It's the time of year when John Julius Norwich sends out his 'Christmas Cracker' selection of commonplace-book extracts, and once again I regret not keeping such a record, as Jilly does.... (The fabled Thog's Masterclass file is a kind of anti-commonplace book, all on one note and not in the same class.) Had I kept a book going through 1995, what might be in it besides the Jack Vance gem in my previous issue? Let's think what I've encountered in recent months:
Couplet wisely omitted from published version of Tennyson's Happy: 'I never glanced at her full bust but wished myself the snake / That bit the harlot bosom of that heathen by the Nile.' Kingsley Amis on fine writing: 'Style, a personal style, a distinguished style, usually turns out in practice to mean a high idiosyncratic noise level, with plenty of rumble and wow from imagery, syntax and diction....' Double-bill of shame ... Harry Harrison announcing John Brunner's death at Intersection: 'Just think – the first funeral that no one will go to!' .. and Brian Aldiss's reprise at Novacon: 'You mean people actually went to Brunner's funeral?' From the public-counter guidelines at Hazel's office: 'Recognize that some members of the public are mad which may influence their behaviour.' Thomas Carlyle contemplating the possibility of millions of planets in the Universe: 'A sad spectacle! If they be inhabited, what a scope for pain and folly; and if they be not inhabited, what a waste of space!' Henry Kuttner's opening and closing line in The Fairy Chessmen (1951): 'The doorknob opened a blue eye and looked at him.' Robert W.Chambers on how many writers feel after completing a laborious first draft: 'I believe the author shot himself after bringing forth this monstrosity, didn't he?' (The King in Yellow, 1895)
Insanity continues. I did in fact finish the Terry Pratchett Discworld quizbook, bunged it in to Gollancz, and received a response of Modified Rapture from their Faith Brooker (who is the unnamed editor quoted under 'Publishers and Sinners' in Ansible 101). After enthusiastically approving initial sample material in which tricky and challenging questions predominated, and raving about the wonderfulness of a mass of Work in Progress shown to her in November and likewise full of deviously complex questions, good old Faith has now done an about-turn and decided the book should be 'dumbed down' because people won't want quizzes that pose any sort of actual challenge.... Happily, Terry Pratchett himself is on my side in this dispute. We shall see. Meanwhile I moodily began to compose some questions more in keeping with Faith's apparent desires:
Fill in the missing word: The Colour __ Magic. (Two letters.) WHICH CHARACTER SPEAKS LIKE THIS? (Begins with D.) Can you find the name of a three-letter animal in the surname 'Pratchett'? (Clue: it has a vowel in the middle.) What is flat and stands on the backs of four elephants which are themselves supported by a gigantic space turtle? (Anagram of WILD SCROD.) What is the subtle literary allusion buried in Terry Pratchett's hilarious coined name 'Cohen the Barbarian'? (Hint: the reference is to the heroic fantasy yarns of Robert E.Howard.) Rearrange the following words into a well-known phrase or saying: off, fuck.
Recent Reading therefore inevitably consisted of all 18 Discworld books, plus The Discworld Companion, the three graphic novel adaptations (Graham Higgins's Mort is the good one), two maps, a couple of Discworld short stories, the earlier Pratchett sf novels Strata and The Dark Side of the Sun, a 450k 'Annotated Pratchett File' put together by Usenet fanatics ... and Words in the Head alias Feet of Clay, Terry's forthcoming novel (Ankh-Morpork City Watch vs The Golem), which I edited for Gollancz in between devising quiz questions. Excuse me while I make insane gibbering noises.
#35 Paul ... I think I've failed to say that I was rather impressed by the final version of A Very British Genre. Well done! Steve, Yvonne ... it's just as well that, while also meaning to quote Eliot's 'Who is the third who walks always beside you?' etc, I forgot. Three times in one mailing might have been too much.... Jane ... I'm not surprised that The Saint and the Templar Treasure struck you as 'too routine'. As far as I can make out, all the new Saint stories after the 1963 collection The Saint in the Sun were ghosted and, though allegedly titivated by Charteris, lack the old charm. Vendetta for the Saint (1964) was actually written by Harry Harrison; The Saint in Pursuit (1971) is a novelization fudged up from an old Saint comic-strip plot, possibly by LC; the rest (The Saint on TV , The Saint Returns , The Saint and the Fiction Makers , The Saint and the People Importers , Send for the Saint , The Saint and the Templar Treasure  and Count on the Saint ) were adapted from TV scripts, by the scriptwriter Fleming Lee and various others. It's a mild jolt to remember that the Saint sequence began as long ago as 1928, and that references to G.K.Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were nods to contemporary authors: the earlier Saint is wont to compose satirical verses in Belloc's Cautionary Tales mode, and one of the novelettes in The Saint in London alias The Misfortunes of Mr Teal (1934) opens with a parody of Belloc's rumbustious essay style which also, I think, intentionally echoes Max Beerbohm's Belloc parody in A Christmas Garland (1912). You (Jane) wonder what happened to Chief Inspector Teal: the story 'The Talented Husband' in The Saint Around the World (1957) features his retirement.... Meanwhile, hello, fellow M.F.K.Fisher fan! (Yvonne too.)
#36 Bruce ... usual stunned awe at your ability to list, list, voluminously list. (Me, I just list to starboard.) Jilly ... the Lady Bessborough journal extract reminded me powerfully of that Ever So Moral novel series The Fairchild Family by Mary Martha Sherwood (1775-1851), whose Calvinist purpose is 'to show the importance and effects of a religious education'. To this end, when the Fairchild kids quarrel, Paterfamilias first whips them on the hands with a rod, then makes them stand in a corner and forego breakfast, and that evening takes them on a jolly outing to a gibbet where a man who killed his brother in a quarrel is still hanging: 'the body had not yet fallen to pieces, although it had hung there some years ... the face of the corpse was so shocking that the children could not look upon it.' (Later abridgements dropped the gibbet scene.) Clearly Terry Pratchett has encountered this one too, since the upcoming novel contains (sshh! not a word!) the following: 'Parties of children were brought there by their parents to learn by dreadful example of the snares and perils that await the criminal, the outlaw and those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they would see the terrible wreckage creaking on its chain and listen to the stern imprecations and then, usually, this being Ankh-Morpork, would say "Wow! Brilliant!" and use it as a swing.' Yvonne ... I became used to the idea that jam once came in tins when reading (long, long ago) the collected First World War stories of 'Sapper', mostly written in determined imitation of Kipling (and not good, though distinctly better stuff than the author's thuggish Bulldog Drummond sequence). Anyway, in the trenches, jam came in tins, and when you had finished the jam the accepted method of disposal was to fill the tin with guncotton, nails and odd shrapnel fragments, attach a one-inch length of fuse, light, and chuck the thing into the opposing trenches. From this I got the impression that English jam-tins of the period, rather than being irrevocably broached with a tin-opener, had replaceable lids like the treacle tins you mention.... 'Sapper' went on to explain, plausibly, that the fuses of these improvised grenades would often fail to catch light, or go out, leading to merriment in the German lines as they lit the thing and tossed it right back – leading in turn to the deceitful device of throwing jam-tin bombs whose inch of 'accidentally' unlit fuse was not the usual slow fuse but a variety that burned at several hundred feet per second. This and other described booby-traps had a grisly memorability. [...] Jenny ... I agree about The Star Beast's quality, but am not sure that it is 'often underestimated as a juvenile Heinlein': just about every Heinlein critic I can think of has expressed enthusiasm for the best of the 'juveniles', being The Star Beast, Time for the Stars, Starman Jones and Citizen of the Galaxy. Tanya ... I'd start going on about mathematics, but am feeling too ill today! (It's 'only' a cold, i.e. general sensation of doom and premature burial.) Ian ... an aside prompted by your GITEX exhibition: we are working through a huge packet of poppadoms whose makers, despite competitive pricing, may be failing through lack of UK market research. Their brand name is: 'Gits'. And whenever I say 'Let's have some Gits with our curry!' Hazel looks at me rather oddly. Everyone else ... thanks as always, in between violent sneezes.