the Communist Party.

His other most successful earlier books include Freedom Road (1944) and The American (1946) but his later work was also very popular with The Immigrants (1977), the first of a series of titles tracing the history of an American family. His last book was Greenwich (2000) and he died in Old Greenwich, Connecticut on 12 March 2003.


  Palestinian fragment sold

Not part of the Dead Sea Scrolls but a memorandum from Menachim Begin, while a senior member of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, written while Palestine was still under the British Mandate.

Typed on a single sheet of paper and marked “true copy”, the document was recovered from a glass bottle by a British Intelligence Officer on Mount Carmel and has been hailed as “possibly the first of its kind actually to coin the word ‘terrorist’”.

Sold by auctioneers Mullock and Madeley at their Church Stretton sale on March 14th, it was expected to make £500-700 and realised £500.

Diary of a Paris Executioner

Last month 14 notebooks comprising the diaries of Anatole Deibler, France’s last public executioner, were sold in Paris £55,600.

Handwritten on lined paper within drab beige covers, the 2000 pages recount in chilling detail the last moments of 400 souls from 1885-1939 (when the last public guillotining took place) – their crimes, trials, attitudes to death, behaviour and even the weather at the moment of execution – all noted down by the man who despatched them.

The diaries were bought by publishers Scriptura, who plan to publish the diaries as a message against the horrors of the death penalty.

Hay Festival

The Hay Festival is due to take place at the UK's major booktown, Hay-on-Wye from 23rd May to 1st June 2003. For the ten days some 50,000 visitors converge on Hay from all over the UK, Europe and America to join in a carnival celebration. It's a market of ideas, where stories are exchanged.

There are some interesting statistics on the Hay Festival website:
Audience Survey: Most of the visitors are self-employed, senior executives or teachers.
Average household income: evenly split between £40-60,000 and £75,000 + p.a.
Chief newspaper habit: The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Independent.
Chief magazine subscription: Economist, Private Eye, The Week, GQ, TLS, Conde Nast Traveller, Country Living, Prospect, The New Yorker, The LRB.

'State of the nation' books

From the shortlists we showed last month and announced on World Book Day, March 6, the winning books judged to best represent the national characters of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish in the 'We are what we read' campaign were:

England, Bill Bryson's 'Notes From A Small Island'
Scotland, Des Dillon's 'Me and Ma Gal'
Wales, Lewis Davies's 'Work, Sex and Rugby'
Northern Ireland, Annie McCartney's 'Desire Lines'

Picasso originals discovered

An art book bought for $80 (£52) has been found to contain four original Picasso works. Brett Floyd, 39, bought the book 'Picasso:Toreros' at a California fundraising event a year ago. Then one month ago, the art lover noticed a framed lithograph in a gallery identical to one in his folio. He has since had the book valued at $17,000 (£11,000).

The mortgage broker was unaware of what he had really purchased until he went to a gallery in Newport Beach months later where he saw on display one of the lithographs from his book. The gallery's art consultant told him the sketch on the wall was taken from the 1961 book and Mr Floyd then discovered there were four originals in the folio and had them valued. He is planning to have the book auctioned by Christie's in Beverley Hills.

US Award for Ian McEwan

British author Ian McEwan's best-selling novel 'Atonement' has won one of the top prizes for fiction in the US. The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) chose McEwan's book in New York. It had previously shortlisted for the UK's Booker prize and the Whitbread award.

The critics group is made up of about 750 of America's leading book editors and critics. More than 250,000 copies of 'Atonement' are in print in the US alone, which industry analysts consider remarkable for a literary novel published during difficult economic times.

Hearing of his novel's NBCC success, McEwan said in a statement that he thought "Atonement would be pretty much an acquired taste". McEwan has long been known for complex, disturbing novels such as 'The Innocent' and ' Black Dogs'. 'Atonement' however has proved a big hit with the general public in both the UK and the US and brought the author some of his best reviews.

Next Month: There will be further details on the forthcoming book 'Morchilla and Ptarmagon' by Hugh Montgomery

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