Andrew Murphy, Trinity College DublinWalk into any decent bookshop today in search of Shakespeare’s plays and you’re sure to find at least one. And even if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the bookshelves, there is always the internet, where a great variety of different complete works and editions are also available – almost all of them free of charge.
This, however, has not always been the case. In fact, in Shakespeare’s time, the texts were rather hard to find. The incredible access we have now to Shakespeare’s work is thanks to a handful of enterprising publishers who saw the earning potential of making the bard’s texts readily available to read.
The first publisher to take a chance on the plays was Thomas Millington in the late 1500s. Millngton was a small-scale operator who specialised in throwaway popular texts about murders and monsters and whose business was tucked away in an obscure corner of London. Millington issued editions of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and of the second and third parts of the trilogy of plays that he wrote about King Henry VI. Despite the out-of-the way location of his shop, Millington’s editions sold well and his success encouraged others to take a punt on some of the other plays.
Shakespeare becomes expensive – then cheap
By 1623 – seven years after Shakespeare’s death – sales had been good enough for almost all of the plays to be published together in a collected edition – a volume conventionally known as the “First Folio” (folios were the largest-sized books). But this edition was very expensive, costing about £1 – the equivalent of almost nine days’ wages for a skilled craftsman. It was thus a luxury item that only the wealthy could afford. And it set the pattern that was followed for many decades, with Shakespeare’s plays remaining largely confined to an elite readership who had the funds to buy expensive editions.
The first person to try to break this pattern and open up access to Shakespeare was Robert Walker (circa 1709-61).
Walker had a lot in common with Millington in that he mostly published cheap, disposable, sensationalist texts. He also had a sideline in quack medicines, as he manufactured and sold “Daffy’s Elixir”, a concoction advertised as an effective cure for almost all known diseases.
In the mid-1730s, Walker waged a price war with the London publishing establishment, driving the cost of individual play editions down to just one penny each. This led to a significant expansion of Shakespeare’s readership and, consequently, to a much greater demand for performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the 18th-century theatre.
Shakespeare for all
In the following century, another out-of-the-way publisher, John Dicks, followed Walker’s example and lowered the price of access to Shakespeare even further.
Dicks came, himself, from a very humble background and was determined to make great literature available to the poorest sectors of British society. In the 1860s, he issued Shakespeare’s plays individually at the rate of two plays for a penny – half of Walker’s price more than a century previously.
Dicks then collected all of the plays into a single, paperback volume which he offered for sale for just 12 pennies, the equivalent of less than a third of a penny per play – far and away the cheapest price ever for a complete Shakespeare. Dicks estimated that he sold almost a million copies of this book, making it the most successful Shakespeare edition that had ever been published.
Dicks can be said to have done more to popularise Shakespeare than any other publisher. But even his achievement has been surpassed in our own time. The key figure today is, again, a rather obscure figure: a computer programmer called Grady Ward, who created a digital edition of the plays in 1993. Ward made his files freely available to others and they became the basis for a wide range of free-to-access Shakespeare websites and apps. The chances are that if you’ve ever looked at a Shakespeare play online, you will have been looking at some version of Ward’s original files.
We have seen that John Dicks sold nearly a million copies of his shilling edition of Shakespeare. Figuring out how many people have made use of Ward’s text is a little harder. A possible guide may be the number of users of just one version of it: Eric Johnson’s Open Source Shakespeare. Between 2006 and 2020 this site attracted just short of 19 million distinct users. Given this level of traffic on just one site, it does not seem unreasonable to speculate that the combined number of users for all the various sites and apps may well be approaching 100 million.
In our own time, Shakespeare is a global phenomenon, freely available to tens of millions of people around the world, either in print form or online. But we should never forget the debt we owe to those obscure figures who have helped to popularise his work over the centuries – the Millingtons, Walkers, Dickses and Wards – those unsung heroes who have helped so much to make Shakespeare what he is today.
Jane Sunderland, Lancaster UniversityHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in the eight-part series, has reached its 20th anniversary. Released in 2001, it became the highest-grossing film of that year and the second-highest-grossing ever at the time (it’s now number 76). The film follows Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he begins his formal wizarding education.
The first film in the series came four years after the first book (of the same name) in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is 25 years old next year. Gone, of course, are the heady days when children grew up alongside Harry Potter, queuing outside bookshops the night before the one-minute-past-midnight release of the next volume in the series.
But this enthusiasm gave rise to a very particular phenomenon, with suggestions that the Harry Potter series prompted previously reluctant readers – in particular boys – to read fiction. Indeed, massive book sales led to media declarations of dramatic changes in children’s attitudes to reading.
While this claim does have some substance, the phenomenon was not quite as suggested. Parents and grandparents often bought Harry Potter books for their children, unasked. And while many children watched the films, they did not read the books.
That said, of couse, many children did read them. And while some young purists post-2001 refused to watch the first film until they had read the book, it’s likely the films prompted other children to then go on to read the books.
In our own 2014 study of around 600 British primary and secondary school students, around half reported having read at least one of the books, and more of these readers were boys. The most likely number of books in the series to have been read was all seven – the second likeliest, just one.
A substantial minority of children clearly engaged hugely with the series as readers – and it can only be assumed this benefited their reading more generally. This level of engagement was partly because it was a series, bringing with it a sense of continuity and achievement.
Neither were enthusiasts put off by the sheer length of the later books. Indeed, this may have added to children’s enjoyment and sense of achievement. As Rowling herself has said, “When I was a child, if I was enjoying a book, I didn’t want to finish it.”
The boy who lived on?
While the films are frequently televised, and with news that Warner Bros is planning to develop a television series set in the wizarding world, the Harry Potter books no longer top the best-selling children’s book lists. After 24 years, Amazon however still ranks the Philosopher’s Stone at number ten in their list of best-selling children’s books, with the others in the series not far behind.
All this is not surprising. Harry Potter is both enduringly imaginative – the spells, the magic, the different creatures – and reassuringly familiar – basically, it’s a school story. It has memorable, appealing characters and the style is undemanding. And now, a new generation of young parents who grew up with Harry Potter may want their children to have their own Potter experience. Though it seems likely that more children will continue to watch the films than read the books.
However, Harry Potter has come in for criticism in more recent years. Many readers today may be more aware of the elitism of Hogwarts. There is an imbalance between the number of male and female characters in the series, especially teachers. Its racial diversity has been accused of being tokenistic. And it lacks even hints of LGBTQ+ characters. Rowling’s claim in 2007 that she thought of Dumbledore as gay is not even suggested in the books.
Yet Harry Potter is far from alone in the canon of consistently popular children’s literature when it comes to most of these issues. And none of them appear to have affected book sales so far.
It remains to be seen whether such issues will discourage millennial parents from introducing Harry Potter to their own children or affect its popularity among future generations. And in this sense, only time will tell if the appeal of the books and the films will continue to endure.
When her face did change over the past century, it was because it had been reinterpreted by artists and shaped by algorithms.
Betty’s most recent official portrait – painted in 1996 to celebrate her 75th birthday – was inspired by a composite photograph, itself based on photographs of 75 real women reflecting the spirit of Betty Crocker and the changing demographics of America. In it, she doesn’t look a day over 40.
More importantly, this painting captures something that has always been true about Betty Crocker: She represents a cultural ideal rather than an actual woman.
In my academic research on cookbooks, I focus primarily on the way cookbook authors, mostly women, have used the cookbook as a space to explore politics and aesthetics while fostering a sense of community among readers.
But what does it mean when a cookbook author isn’t a real person?
In 1921, readers of the Saturday Evening Post were invited by the Washburn Crosby Co. – the parent company of Gold Medal Flour – to complete a jigsaw puzzle and mail it in for a prize. The advertising department got more than it expected.
In addition to contest entries, customers were sending in questions, asking for cooking advice. Betty’s name was invented as a customer service tool so that the return letters the company’s mostly male advertising department sent in response to these queries would seem more personal. It also seemed more likely that their mostly female customers would trust a woman.
“Betty” was chosen because it seemed friendly and familiar, while “Crocker” honored a former executive with that last name. Her signature came next, chosen from among an assortment submitted by female employees.
As Betty became a household name, the fictional cook and homemaker received so many letters that other employees had to be trained to reproduce that familiar signature.
The advertising department chose the signature for its distinctiveness, though its quirks and contours have been smoothed out over time, so much so that the version that appears on today’s boxes is hardly recognizable. Like Betty’s face, which was first painted in 1936, her signature has evolved with the times.
Betty eventually became a cultural juggernaut – a media personality, with a radio show and a vast library of publications to her name.
An outlier in cookbook culture
As I explain to students in my food and literature courses, cookbooks aren’t valued solely for the quality of their recipes. Cookbooks use the literary techniques of characterization and narrative to invite readers into imagined worlds.
By their very nature, recipes are forward-looking; they anticipate a future in which you’ve cooked something delicious. But, as they appear in many cookbooks – and in plenty of home recipe boxes – recipes also reflect a fondly remembered past. Notes in the margin of a recipe card or splatters on a cookbook page may remind us of the times a beloved recipe was cooked and eaten. A recipe may have the name of a family member attached, or even be in their handwriting.
When cookbooks include personal anecdotes, they invite a feeling of connection by mimicking the personal history that is collected in a recipe box.
Irma Rombauer may have perfected this style in her 1931 book “The Joy of Cooking,” but she didn’t invent it. American publishers started printing cookbooks in the middle of the 18th century, and even the genre’s earliest authors had a sense of the power of character, just as many food bloggers do today.
An American ideal
But because Betty Crocker’s cookbooks were written by committee, with recipes tested by staffers and home cooks, that personal history isn’t quite so personal.
As one ad for the “Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book” put it, “The women of America helped Betty Crocker write the Picture Cook Book,” and the resulting book “reflected the warmth and personality of the American home.” And while books like “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” open with a friendly note signed by the fictional homemaker herself, the recipe headnotes carefully avoid the pretense that she is a real person, giving credit instead to the women who submitted the recipes, suggesting variations or providing historical context.
Betty Crocker’s books invited American women to imagine themselves as part of a community connected by the loose bond of shared recipes. And because they don’t express the unique tastes of a particular person, Betty Crocker books instead promote taste as a shared cultural experience common to all American families, and cooking as a skill to which all women should aspire.
The “Story of Two Brides” that appears in Betty Crocker’s 1933 pamphlet “New Party Cakes for all Occasions” contrasts the good “little bride” who “has been taking radio cooking lessons from Betty Crocker” with the hapless “other bride” whose cooking and shopping habits are equally careless. The message here isn’t particularly subtle: The trick to becoming “the most wonderful little wife ever” is baking well, and buying the right flour.
Despite its charming illustrations, the retrograde attitude of that 1933 pamphlet probably wouldn’t sell very many cookbooks today, let alone baking mixes, kitchen appliances or any of the other products that now bear the Betty Crocker brand, which General Mills now owns.
But if Betty Crocker’s branding in the supermarket is all about convenience and ease, the retro stylings of her newest cookbooks are a reminder that her brand is also a nostalgic one.
Published this year, for her 100th anniversary, the “Betty Crocker Best 100” reprints all of Betty’s portraits and tells the story of her invention. Rather than using the logo that appears on contemporary products, the front cover returns to the quirkier script of the early Betty, and the “personal” note at the opening of the book reminds readers that “it’s always been about recognizing that the kitchen is at the heart of the home.”
As Betty is continually reinvented in response to America’s evolving sense of self, perhaps this means valuing domestic labor without judging women by the quality of their cakes, and building community between all bakers – even those who won’t ever be good little brides.
Hoaxes may use ethically questionable methods. But when they work, they tell us something about the relationship of art to life and politics. It’s the literary equivalent of Banksy shredding an artwork at Sotheby’s as the hammer came down.
If they don’t, then we should question if they deserve to be called a hoax at all.
Recently, hoaxes were in the headlines when three men leapt onto a Barcelona stage to accept a million euro literary prize awarded by the publishing house, Planeta – “unmasking” themselves as the Spanish writer, Carmen Mola in the process. “Mola”, a bestselling crime author, won the Euro prize for La Bestia – The Beast – a thriller about a serial killer stalking Madrid in the midst of a cholera epidemic.
Cue global shock, followed by shrugs from authors, publishers and critics. So far, the fury has centred on who is allowed to write what, and why. However author Margaret Atwood crisply and correctly called the unveiling a “a great publicity stunt”. This hoax was embarrassing and high profile. But it was also unoriginal and apolitical.
The men behind Mola said they were tired of lying. But might claiming a lucrative, prestigious prize – and a bit of ego – also have been a factor in unmasking themselves?
Pen name politics
The Mola hoax infuriated many because the authors, who wrote a trilogy of ultra-violent novels starring a female detective, Inspector Elena Blanco, had generated a backstory that was more than a pseudonym. It was an identity. It was also stereotypically gendered.
Mola, which roughly translates as “Carmen the cool” in English, claimed she was an academic who kept her writing career a secret because she was bashful about the allegedly transgressive subject matter.
“I didn’t want my colleagues at the office, my sisters-in-law or my mother to know that I wrote a book where someone kills a woman by getting larva worms into her skull,” Mola said in an emailed interview. Email and claims of reclusiveness are the modus operandi for managing publicity arrangements for a problematic identity.
Lawyer and former director of the Women’s Institute in Spain, Beatriz Gimeno, tweeted that the authors had propagated the persona of a woman through email interviews for years, for financial gain. Another commenter called it gender bending “catfishing”.
According to Spanish journalist, Maria Ramirez, a Madrid feminist bookstore is now refusing to sell the Mola books on principle that “men don’t take all the space”. Historically female authors have been forced to use male pseudonyms to be published to fight for this space.
Did the authors see themselves as taking a poke at the history of women’s writing or gender oppression? No. They reportedly said they chose the name by chance and for fun and there was no politics associated with their choice of a woman. “Choosing a woman’s name was not a thought out thing, we don’t want to send any message. We could have put R2-D2 on it,” they said.
In Australia, in the 1940s, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James used the male pseudonym, Sydney Wyborne, to win a newspaper competition for an unpublished manuscript. They make an interesting comparison to the Mola case. Sadly, once unmasked, the prize was withdrawn. They didn’t get the money or the publishing contract.
Their book wasn’t published until 1951, under the new name Come in Spinner, by another publisher. According to Cusack, the delay was complicated by obscenity laws at the time, and editors’ resistance to publishing the women under their two real names.
A true hoax provokes. It questions cultural biases, shatters conventions, leaving fragments for discussion that linger for years, if not centuries.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, for instance, is widely credited as the first realist English novel but it was initially read as a “true history” when published in 1719, under Crusoe’s name. The first novel, or one of the first fake memoir hoaxes? This is a conversation that continues.
Fast forward to 2006, when the Australian newspaper launched a “sting” on Australian publishers. The article was titled, “Would a manuscript from the 1973 Nobel laureate pass muster today?” A chapter of Patrick White’s Nobel prize winning novel, The Eye of the Storm, was sent to publishers under a pen name that was an anagram of Patrick White: Wraith Picket. The idea was copied from a similar sting by The Times of London, using writing by V.S. Naipaul.
Furious publishers who rejected White’s manuscript said they were not given enough of the book to make a decision and it was sloppily presented. This simple hoax was in the tradition of the fictional Australian poet from the 1940s Ern Malley. It made a cultural point – much of the book world is driven by rank commercialism and passing fads. An editorial eye is hit and miss.
Less salubrious – and more obvious – are the cultural commentary hoaxes on the saleability of sex romps, from a 1970s satire of the writing of Harold Robbins to a more recent parody of the writing style of 50 Shades of Grey.
Intercultural thefts are a separate matter. They aren’t hoaxes. They are harmful appropriations. Most commonly, such theft is committed by a dominant culture and the victim is the literary heritage of an oppressed minority.
This sorry history includes the so called “Virago Vicar”; an Anglican vicar named Toby Forward who published a collection of stories with the British feminist publishing house Virago under the pseudonym Rahila Khan.
Identity theft involving non-fiction forms or memoir is beyond this category – it belongs in the realm of fake news and “alternative facts”.
One interesting theft that keeps everybody talking – and may well endure – is the case of writer “Jeremiah Terminator Leroy”; a New York based television writer named Laura Albert who adopted the persona of a queer male sex worker from West Virginia, whose novels gave rise to a cult following. Albert convinced her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to play the part of the reclusive author at book and other celebrity events.
The Mola men’s best defence might be that collaborations are rarely rewarded in the publishing world and they aimed to explode that status quo. But they have made little of this, other than mentioning how they “combined their talents” to write their crime trilogy along with this new novel.
Planeta, meanwhile, are expected to honour both the publishing deal for La Bestia and the lucrative associated TV adaptation of the Blanco trilogy under the Carmen Mola name. Filming starts in January.
Chris Mackie, La Trobe UniversityThe story of the long struggle for the life of the city of Troy might be thought of as the pre-eminent Greek myth. Extensive narratives of the war are told in the oral traditions of myth and literature, and they also appear very significantly in the material evidence of Greek art and architecture.
The Trojan Women, a play by the great Athenian dramatist Euripides (485-406 BC), was produced at Athens in the early spring of 415 BC. It is set immediately after the fall of Troy and the killing of the Trojan men when the fates of the royal women and children of the city are being decided by the victorious Greeks.
The grim subject-matter and mood of the play in its Trojan setting have a parallel in the Peloponnesian war, which was being fought at the time between Athens and Sparta (431 to 404 BC). The Trojan Women speaks both to the renowned war at Troy, described most famously by Homer in the Iliad, and to the great military struggle taking place in Euripides’ own lifetime.
If there was a historical Trojan war it was probably fought in the late Bronze Age, perhaps in the 12th century BC at Hisarlik in north-west Turkey. Accounts of the war seem to have been passed on orally culminating in epic poems that probably date to the end of 8th century BC and after. The Iliad (c. 700BC) and the Odyssey (dated perhaps to a generation or two after the Iliad) are our two surviving early Greek epic poems on the Troy theme.
But we also know of a series of poems, now lost, called the “Epic Cycle”, six of which are focused on the Troy saga. All of these offered accounts of different parts of the Trojan war (which in the Greek tradition lasted for 10 years).
Early Greek epics made no attempt to document the historicity of the conflict in a modern sense, not the least because history hadn’t been invented when they were composed. History (a Greek word meaning “research” or “enquiry”) is a product of later (ie 6th and 5th century BC) rationalism and literacy.
One of four themed plays
As a late 5th century BC Athenian dramatist, Euripides is an heir both to the traditions of oral poetry and mythmaking, and to the rational enquiry of philosophy, rhetoric and history in a broad sense. Whilst Homer was greatly admired by the literati in 5th century Athens, he does represent a world long gone. (Homer’s Iliad may date up to 300 years before Euripides’ Trojan Women – as distant a period as the early 18th century is for us.)
Euripides himself (485-406BC) was still writing into old age, not unlike his contemporary, the tragedian Sophocles (497/6-406BC), who was still producing plays at Athens into his early nineties! Euripides wrote about 90 plays, of which 18 survive, whereas the evergreen Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays, only 7 of which survive. They often competed at the dramatic festivals, with Sophocles easily the more successful.
Euripides wrote four plays for performance on that day in the early spring of 415BC, although only The Trojan Women has survived. We know, not the least from fragmentary evidence, that the first three plays were on the Trojan war theme, but they were not a tightly inter-connected trilogy of plays, as is Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
First was the play Alexander, which focused on the earlier life of the Trojan archer-figure Paris, or Alexander, as he is often known. In the myth of Troy it is he who judges the divine beauty contest (the Judgement of Paris), that precipitates the war between Greeks and Trojans.
The second play was the Palamedes, about a clever but rather obscure Greek prince at Troy. The Trojan Women was the third play presented on that day, and was followed in turn by a more light-hearted “satyr play” called the Sisyphus.
We learn from an ancient source that Euripides’ plays came second in the dramatic competition of 415.
The Trojan Women focuses on a small group of women of the royal house of Troy who await their fate in Greece – Hecuba, the widow of king Priam; Cassandra, the prophetess daughter of Priam and Hecuba; Andromache, widow of Hector and mother of the boy Astyanax; and Helen of Sparta, who has to plead for her life from Menelaus, her former husband. The chorus of the play are captive Trojan women.
The only Greek prince to feature as a character is Menelaus himself whose task is to decide on Helen’s fate now that she has been captured. The cruel decisions of the departing Greek forces occur with Odysseus as a key player, but these are enunciated to the women by Talthybius, a Greek herald.
The women are dispersed as slaves to particular princes throughout the Greek world who have led contingents within the Greek army. The obvious cruelty of this process is added to by the cold calculation as to who will go where.
Thus, the girl Polyxena, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, was supposed to go to Achilles after the war; but seeing Achilles is now dead, she is sacrificed at his tomb.
Hector’s wife Andromache goes to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus because Hector and Achilles were rivals and had a major single combat in battle (told in Book 22 of the Iliad). Hecuba herself is to go to Odysseus – a terrible fate, upon which she laments her ill-fortune: “it is my lot to be slave to a vile and treacherous man”.
Cassandra will go as a sex slave to the lascivious and repulsive figure of Agamemnon, whilst Helen – the face that launched a thousand ships – is given back to Menelaus.
Cassandra is murdered with Agamemnon upon their return to Mycenae, whereas Helen is a remarkable survivor upon her return to Greece. We encounter Helen again most especially in Homer’s Odyssey Book 4, where she has a kind of “normal” life and marriage with her former husband Menelaus in Sparta.
It is important to remember that the extended story of the Trojan war is a genocide narrative, and that this comes through very emphatically within the play itself (as it does in other Greek literature).
The Greeks did not shrink from describing Greek atrocities perpetrated on the defeated Trojans. Indeed it is a feature of their narratives to focus on Greek cruelty. In the Iliad, for instance, Agamemnon urges his brother Menelaus on the battlefield to kill all Trojans, “even the boy that is carried in a mother’s womb”.
The horrific culmination of the cruelty in the Trojan Women is the killing of the boy Astyanax, the very young son of Hector and Andromache. This occurs within the course of the play itself (off stage, of course). Odysseus comes up with the idea of throwing him from the battlements of the city, and the Greeks even threaten to refuse the burial of his body if the Trojan women don’t co-operate with the decision to execute the boy.
Astyanax is a silent character in Homer and in Euripides, but his fate in the aftermath of the war speaks to us about infanticide, much as the fates of the Trojan women do with regard to rape and murder and the enslavement of women in war.
It does seem to be significant too that the only compassion for the women coming from Greek male characters in the play belongs to Talthybius, the (non-aristocratic) herald of the Greeks.
The Athenian audience in 415 BC knew very well the main mythical narratives of the aftermath of the Trojan war and the return home. They would know all about the death of Astyanax and about the return of Helen to Sparta to live again with her husband. They would also know, not the least from the prologue of Euripides’ play itself, that the Greek fleet will be hit by storms on the journey home on account of the rape of Cassandra by Locrian Ajax at the altar of Athena – an unpunished act which occurred prior to the opening of the play.
So the Trojan Women deals with the sharp end of Greek brutality in the war for Troy – the enslavement of women, human sacrifice, rape and infanticide.
The graphic violence dealt with in the play speaks to us about the absence of heroism in the narrative of Troy, despite what Homer and the epic poets provided in their earlier accounts.
The focus on women’s suffering in the war is in keeping with other works by Euripides, many of whose plays focused on female lives and female suffering in relentlessly male dominated environments.
Inevitably, Euripides’ play has inspired many later treatments of the Trojan women theme. Two modern conscious responses to the Greek poets are novels by English author Pat Barker, who was moved to write The Silence of the Girls, based around the Iliad, and (most recently) The Women of Troy: A Novel, to hear the voices of the women themselves from Euripides’ play.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s review of The Women of Troy in the Guardian reiterates the violence of the language in Barker’s version: “clearly and simply told, with no obscurities of vocabulary or allusion, this novel reads sometimes like a retelling for children of the legend of Troy, but its conclusions are for adults – merciless, stripped of consoling, impressively bleak”.
Our new research has found that between 2008 and 2018, the number of international book rights deals made for Australian titles grew by almost 25%. This was driven, in part, by the international success of adult fiction titles from 2012 onwards and increased demand for Australian books in China.
Interestingly, during this time, over half of all deals were for children’s books. Still, there was a significant increase in the number of deals struck for adult fiction, which now accounts for around 30% of deals each year. More than 9,000 deals were made over the decade.
While almost one in five deals specified the title would remain in English, 13.7% were made for Chinese translations, followed by Korean (7% of deals). The data also reveals the increasing importance of Eastern European markets such as the Czech Republic and Slovenia, along with decreased demand for German, Dutch and Spanish translations.
This is the first major attempt to measure the scale of Australia’s international book rights sales. Advances from them deliver a total of around $10 million each year to Australian writers, providing a valuable additional income stream.
Rights management involves a seller (who could be a publisher, literary agent or author) licensing the right to make and sell copies of a print, ebook or audiobook, and adaptation rights such as television, film and theatre.
63% of senior agents and publishers told us they felt there had been an increase in international interest in Australian authored books over the ten-year sample period.
Our findings include a report and case studies that aim to shed light on this important commercial and cultural aspect of the book industry.
The kids are alright
Titles aimed at younger readers (picture books up to young adult) were very popular with overseas buyers.
The reasons are not entirely clear: ultimately, the books themselves must work on their own terms in overseas markets. In addition to well-known series such as the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, Judith Rossell’s books featuring Stella Montgomery, and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband adventure series, there are hundreds of lower-profile titles which have “travelled”.
The decades-long expertise of Australian authors, publishers and agents in specialist children’s genres (often overlooked in the industry before the success of the Harry Potter series) is also likely to be a factor.
Since the 1980s, Australian publishers and literary agents have quietly been building international networks based on years of attendance at key book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologna, New York, London and more recently, Shanghai. These fairs, along with welcoming delegations of publishing executives and other strategies, help them find exactly who might be receptive to a pitch about their latest Australian books.
As Libby O’Donnell, Head of International Rights and International Business Development at HarperCollins Australia, puts it, “Every book can potentially have some readers overseas but not every book can have a market overseas that makes it viable to publish.”
While attendance at book fairs and personal relationships are key to successful deals, we observed different models of deal-making. O’Donnell was involved in international auctions for Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss.
She describes developing a carefully timed international campaign to draw out the biggest bids for these books. Six groups competed for the television rights to Boy Swallows Universe.
But rights sellers who work for some of the largest Australian publishers also described their passion for finding overseas publishers for books with less commercial potential. For Ivor Indyk at the highly respected literary press, Giramondo Publishing, it’s about forming alliances with like-minded literary publishers enabling overseas publication of Australian books that may become part of a literary canon.
Although publishers and agents benefit financially and in terms of prestige, ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries are authors. For most authors, the majority of their income will be from the Australia and New Zealand market. Rights income is “icing on the cake”.
A small proportion of Australian authors can live off their rights income, or sell substantially more books overseas than here. But most authors are excited by the opportunity to have their work read and appreciated overseas; offering another income stream and enhancing their international reputations.
However, the pandemic has hit the international book industry hard – with international travel on hold for so long.
Our report recommends initiatives such as mentoring arrangements and continued investment by industry and government in outgoing and incoming trade delegations (including to key book fairs). This will be more important than ever as publishers and agents re-establish connections after a hiatus of nearly two years.
I have been a little ill and under the weather of late, hence my lack of activity here. I’m hoping to restart posting to the Blog here this weekend though. Also, I have just started a new account over at Instagram. So please go and follow me there also if you like.
Chris Pak, Swansea UniversityYou see the forest of cranes before you reach the coast. In the heat’s haze, machinery resounds in the middle distance, shifting and tamping dirt with earth-shattering force. Beyond the construction site, the sea sparkles under the Sun, traversed by ships old and new. It seems the whole city takes its cue from the coast – there is always so much being built, demolished and rebuilt.
You can listen to more articles from The Conversation, narrated by Noa, here.
Those in power push ahead with their enduring programme to reshape the world by building new land. This is a society that is being transformed for a particular vision of the future: to build new worlds able to meet the challenges of a soaring population, more space and new modes of living. But what kind of future is being built, and at what cost?
This isn’t science fiction. This is the real story of land reclamation in 1980s-90s Hong Kong, where I grew up. Land reclamation involves the filling of water bodies with soil to extend land or create artificial islands. Housing and infrastructure on the scale seen in Hong Kong is only possible because of how much land – over 70km² of it – was reclaimed. But this has come at a cost to people, biodiversity and the integrity of wildlife habitats alike.
It was during my childhood in this city, part of which was so recently submerged beneath the ocean, that I first began to speculate about the drastic ways we transform space – and the unforeseen impacts this has.
As a child immersed in science fiction classics such as Frank Herbert’s Dune, I quickly realised that fiction can help us consider, imagine, and work through these unforeseen impacts. And so it is no surprise that climate fiction – or “cli-fi” – has quickly become a recognised genre in recent years. From Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour to Omar El Akkad’s American War, people are clearly interested in imagining possible futures as a way of considering how we are going to get ourselves out of this mess.
If there is something that we can be fairly sure of, it is that the future will be radically different to what we had imagined, and that it will demand adjustment. This is why authors of science fiction are consulted by organisations and governments: to help us think about the risks and challenges of the future in ways inaccessible to other disciplines. As COP26, the delayed 2020 UN climate change conference in Glasgow, approaches we urgently need more of this imaginative impulse.
Science fiction has certainly already played a part in this narrative. Harnessing the Sun’s energy has a long history in science fiction, and Arthur C. Clarke is often credited with coming up with the idea of the solar cell-powered geostationary communications satellite. NASA’s satellite system, meanwhile, is crucial for monitoring climate change and can plausibly be traced back, in part, to science fiction’s capacity for thinking about worlds and systems. And of course, spaceships and space stations – indeed, our expansion into space – is an invention of science fiction.
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Inspired by my early days in Hong Kong, I went on to shape a career researching science fiction with a focus on technical systems that transform the planet we live on: the idea of terraforming and geoengineering. If terraforming is the modification of other planets to enable habitation by life on Earth, geoengineering can be defined as the planetary modification of the Earth – such as the deliberate intervention in the climate system.
As the controversial debate about geoengineering becomes increasingly urgent given the catastrophic failure to curb emissions, science fiction about terraforming and geoengineering can help us imagine possible configurations of solutions to the climate crisis and their implications. A closer look at this particular example will also show why embracing this form of thinking is so crucial for the climate crisis more generally too.
The power of storytelling
Proposals for geoengineering and terraforming are informed both by history and by the stories we tell one another. What science fiction can do is imagine and think through the political, as well as the scientific, implications of the technological choices we make. Science fiction stories speculate on, diagnose and illustrate the experiences and the problems wrapped up in global debates about mitigation and adaptation.
The aim of science fiction is not to solve society’s problems (though specific works of science fiction do offer solutions that we as readers are invited to critique, revise, advocate for, and even adopt); nor is science fiction about prediction. We therefore shouldn’t evaluate science fiction according to its success or failure in this regard. Rather, the role of science fiction is to speculate on possibilities.
Science fiction, then, shouldn’t be read in isolation. The fictional space is an imaginative realm for testing ideas and values, and for attempting to imagine futures that could inform our societies now. The genre seeks to push beyond the assumptions of a singular time and place by providing a range of alternative ways of conceiving ideas, contexts and relationships. Science fiction asks to be challenged; it asks for us to hold one story up against another, to consider and interrogate the worlds portrayed and what they might tell us about our stances on crucial contemporary issues.
Reading such fiction can help us to think speculatively beyond the technical aspects of adaptation, mitigation and, indeed, intervention, and to understand the stances that we as people and as societies take toward these concerns.
This is the idea behind my book, in which I survey the history of stories about terraforming, geoengineering, space and climate change. What science fiction teaches us is that technologies are not simply technical systems. Science is not simply a theoretical and technical endeavour. Rather, the practice of science and the development of technologies are also fundamentally social and cultural. This is why many researchers use the word “sociotechnical” to describe technological systems.
A geoengineered planet
In the real – policy – world, fictions inform the imagination. Some imagine a future world covered by machines sucking CO₂ out of the air and pumping it into the porous rock below. Others imagine one powered by a portfolio of vast wind and solar farms, hydroelectric and geothermal plants. Some imagine business largely continuing as usual, with only moderate changes in how we produce and use energy, and little to no change to how we organise our economies and our lives.
And some suggest we send planes into the stratosphere, pumping out particulates that will reflect sunlight back into space and turn the sky white.
It is this last vision, solar radiation management (SRM), that has been the subject of particularly intense debate. SRM involves controlling the amount of sunlight trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. A number of scientists, including Ken Caldeira and David Keith (sometimes referred to as the “geoclique”) advocate for further research into SRM, but they are strongly opposed by various pressuregroups.
Bill McGuire, a patron of Scientists for Global Responsibility and Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at UCL, recently wrote a science fiction novel, Skyseed (2020), which imagines the terrifying failure of a nanotech-based approach to solar radiation management. This novel describes the impossibility – given our current state of knowledge – of foreseeing the consequences of this speculative technology.
Proposals for solar radiation management vary enormously, but the most common forms involve brightening marine clouds or injecting particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight away from the Earth. Doing so, it is proposed, would help to cool the Earth, though it would do nothing to remove carbon and other carbon equivalent gases from the atmosphere, nor would it address ocean acidification.
More extravagant ideas include building sunshades in space and placing them in various orbital configurations. If this idea sounds like it comes straight out of a science fiction novel, that’s because it does: such orbital mirrors feature in James Oberg’s 1981 work New Earths and Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1998 novel Komarr.
But what can terraforming tell us about geoengineering and Earth? The idea of transforming places beyond Earth – planets or other spatial bodies – to make them more amenable to human life has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades. The necessity of maintaining life support systems in space habitats and spaceships draws on the same science that underpins technologies for addressing climate change. Such stories pose many pertinent questions that we should heed as we consider next steps on Earth – or beyond it.
In its broadest sense, terraforming refers to transforming other planets or cosmic bodies so that life from Earth can live there. Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, have brought terraforming and the colonisation of Mars to our imagination through an ambitious project to put people on the planet within the decade. Musk is not alone: other entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origins) are also competing to exploit space and get humankind out there.
Contemporary visions of terraforming Mars must contend with recent assessments that show it is not possible to terraform the planet with present day technology, given the lack of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would enable an atmosphere to be created on Mars. But scientificresearch into terraforming continues to carve out a space for its future possibility.
Although it is the subject of current scientific research, the word “terraforming” was in fact coined by science fiction writer Jack Williamson (writing as Will Stewart) in the 1942 short story, Collision Orbit, set on a terraformed asteroid. The story describes terraforming technologies that include a “paragravity installation” sunk into the heart of the asteroid, which provides some gravity. Oxygen and water, meanwhile, are generated from mineral oxides, a process that releases “absorptive gases to trap the feeble heat of the far-off Sun”.
In the story, the greenhouse effect is harnessed to make other cosmic bodies habitable. What makes terraforming possible here are new ways of manipulating atomic matter. But Williamson is also concerned with the unintended consequences of new inventions and new ways of generating energy. New energy systems make terraforming feasible for small groups and large institutions alike, promising a re-configuration of power throughout the solar system by the story’s end.
Lessons from fiction for the future
I’ve focused here on the ideas of geoengineering and terraforming because they represent the most outlandish theories or proposals when it comes to potential “solutions” to the climate crisis. But of course, everything I’ve written applies just as much to thinking about less grandiose proposals.
The questions and speculations offered by science fiction are endless, and it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to outline those that are the most pertinent, or important, or relevant to COP26. So instead I’d like highlighting those books that have stayed with me the most in my time working in this area, and explain why I think they might prove fruitful food for thought for anyone attending, debating, or simply following COP26.
This short novel by science fiction heavyweight Ursula K. Le Guin describes a forest world, populated by an indigenous society, that early on in the novel is occupied and aggressively deforested to provide Earth with wood. This is not simply a technical project. It is also social because it involves the complete transformation of the indigenous society, who are violently gang-pressed to provide a freely exploitable labour force. It is also social insofar as this supply chain is oriented to the demands and desires of those on Earth.
We might see echoes of this story in James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009); only, in Avatar the target for extraction is “unobtainium”. In Herbert’s iconic novel Dune, it’s a substance called “geriatric spice mélange”. It’s not important what these resources are, but that they are scarce and valuable in the stories’ worlds.
Portrayals of extensive afforestation and deforestation are a form of terraforming or geoengineering because they transform the planet’s ability to regulate its climate. This isn’t addressed directly in Le Guin’s novel; but Le Guin does explore the issue of terraforming in her 1974 novel The Dispossessed, which focuses on the political and economic relationship between an anarchist state on a moon called Anarres and its historical home planet, Urras. This novel explores what life might look like on a Moon that has long been undergoing terraformation.
What these examples tell us is that, in some contexts, afforestation or deforestation that transforms societies and their environments function as a form of terraforming or geoengineering. We must recognise prior claims to the land and work with communities to develop an ethics of care for these environments that resist aggressive exploitation.
Perhaps the author who has most consistently explored contemporary debates about climate change is Kim Stanley Robinson.
Named the 2008 TIME “Hero of the Environment”, Robinson addresses climate change politics in works set on Earth and the solar system. I’ve written extensively about Robinson’s work, which speculates on a portfolio of sciences and technologies to supplement the creation of new ways of living centred on social and ecological justice. Most importantly, Robinson ties these technologies to the communities being portrayed, and traces the struggles and injustices that such developments risk.
Robinson imagines the terraformation of Mars in his trilogy Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993) and Blue Mars (1996). A host of technologies appear, including orbital mirrors, referred to as solettas, technologies for engineering soil and biologically engineered lichens to transform the atmosphere, among many others.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Mars trilogy is the consistent reflection on the vision for transformation: for whom is the planet being transformed? Corporate interests on Earth, or the entirety of the Martian population? And what relationship does the transformation of Mars bear for the peoples on Earth?
As one of the key members of the terraforming project on Mars, the scientist Sax Russell’s technocratic, top-down approach to the terraformation of Mars undergoes a sea change after a traumatic brain injury during a Martian revolution. This injury prompts him to reflect on language and communication and leads him to understand that the technical approach that he had thus far adopted — an approach that erases the perspectives and experiences of his fellow Martians — is insufficient for building a truly open society. In his own imperfect way, he begins to move toward an understanding of science as a firmly sociotechnical system, and to realise that the human element cannot be ignored.
The fictional adventures of Russell might as well inform our own response to climate change. By hearing only the voices of specialists and politicians, other avenues for addressing climate change might be overlooked. Worse, we may inadvertently lock ourselves into a technological system that cannot hope to address the effects of climate change, or which may exacerbate the precariousness of many peoples across the globe.
Science fiction offers ways to discuss speculative technologies without presenting them as ready made technological fixes, enabling wider public deliberation about our approach to climate change. Fiction asks crucial questions, revises and reconsiders aspects of science and society in relation to their contemporary moment. But it also transmits a way of thinking – it identifies our assumptions about the worlds we want to live in and challenges dominant narratives about climate change. Most importantly, it offers a range of possible technological solutions, which could and should inform our response to the climate crisis.
3. Ian McDonald’s Luna Trilogy (2015-2019)
McDonald considers the exploitation of resources and people, along with the extension of financial speculation to all aspects of life on the colonised Moon in his trilogy Luna: New Moon (2015), Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) and Luna: Moon Rising (2019).
In this story of power and the exploitation of the Moon’s resources, families who control key industries on the Moon struggle for dominance against the backdrop of an Earth that is adapting to climate change. The trilogy imagines and interrogates the extension of the logic of development outward to the solar system and encourages readers to think about the inevitable economic and political clashes this will bring.
Science fiction can help us think about our own stories of climate mitigation and adaptation. Such stories are experiments in envisioning future possibilities and creating solutions to future problems. Central to many of these visions is an emphasis on social and ecological justice, and an awareness of the dangers of erasing populations from the story.
It is true that attempts to imagine the future are the product of utopian thinking – but don’t imagine for a moment that utopian in this sense equates to a naive idealism. Rather, utopian thinking is a commitment to working through the difficulties and impasses of our contemporary moment without losing sight of the possible futures that we imagine and would like to create.
What makes science fiction valuable in our efforts against climate change is that it does not offer us a final word, but rather invites an open ended exploration and experimentation with stories and ideas. Science fiction encourages us to build worlds and to question the worlds that we are building. It asks us to choose a future from a range of possibilities and to put in the work to create it. Science fiction was crucial in helping me make sense of the radical transformations of 20th century Hong Kong and the UK, and it led to my engagement with the politics of climate change. This is precisely the work of public deliberation and engagement that is crucial as we move toward and beyond COP26.
Migration and cultural uprooting along with the cultural and ethnic diversity of east Africa are at the heart of Gurnah’s fiction. They have also shaped his personal life.
Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah came to Britain in the 1960s as a refugee. Being of Arab origin, he was forced to flee his birthplace during the revolution of 1964 and only returned in 1984 in time to visit his dying father. Until his retirement, he was a full-time professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
Afterlives is set against the backdrop of German rule in east Africa in the early 20th century. It tells the story of a young boy sold to German colonial troops. The novel was shortlisted for the 2021 Orwell prize for political fiction and longlisted for the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction.
Gurnah’s work is attentive to the tension between personal story and collective history. In particular, Afterlives asks readers to consider the afterlife of colonialism and war and its long lasting effects, not only on nations but also, and perhaps mainly so, on individuals and families.
Influence and style
His writing is heavily influenced by the cultural and ethnic diversity of his native Zanzibar. Shaped by its geographical location in the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa, it was at the centre of the major Indian Ocean trade routes.
The island attracted traders and colonists from what was then known as Arabia (modern-day Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE), south Asia, the African mainland, and later Europe.
Gurnah’s writing reflects this diversity with its many voices and its range of references to literary sources. Most of all, it insists on hybridity and diversity in the face of Afrocentrism, which dominated the east African independence movements in the 20th century.
His first novel, Memory of Departure, published in 1987, is set around the time Gurnah left Zanzibar. A coming-of-age story in the form of a memoir, it follows the protagonist’s attempts to leave his birthplace and study abroad.
Consequences of colonialism
His novel Paradise is similarly conceived as a coming-of-age narrative, though set earlier in time, at the turn of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, when Europeans were beginning to establish colonies on the East African coast. Paradise also addresses domestic slavery in Africa, with a bonded slave as the main character.
Above all, Paradise highlights the great diversity of Gurnah’s literary repertoire, bringing together references to Swahili texts, Quranic and biblical traditions, as well as the work of Joseph Conrad.
Gurnah’s work, with its diverse textual references and its attentiveness to archives, reflects and touches on wider concerns in postcolonial literature. His novels consider the deliberate erasure of African narratives and perspectives as one major consequence of European colonialism.
In highlighting conversations between the individual and the record of history, Gurnah’s work has similarities to Salman Rushdie – another postcolonial writer who is equally attentive to the relationship between personal memory and the larger narratives of history. Indeed, alongside his novels, Gurnah is also the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie, published in 2007.
Gurnah’s books ask: how do we remember a past deliberately eclipsed and erased from the colonial archive? Many postcolonial writers from diverse backgrounds have addressed this issue, from the aforementioned Rushdie to the Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, both of whom pitch personal memory and story against a collective history authored by those in power.
Gurnah’s work continues this conversation about the long shadow of colonialism and employs a diversity of textual traditions in the process of commemorating erased narratives.
Mike Ryder, Lancaster UniversityBased on the award-winning novels by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, the new Apple TV series Foundation follows a band of exiles on a mission to rebuild civilisation after the fall of a galactic empire.
Asimov, for the uninitiated, is one of the most important figures in science fiction and is often regarded as one of the “big three” authors, along with Robert A Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke. Together they helped bring about the so-called “golden age” of science fiction in the mid-20th century.
As a writer, Asimov was remarkably prolific over his 50-year career. In that time he wrote 40 novels, 383 short stories and 280 non-fiction books. Once you finish watching Foundation you might want to delve into some of these. With such a vast body of work, it’s hard to capture it all in a single short article. So instead, here are some of the most important themes in his work to look out for when Foundation has given you the itch to discover more of his stories.
Sometimes, the rules don’t work
Asimov is perhaps most famous for his book I, Robot (1950), a collection of short stories that introduce us to Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”. These are a set of rules designed to protect humans from harm and ensure peaceful coexistence between humans and machines:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Plus the zeroth law: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”
These laws have become so ubiquitous in science fiction over the years, you may have heard of them without realising where they came from.
However, as the I, Robot stories go to show us, the Three Laws of Robotics don’t actually work. This is because any rule, when applied fully and to the letter, cannot ever work as intended in all cases.
A blurring of genres
One of the things that makes science fiction so compelling for its fans is the way that it can so seamlessly shift between genres, and incorporate many different ideas in a single form. Asimov was one of the first great proponents of this blurring of genres. This can be seen in early works such as The Caves of Steel (1953), which blends science fiction with the detective story.
Many of our most loved science fiction TV series owe a great deal to Asimov and his pioneering work blending genres. It’s thanks to him that we can now enjoy such madcap concepts as wild-west-in-space (Firefly) and the isolating madness of being trapped three million years in the future with only a robot, a hologram and a creature descended from a domestic cat for company (Red Dwarf).
Science is important
It may seem a strange thing to say about a science fiction writer, but Isaac Asimov did place great weight on the importance of science in his work. When he wasn’t writing award-winning short stories and novels, he published widely in the non-fiction scene, including the likes of Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (1991).
Of course, all this work in the realm of science fed into his fiction work too. His books abound with talk of quasars and quarks, and ponderings on the nature of the strong nuclear force. You’re also likely to find thinking about how such developments might impact upon society and what effect new technologies might have on the way we live our lives.
Sustainability, the environment and other problems
Asimov is perhaps underrated for his work in this area, but his 1974 Nebula Prize-winning novel The Gods Themselves gives a fascinating insight into a world of over-consumption, where the solution to the energy “problem” is to simply pump it in from elsewhere using a device known as an Electron Pump.
Unfortunately, the “elsewhere” in this case happens to be another dimension where a race of intelligent beings starts to suffer the consequences of a cooling universe. Meanwhile, it transpires that the device used to pump in the so-called “free” energy is also altering the laws of physics in our world as well – with the inevitable consequence that it will soon cause the sun to explode – and destroy Earth with it.
This is but one example of many in Asimov’s work where he warns against the dangers of hubris, and extrapolates real-world problems – and their perceived solutions – and takes them to their absurd and often terrifying conclusion.
Where next for humanity?
Of course, no discussion of Asimov would be complete without mention of his famous Foundation series, which features some of his most ambitious and important novels.
The series follows mathematician Hari Seldon and his followers as a galaxy-spanning empire goes into decline. Seldon has developed a theory of psychohistory, a mixture of history, sociology, and mathematical statistics, which he uses to make general predictions about the fate of future populations. While the decline of civilisation is impossible to stop, Seldon devises a plan to deflect the onrushing events with incremental changes in the present which have big effects in the future, lessening the impact of the worse parts of his prediction.
What makes Foundation so compelling is just how familiar some of the themes feel even today, some 70 years after the first novel’s publication. Partly, this is due to Asimov’s deep understanding of science and the potential consequences of where certain technologies, and certain ideas, might lead. And, as you’ll discover as you delve into his vast back catalogue, in an age of climate crisis, global pandemics and sinister corporations, his warnings about the future of humanity are as pertinent as ever.