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.

4 comments:

Thomas Rink said...

Umm, now I'm a bit surprised: If you cite those two lines and mark them as a quotation with credit to the original author - is this already a copyright infringement? I mean, if you write a scientific thesis, you do this all the time. Or is there a special legal treatment for scientific work?

I had a copyright problem with my "Subsidence" project: I thought it would be nice to have one or two reproductions of historic photographs which showed the (long ago demolished) coal mine together with my pictures. After some research I was finally able to buy a monograph (published in 1913) which contained suitable photographs. Then the problem arose: Is there still a copyright on the pictures, and if so, who owns it? An author was not given (since it was a monograph). I tried to contact the original publishing company, only to find out that it was long out of business; their successors didn't know about the book. By German copyright law, the pictures would be free 70 years after the death of the copyright holder; if none was known, it would be 70 years after the last edition had been published. I eventually gave up, the risk of becoming bogged in a legal quagmire seemed too big.

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

Copyright law is very confusing, and varies from country to country. A lot depends on who owns the copyright, and how aggressive they are about enforcing it. A thesis doesn't count as a "published work", strictly speaking, but you can run into problems if you try to publish your thesis, or even if your university makes it available electronically, which amounts to publication. All those "acknowledgements" in the preface of a book naming publishers, owners of literary estates, etc., etc., represent hours of work by some poor devil clearing copyrights!

Mike

Thomas Rink said...

Mike, I just discussed it with my wife (she's a scientist) - here's what she told me: At least here, theses count as published scientific works. If you publish yours using a publisher, you will get an ISBN for it. But, quotations in publications related to science and education are exempt from copyright legislation. However, this does NOT apply to quotations in publications outside of this context.

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

As I say, it's complicated... There's a general exemption (in principle) for scholarly quotation, but there are also notorious cases where, for example, a biographer has been refused permission to quote from any of the subject's works or letters (the recent biography of Ted Hughes by Jonathan Bate is a classic example).

Mike