Burnt Toast Editorial

Writing that smokes

Category Archive:Publishing

A bear, an alien, and two stories of migration. Our book pick for August.

The question of migration and its impact on societies is everywhere in the print and broadcast media. So too on social media. The debate rages today as much, if not more so than it did in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Only this week India and Pakistan have been marking the partition of India on 15th August 1947 when 10-12 million people were displaced from their places of birth to comply with the Radcliffe Line, the boundary drawn up by the British demarcating the two new states. The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to the present. Last year’s EU Referendum in the UK brought the subject of migration to the fore of British politics once again and was articulated further afield after the installation of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. Election races in the Netherlands and France had the same effect.

Today we are launching our Book Pick of the Month. Just to get things off to a good start we decided to subvert the one book rule and select two! Why make a rule if you can’t break it?  Our choices for the Book Pick’s first outing are How to be an Alien. A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Learners by George Mikes and Winnie Ille Pu (The Latin Edition) by A. A. Milne, translated by Alexander Lenard.

At first glance the two books may seem like odd bedfellows but on closer inspection the common factor is the shared experience of migration of the author of one and the translator of the other. ¹

George Mikes and How to be an Alien

George Mikes was born in Hungary in 1912 under the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. Whilst his father had ambitions that George would follow his profession of the law, his son’s interest lay in writing and journalism. After graduating in Budapest in 1933, George gained his first post as a journalist for the Budapest newspaper Reggel (“Morning”), shortly followed by writing a column for Színházi Élet  (“Theatre Life”).

By 1938 he was the London correspondent for Reggel and 8 Órai Ujság (“8 O’Clock Paper”), a post he held until 1940. Despatched to London to cover the Munich Crisis he was only expected to stay for a couple of weeks. In fact he stayed for the rest of his life, becoming a British citizen in 1946.

Mikes’ real talent was as a humourist. In a long career he wrote over 40 books, 35 of them humorous and many post-war British classics. He was recognised as a blender of elements of Hungarian, English and Jewish humour.

His most successful and outright best-selling title was How to be an Alien, first published in 1946, translated into 22 languages and published in 39 countries. In it he portrayed himself as a bumbling alien who describes the habits of the natives in the vast, strange but friendly “country” of London. ² How to be an Alien

Quoted examples of his gentle and wry poking of fun at the British still ring true:

“Continental people have a sex life, British people a hot water bottle”, “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms a queue of one”, “Many Continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game”, “Overstatement, too, plays a considerable part in English social life. This takes mostly the form of someone remarking: ‘I say …’ and then keeping silent for three days on end”, and a particular favourite, “Remember: If you go for a walk with a friend in England, don’t say a single word for hours; if you go for a walk with your dog, talk to it all the time.”

To accompany the witticism of Mikes’ observations the book was illustrated by Nicholas Bentley who captured the essence of the author’s comic perspective.

Alexander Lenard and Winnie Ille Pu

In the case of Alexander Lenard, born in Budapest in 1910, the unexpected success of his Latin translation of A. A. Milne’s classic and beloved story of the bear Winnie the Pooh and his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger, threw the spotlight of fame on to an otherwise almost reclusive 50 year-old Hungarian-born doctor who spoke 12 languages, who with his wife Andrietta was resettled in Brazil in 1952 by the International Refugee Organization. One of the few possessions they took with them on their odyssey to find a safe haven was an English language edition of Winnie the Pooh.

Because his Austrian medical degree was not recognised in Brazil, Lenard worked as a nurse in a lead mine, a pharmacist, and a translator at medical conferences. Eventually buying land in the sparsely populated Itajai valley in Southern Brazil the Lenards built a two-room house where he painted, wrote poetry and indulged his passion for Bach. In 1956 Lenard won the equivalent of $2,000 on the Sao Paolo Television Bach Competition. With the winnings more land was purchased and a larger house was built. Winnie Ille Pu

When teaching Latin to the daughter of a local resident who expressed a wish for something interesting to read in the language Lenard began translating Winnie the Pooh. Over a period of seven years he mined the classics for idiomatic expressions used in ancient Rome and its empire. Whereas the original was a children’s book Lenard’s “Pu” was filled with puns and alliteration from centuries of Latin literature.

Not able to find a publisher for his “Pu” Lenard paid a printer in Sao Paolo to publish a print run of 100 copies, sending review copies to foreign publishers. This led to a Swedish publisher printing 2,000 copies of an abridged version which in turn prompted Methuen, A. A. Milne’s publisher, to publish several thousand. Milne’s American publisher Dutton, published “Pu” in 1960 with the result that Lenard’s book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks – a feat unheard of for a foreign language book let alone one written entirely in Latin.

The New York Times writer, Lewis Nicholls described it as ” … the greatest book a dead language has ever known.” The Chicago Tribune exclaimed that “… it does more to attract interest in Latin than Cicero, Caesar and Virgil combined.”

The message from these two Hungarian migrants, writers both, is that we are all someone else’s foreigner. And that includes a funny little bear and an alien.

¹ Strictly speaking Lenard and his wife were refugees.

² As a matter of interest Montesquieu used this satirical literary device in his Lettres Persanes to excoriate and satirise French society especially that of the court of Louis XVI. It was first published in 1721.

Read more about George Mikes here

Read more about Alexander Lenard here

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Bonkers! The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year 2017.

It’s that completely and utterly bonkers time of the year again with the nominations for the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The Prize is the brainchild of Diagram Group founders Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson and came about as a way of avoiding boredom when they attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978. As a many-times survivor of this event myself it’s easy to understand why they resorted to this madness. The very first winner was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. The competition is managed by the Bookseller, the industry’s key magazine, trading since 1858.

Among other winners are such classics as How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992), Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996), Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002), Cooking with Poo (2012), How to Poo at Work (2014), and last year’s winner Too Naked for the Nazis.  

This year’s front runner is Nipples on my Knee co-authored by Debra and Graham Roberston, a memoir of “25 years in the sheep business” and according to Tom Tivan, the prize coordinator, “has got to be an early bookies’ favourite, as it combines both animal husbandry and Carry On-esque ribaldry”.

As usual, academic and specialist texts dominate the shortlist, which is drawn from readers’ nominations. According to the magazine’s pseudonymous diarist Horace Bent, Peter Andrews’s An Ape’s View of Evolution is:

“classic Diagram: a sober and worthy academic tome, which is unintentionally humorous”.

He added:

“It brings me back to previous winners like Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures (2000) or American Bottom Archaeology (1993).”

Also in the running are Love Your Lady Landscape by Lisa Lister, whose subtitle encourages the reader to:

“Trust your gut, care for ‘down there’ and reclaim your fierce and feminine SHE.”

Two other titles in the mix are Renniks Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors: The Premier Guide for Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors, edited by Ian McConnelly, and The Commuter Pig-Keeper by Michaela Giles. The latter according to Tivnan is reminiscent of memorable past winners such as Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2013), and The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2000).

The winner is decided by a public vote. If you would like to view all five nominees and cast your vote click here. Voting closes on 21st July. So get cracking!

The successful author and publisher win nothing (save the adulation of millions), but the nominator will be sent a passable bottle of claret.

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What do olives and Charles Dickens have in common? The #wonkyword oleaginous.

Here’s another glorious #wonkyword – oleaginous. As you pronounce (olee-a-gee-nus) it’s hard to resist elongating and savouring the sound of this elastic adjectival word.

Its etymological origin is Middle English from the French oléagineux and the Latin oleaginous (“of the olive tree”) and its meaning is two-fold:

1) rich in, covered with, or producing oil;

2) unctuous, exaggeratedly complimentary, fawning, smarmy.

Thus, oleaginous is a perfect combination of meaning and descriptive representation.

Charles Dickens’ character Uriah Heep in David Copperfield is arguably the most powerful depiction of someone who’s oleaginous. When Dickens’ eponymous hero first encounters Heep, Dickens holds nothing back in his descriptive powers:

“Heep’s face was quite as cadaverous as it had looked in the window, though in the grain of it there was that tinge of red which is sometimes to be observed in the skins of red-haired people. It belonged to a red-haired person – a youth of fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older – whose hair was cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep.”

“He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony’s head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise.”

Like many of Dickens’ villains, Heep is motivated mainly by greed; yet embodied in his character there’s a commentary on the English class system. As the plot of David Copperfield unfolds Heep eventually reveals his lifelong resentment at being the object of charity and low expectations. His thwarted ambition is the driving force behind his cunning and villainy.

Much of Dickens’ fiction was inspired by personal experience and scholars have attributed the inspiration for Uriah Heep as either Hans Christian Andersen, ¹ whom the author met in 1847 shortly before writing David Copperfield or more likely Thomas Powell, a friend of Dickens’ ne’er do well brother Augustus and an employee of Thomas Chapman, a friend of the author. Powell apparently ” … ingratiated himself into the Dickens household” and was duly discovered to be a forger and a thief, having embezzled £10,000 from his employer. He later attacked Dickens in a number of pamphlets, calling particular attention to Dickens’ social class and background. ²  So quite a step from olives to embezzlement!

¹ Hawes, Dennis, Who’s Who in Dickens, (Routledge), 1998, p. 109.

² “The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens” see http://www.charlesdickensonline.com/Gallery/g322.htm

Click here for a biography of Charles Dickens at the BBC website.

Click here for information about the actor Bransby Williams.

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News from the print room. Our print partner wins big in Cape Town.

We have used Southampton-based printers Hobbs since 2008 for all our book projects and other print requirements.

It’s always a good feeling to know that people you like and admire are making their mark so we’re jolly happy to announce that our print partner was recognised with two Awards at the International Print Network’s Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.

The first Award of the two was given for Hobbs’ development of a fully automated Article Reprint solution built for the Institute of Physics Publishing in Bristol. The Award recognised the complexity and intelligence of the solution that allows an academic audience access to over 600,000 articles and the ability to purchase multiple copies of those of interest.

The Institute of Physics Publishing’s Head of Production, Liz Martin, says of Hobbs’ accolade:

“The Hobbs team took a very pragmatic and practical approach to dealing with this complexity and were always proactive in their communication. They were a pleasure to deal with throughout … they were dedicated, solution focused and detail orientated; highlighting many aspects of the project that we had not previously considered.”

“Hobbs successfully delivered on a tight timescale and I am looking forward to working with them on the future development of this system.”

The second was the Outstanding Recognition Award presented to Graham Bromley, Hobbs’ Deputy Managing Operations Director, saluting his contribution to the IPN through management of the IPN Technical conferences and work of the IPN Board. Graham is one of 13 people who make up the Board of the IPN. Members are drawn from partners in the UK, Netherlands, USA, France, Canada and Singapore – a truly international group.

Want to know more about the high calibre work of Hobbs the Printers Ltd? Click here.

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David Ogilvy’s 10 hints on how to write for clarity and precision.

David Ogilvy CBE (1911-1999) was the doyen of advertising in America in the 1950s and 60s. Whilst his mother was Anglo-Irish, his father was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander. During the Second World War David Ogilvy worked for the British Intelligence Service at the British Embassy in Washington where he analysed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.

It was his reputation as a superb wordsmith and communicator on Madison Avenue that established him amongst his peers as the pre-eminent ad-man in America, and his ideas on effective writing and branding are still highly influential. The character of Don Draper in “Mad Men is loosely based on Ogilvy and another famous ad-man of the 1960s, Leo Burnett.

On one occasion Ogilvy crafted a memo for his employees at Ogilvy and Mather, identifying 10 “hints” on how to write for maximum clarity and precision:

“The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson ¹ book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”

¹ How to Communicate Effectively in Business, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. See: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-That-Works-Communicate-Effectively/dp/0060956437/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332602643&sr=1-1

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ogilvy 

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