Sherlock Holmes Posts

Karthik Venkatesh on Granthika, a digital tool

Karthik Venkatesh, a publisher, who often writes longreads on different aspects of publishing. He published an article in The Hindu on Granthika . It was heavily edited. Later he reposted the longer version on his Facebook  wall. I am c&p the text here with his permission. 

RK Narayan’s novel The Vendor of Sweets set as always in Malgudi is the story of Jagan, the sweetmeat vendor, his inner tussles between his Gandhian ideals and the pulls of his business that often leave him in a quandary and his imperfect relationship with his wayward son, Mali. Mali makes his way to America to join a creative writing course and returns a few years later, totally Americanized, with a Korean-American partner in tow. Back in Malgudi, Mali comes up with a grand money-making venture in the form of a story writing machine. It’s a machine in which would-be writers would only have to enter a few details like the number of pages, the number of characters, the place and time, the type of atmosphere and so on and the machines would churn out the story for them, or so goes Mali’s sales pitch.

The romantic image of the writer crouched over at the writing desk pouring his heart out on paper, with the several crumpled pieces of paper strewn around the room evidence of his hard work is one of literature’s most overworked images. It was this image perhaps that Mali sought to change. With Mali’s machine, churning out a story was a matter of pressing a few buttons. Mali’s story-writing machine is of course fictional, but to look at how writers have used technology to aid their writing endeavours is to come across several little nuggets of interesting information.

Historically, writing in longhand was the way most writers worked. Many like John le Carre still put pen to paper (the occasional writer like John Steinbeck swears by pencils), choosing to voluntarily forgo the mediating medium of the machine. A few lucky ones in the past had the benefit of a scribe (a la Veda Vyasa and Ganesha), but that couldn’t have been a cakewalk either. It required the writer to compose the piece in his mind and then regurgitate as the scribe put pen to paper or palm-leaf. The odd scribe is likely to have struggled to keep pace with the writer. But, arguably, more often than not, the scribe’s lot would have been to play the waiting game as the writer struggled to put it all together in his head.

And then, the typewriter came.

In 1874, Mark Twain purchased his first typewriter (a Remington) for $125. Seven years later, a typed manuscript of Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was sent to his publisher. Twain did not type it himself. In 1875, he had written to Remington to say that the machine corrupted his morals because it made him want to swear and so he gave the machine away, twice, only to have it return each time. Life on the Mississippi was dictated to a typist from a hand-written draft and was in all likelihood the first typewritten book. Among the typewriter’s other early adopters were Nietzsche and Henry James. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was also typewritten and its heroine, Mina Harker makes references to learning typewriting in the initial part of the novel. Clearly, the typewriter had arrived and for the next century or so, it was the writer’s machine of choice.

In the sixties, Jack Kerouac typed On the Road on a roll of paper which he had created by taping several together several sheets. What kind of paper it was is unclear. Among the possibilities are regular paper, a thermo-fax roll and sheets of architect’s paper. He did so because he thought the job of changing the paper would interrupt him and ‘thrust him back into the world’s inauthenticity’. Two weeks after starting On the Road, he had a single single-spaced paragraph a hundred and twenty feet in length all ready. The typewriter had played a critical role in birthing a classic.

The famously acerbic Truman Capote heard about Kerouac’s unusual ways and cuttingly remarked, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

And then came the word-processor.

Who was the Mark Twain of the word processor? There are several claimants most of them small-time with the exception of sci-fi writer Frank Herbert of Dune fame. After Dune’s success in 1965, it is said that Herbert submitted drafts of his works to his literary agent on 8-inch floppy disks in the 1970s, but no evidence exists to confirm this. The New York Times of March 24, 1981 published a rather interesting report which detailed how Jimmy Carter had accidentally deleted several pages from his memoir by pressing the wrong keys on his word-processor.

Among the early adopters of the word processor was Stephen King so much so that in the January 1983 issue of Playboy, he actually published a story entitled … “The Word Processor”! Later republished as Word Processor of the Gods in King‘s 1985 collection Skeleton Crew, the story talks of a word processor that is actually capable of altering the past and in effect, the future and whose discovery changes the lot of a frustrated middle-aged writer. Apart from King, Tom Clancy was an early adopter too and his 1984 thriller The Hunt for Red October, is often cited as one of the earliest word-processed best sellers. Since then, writing (Capote would call it typing) on the computer has pretty much become the norm.

In the second or third quarter of 2018, writer Vikram Chandra of Sacred Games fame hopes to have a beta version ready of Granthika, a digital tool for writers. While its first version will be designed for fiction writers, in the long run, a version for non-fiction writers as well, which will add all the features necessary for that genre, such as footnotes and endnotes, citations, etc. is also planned. Eventually, the goal is to build specialized versions for domains like legal writing, journalism, corporate documentation, scientific publishing, etc.

Its website lists its many components (it calls them ‘Multiple Independent Tools’): ‘a spreadsheet to keep track of dates and events, and to calculate the ages of characters, index cards to visualize the structural outline of the document, a timeline – perhaps drawn on a wall – to visualize the relationship between events (and) a word processor that doesn’t organize any of the above’.

The problem that it seeks to solve is the problem of writers making mistakes in their text and be able to keep track of all the logistics in the text. Among the instances of mistakes it cites to make its case are from Sherlock Holmes—Dr. Watson’s travelling injury (shoulder to leg) and his changing first name (John to James)—and more recently, an oversight in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Granthika is on the face of it, as cutting–edge as it gets. The creation of a writer who understands writing and coding, it might just become to the early 21st century writer what the typewriter was to the late 19th and the word processor to the late 20th. Like it or not, most writers are typing now and with Granthika, Mali, Twain and King have actually been fused together!

(C) Karthik Venkatesh 

5 February 2018 

Comeback heroes, 28 September 2014

Comeback heroes, 28 September 2014

( In today’s edition of the Hindu Magazine, I have an article on the resurrection of literary characters by contemporary novelists. The link was published digitally on 27 September 2014. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/comeback-heroes/article6452453.ece . It was carried in print as the lead article of the magazine on Sunday, 28 September 2014. I am also c&p the article below.)

Sophie HannahWith the release of Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders earlier this month, Hercule Poirot comes back to life. This new mystery introduces a new character, Inspector Catchpool, who uses the first-person narrative style, similar to that of Dr. Watson. The novel was announced in October 2013 at the Frankfurt Book Fair in the presence of Agatha Christie’s grandson. This is only one in a line of novels written by contemporary novelists resurrecting literary characters. Usually these are characters that have remained popular over time.

Such revivals have been a tradition from the early 20th century. There were several Holmes stories in the Sudden Book Covers
1910s and 1920s. But these were not very well known. Bulldog Drummond by Sapper was, perhaps, the first instance of a popular character being continued. The series was continued by Gerard Fairlie. Other bestseller series included Sudden (a series of westerns), which was continued after the author Oliver Strange’s death.

There are also lateral continuations — not with the characters as protagonists but spin-offs like P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, Bulldog_Drummond_1st_edition_cover,_1920Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series, Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years series, Anthony Read’s Baker Street Boys series and Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series.Vintage’ Hogarth Shakespeare imprint will soon present retellings of the Bard’s works for contemporary readers by some of today’s best-known international writers. October 2015 willVintage Hogarth Shakespeare see the launch of Jeanette Winterson’s retelling of The Winter’s Tale and Howard Jacobson’s retelling of The Merchant of Venice will be out in February 2016, ahead of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016. The illustrious list includes Margaret Atwood (The Tempest), Tracy Chevalier (Othello), Gillian Flynn (Hamlet), Jo Nesbo (Macbeth) and Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew). The series will be published in 12 languages across 18 territories.

There are many reasons why these new stories strike a chord with modern readers. First is, of course, nostalgia and familiarity. Given the huge fan base of these characters, the new books have a relatively ready market but sometimes they are reinvented to find a

(L-R) Danish Husain and Mahmood Farooqui

(L-R) Danish Husain and Mahmood Farooqui

new readership. Mahmood Farooqui of Dastangoi says, “I think it is a good tactic to take up texts that are already familiar to some in the audience. Listening to a story and reading one are very different experiences.”

India sells more traditional bestsellers, says Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Solo_-_James_Bond_first_edition_coverHachette India. Like “Enid Blyton or Christie or Conan Doyle. So, yes, these will have a good market here. But the new revivals will sell much more in the west in year one at least because they are major literary events.” Caroline Newbury, VP, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Penguin Random House, points out that books like Solo and Jeeves and the Wedding Bells “have been successful across the globe, hitting bestseller lists in the U.K. and in places like Australia.”

Kushalrani Gulab, a voracious reader, cannot resist these new novels. She is “driven by curiosity and the very, very small hope that, by some miracle, my beloved character and her/his world might actually come back from the dead. So far, there has been no miracle.” A sentiment that blogger Sheila Kumar echoes. “Truth to tell, I approach these tribute/resurrections with both reserve and caution. Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsComparisons, while they are admittedly odious, are also inevitable in cases like these!” But, as Abraham points out, “You dislike them generally after having read them, so you contribute to the market anyway.”

An article in the Publisher’s Weekly describes Sophie Hannah as having “channelled” one of literature’s greats. But Gulab’s passionate response to this is: “I find it very hard to imagine that another author can do just as good a job as the original author… (who) knows her/his own character best because she/he has honed it over the years… Another author, however, only knows the character by a list of characteristics; from the outside, as a reader does. Not from the inside as the original author does. Also, characters tend to exist in a certain milieu. So unless the new author makes the characters contemporary, she/he has got to recreate the world around the character as well. That’s very hard to do when you haven’t actually lived in that time period.” In fact, Sophie Hannah says she found the names — Catchpool, Brignell, Negus, Sippell and Ducane — for most of her cast from tombstones as they had a “classic, old-fashioned feel about them”.

Yet these “continuations” raise the tricky question of copyright. Last year, the Conan Doyle Estate was “horrified that the ‘public domain’ might create multiple personalities of Sherlock Holmes” (September 2013). But in December 2013, a judge in the U.S. ruled that “Sherlock Holmes is definitely in the public domain”. The first story is bound by the original term of copyright. A new version does not extend the character’s copyright term for the estate. But copyright and permission to carry on the characters are two different things. So, if an estate has the legal right to stop any use of the character after the story’s copyright expires, may be they can. But they can’t stop the printing of existing works, if they have gone out of copyright.

Abraham refers to the attitude of Peter O’Donnell, creator of the Modesty Blaise series. “O’ Donnell told me that he wouldn’t like the idea of Modesty being carried on by someone else especially after the disastrous film version. That was one reason why he killed them off in Cobra Trap.” Attitudes vary hugely from estate to estate. As Newbury points out, Solo’s copyright lies with Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., whereas Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is attributed to Sebastian Faulks.

According to Rich Stim, Attorney, on the legal website, NOLO, “fictional characters can be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive like, James Bond, Fred Flintstone, Hannibal Lecter, and Snoopy. In Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., Judge Learned Hand established the standard for character protection: “… the less developed the characters, the less they can be copyrighted; that is the penalty an author must bear for marking them too indistinctly.” Exploitation of fictional characters is a crucial source of revenue for entertainment and merchandising companies. Characters such as Superman and Mickey Mouse are the foundations of massive entertainment franchises and are commonly protected under both copyright and trademark law. Unfortunately the protection afforded to fictional characters sometimes clashes with the fair use right to comment upon or criticise those characters. ” ( http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/protecting-fictional-characters-under-copyright-law.html ) Moriarty

People will read the new versions, but if you ask them which character they want to see resurrected, the answer comes promptly: “none”. The truly worthy successor of a great mystery writer in the modern world, writing in English, in my humble opinion, is Anthony Horowitz. I am looking forward to his Moriarty to be released at the end of October.

Other literary revivals

James Bond: Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis (as Robert Markham); Solo by William Boyd.

Sherlock Holmes: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu, which also revived Hurree Babu from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks.

Jason Bourne: The Bourne Imperative by Eric van Lustbader.

Famous Five: Sarah Bosse wrote 21 new novels with Enid Blyton’s characters in German.

In India, Dastango Mahmood Farooqui has resurrected Alice in Wonderland as Dastan Alice Ki, and has plans to adapt Gopi Gyne Bagha Byne and The Little Prince.

Update

The article has been corrected to reflect the following changes: Kingsley Amis wrote the Bond novels under the pen name of Robert Markham and not George Markham as was printed earlier. Secondly, the Moriarty novel by Anthony Horowitz will be available at the end of October and not at the end of this week as mentioned earlier.

28 September 2014 

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsSebastian Faulks has written a homage to P. G. Wodehouse, a novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. It is meant to be a new addition to the Wodehouse collection of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves novels. It was announced with a great deal of fanfare earlier in the year and released in November 2013. Unfortunately it does not meet one’s expectations at all. It is stiff and difficult to read. It misses the humour of Wodehouse.

Resurrecting beloved characters that have endured and continued to charm generations of readers is a trend that is going viral among publishers. In the hope of keeping markets alive, publishers are introducing new and young readers to characters that they may not be familiar with. Popular contemporary novelists are entrusted with the task of scripting new stories. For instance, Anthony Horowitz wrote a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, The House of Silk ( 2012); William Boyd wrote a new James Bond novel, Solo (2013); and next year Sophie Hannah will be writing a new Hercule Poirot mystery. ( If the buzz at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 is to be believed this is a novel to watch out for.) Keeping with this trend, Sebastian Faulks was asked by Random House to create a new novel with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. These editorial decisions of matchmaking between popular contemporary novelists with old favourites are actually very sharp. If these new novels are written well ( as House of Silk is) everyone stands to gain—the readers have a new novel, the author and the publishers have a new market to tap. More importantly, most of these characters are either out of the copyright domain or are about to become available. By introducing new versions of the characters, estates of the authors can consider arguing legally “having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright”. ( Read. Conan Doyle Estate Is Horrified That The Public Domain Might Create ‘Multiple Personalities’ Of Sherlock Holmes http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130915/00291924523/conan-doyle-estate-doesnt-understand-public-domain-freaks-out-harms-it-might-cause-to-sherlock-holmes.shtml ) Thus keeping a tight control on the royalties earned by the new lease of life these characters are given. Significantly at a time when multiple formats are splintering and expanding the market, creating alternative revenue streams, it is important for publishers to explore ways of making inroads, testing markets and this can be done at least cost with old characters that are favourites, out-of-copyright or require minimal license fees to be paid, and new business models are explored. House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz

In Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks has an essay on Jeeves, ‘The Mood will Pass, Sir”. His opening line is “one of the odd things about Jeeves is how seldom he appears in the stories that immortalised him. While P. G. Wodehouse never used anything as vulgar as formula, there is an elegant pattern to Jeeves exits and his entrances.” ( p.239) Well if Faulks was interested in exploring the Jeeves angle in The Wedding Bells, he failed. He misses the point of Wodehouse’s fiction. Probably because Faulks is unable to get rid of his awe for Wodehouse. He remains nervous, hesitant following ( writing?) in the footsteps of Wodehouse and seems to be only keen to explore a perspective he feels is missing from the established Wodehouse canon.

Sebastian Faulks Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Hutchinson, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 258 Price not mentioned.