Friday, 15 April 2016
And So Was England Born
A couple of late doubts came to me concerning the book which I have, up until now, thought of as "England and Nowhere". That title comes from a passage in one of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, "Little Gidding". Setting aside the slight pretentiousness of this and also Eliot's slightly repellent religiose, modernist heavy breathing, the main doubt that came to me was when I remembered what happened when I approached Faber for permission to use two lines from Ted Hughes' rendering of Ovid's Metamorphoses in my book The Revenants. Faber also being Eliot's publisher, and his work not yet being in the public domain in the UK, as far as I know.
For The Revenants, I had had the neat idea of putting together in parallel various translations of the opening of the Metamorphoses – "In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora": in a modern version, "Of bodies changed to other forms I tell" – from Arthur Golding's Elizabethan translation ("Shakespeare's Ovid") onwards, in a sort of meta demonstration of the theme of the book: the reappearance and transfiguration over time of various bits and pieces found floating in an ornamental pond on the university campus. Hughes' version seemed a good modern end point.
As I intended to self-publish the book under my own imprint Shepherd's Crown* it seemed best to clear the copyright issue first. To be honest, I'd expected the reply, "Just two lines? No charge, mate! Thanks for checking though!" However Faber decided they wanted to charge me £200. Oh, really? Naturally, I chose another current version (A.D. Melville), for which Penguin, bless them, made no charge at all.
God knows what Faber would charge to quote a whole FIFTEEN line extract from Eliot, should any publisher decide to take up my book proposal. So, it seemed to me that "Puck's Song" from Kipling's Puck of Pook Hill, which I use in my introduction, was even more apposite as a quotable source. And, better still, definitely out of copyright! Though whether I'll change the book's title at all remains to be seen.
Then, as the book matured, it seemed to me to lack something. I began to wonder whether introducing a graphical element might work as a form of punctuation between the photographic elements. I'd done something similar in another previous book, Downward Skies, breaking up the sequence of photographs with circular haiku texts. When I looked at the verses of "Puck's Song", several of them seemed very appropriate to the six sections of the current book, and I began to play.
I'm pleased with the results so far. But whether they'll make it into this book, or be the seed of yet another one remains to be seen.
* Don't ask me how Terry Pratchett latched on to this obscure piece of folklore for the title of his last book. It's very odd, but I somehow doubt he'd been a follower of my work...
Incidentally, I recently found five remaining copies of the original Shepherd's Crown edition of The Revenants (an A4 paperback of 60 pages) which is a rather nice thing, and I'd be prepared to sell three of them at, say, £65 each. If you're interested, contact me by email.