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22nd February 2022

Now the royalty statements are finished we can reveal (drum roll) the six grey bestsellers of 2021: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Priory, The Expendable Man, The Fortnight in September, Diary of a Provincial Lady, and An Interrupted Life.  Miss Pettigrew is our perennial bestseller; The Priory is a good Dorothy Whipple to start on for those new to this wonderful writer; The Expendable Man is a thriller with a very striking title and a very, very strong theme; The Fortnight in September is, well, the magic that is RC Sherriff; Diary of a Provincial Lady is one of the great books and if there is anyone reading this who has not yet read it, my goodness they have a treat; and An Interrupted Life, or Etty as we call it (she is pictured below), is an oddity since it sells mostly through our distributor, Central – probably to theology and philosophy students. And yet it is a marvellous, inspirational, overwhelming book for the 'average' reader (and there is sure to be a lively discussion about it at the 'Etty' book group on May 11th).

Here for anyone interested is an explanation about the money side of royalties: we pay seven and a half per cent royalty on the amounts we make on the books ie on £13, £11 and (what we supply them to Central for) £9. So the average made by the copyright holder is 75p per book. Ditto for e-books: Amazon pays us 70% of what they make, and we then pay the copyright holder 25% of that amount, which, again, works out at about 75p per e-book. This year the total royalty payout is about £35,000 – an amount less than it might be because of ‘refresher’ advances (to renew a copyright after a ten years ‘licence’ you pay a ‘refresher’, usually £1000, which should  ‘earn out’ ie. be used up over four or five years) but more than it might be because of the extra sales which were due to Kazuo Ishiguro’s panegyric to The Fortnight in September in the Observer, when he said: 'The Great English Seaside Holiday in its heyday, and the beautiful dignity to be found in everyday living, have rarely been captured more delicately' etc. (This upturn in sales has also been a great windfall for the Sea Scouts and Kingston Grammar School, to whom Sherriff left his copyrights.)

So with royalties out of the way, we have a short pause before we start writing the Spring/Summer Biannually in the next few days. The April books are being bound this week, although of course this is a more complicated process than it might be because they are ‘dispersion’ bound (they have a special glue and a special drying process which means that when you open one of our books you don’t have to crack the spine but the pages will lie flat of their own accord). In fact seven books are being bound because there are the two new April books but also five reprints of books that have been out of print for a while. There are always a few books waiting for their turn in the reprint queue, at the moment it's Patience, grey Miss Pettigrew (maybe the fifteenth reprint over twenty years), grey They Were Sisters and The Priory.

After finishing the royalty statements we just reread, among other things, Jeanette Winterson’s extraordinary memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Page 142 about her vile tutor and her life at Oxford is especially fascinating: ‘There appeared to be only four women novelists – the Brontes, who came as a team, George Eliot, Jane Austen – and one woman poet, Christina Rossetti. She is not a great poet, unlike Emily Dickinson, but no one was going to tell us about great women. Oxford was not a conspiracy of silence as far as women were concerned: it was a conspiracy of ignorance… But in spite of its sexism, snobbery, patriarchal attitudes and indifference to student welfare, the great thing about Oxford was its seriousness of purpose and the unquestioned belief that the life of the mind was at the heart of civilised life.’ 

This week it was announced that there is to be a set of stamps

honouring their designer David Gentleman, who designed more than a hundred stamps for Royal Mail between 1962 and 2000.

David of course painted the shop in Lamb’s Conduit Street so beautifully in 1999 (postcards of his painting are still available).

There is to be an English Heritage blue plaque honouring the 'match girls': 'a strike in 1888 by 1,400 girls and young women employed at the Bryant & May factory in Bow was prompted by the dismissal of three workers, low pay and dangerous working conditions', story here.

The most incredible programme of the week was this on Radio 4 about The Great Post Office Scandal. We sell the book by Nick Wallis in the shop but really the behaviour of the Post Office is beyond belief. And to add insult to injury, as Marina Hyde writes: ‘While postmasters have gone through the kind of wringer that makes Kafka feel like a Disney musical, extraordinary compassion has been shown to the managerial class in all this, who have been showered with honours and directorships and bonuses throughtout.’ Yuck and double yuck.

Horatio Clare wrote a superb article about Dover Beach, not the Matthew Arnold poem but the people of Dover being wonderful to the migrants who arrive there. Rory Stewart wrote an excoriating article here beginning ‘Boris Johnson is a terrible prime minister and a worse human being' but attributing his frightfulness to the political system. And Henry Mance, who is writing superbly at the moment, wrote on the same theme (also in the Financial Times here) although snorting with laughter as he did so (Rory Stewart is too angry to laugh): ‘When your most vocal loyalist is culture secretary Nadine Dorries, it’s time to go. Instead Johnson hangs around, a guest unable to realise that the dinner party ended an hour ago. We could open another bottle, or alternatively he could just bugger off?’

And finally: we publish Helen Thomas’s As It Was and World Without End (in one volume) in April. These two memoirs are of course about her relationship with the poet Edward Thomas and every year there is a walk around Steep in Hampshire commemorating Thomas, this year it is on Sunday March 6th, full details here. One day we shall have a Persephone readers walk round Steep; meanwhile we are looking forward to the spring, to April, to the new books and, we devoutly hope, to a return to normality.


 Nicola Beauman

 8 Edgar Buildings

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