Monthly Archives: May 2015

Trollope at the Alliance of Literary Societies

This weekend the Trollope Society is hosting the Annual General Meeting Weekend of the Alliance of Literary Societies. The event this year is taking place at the Kings Manor in York.

Representatives from societies as diverse as The Jane Austen Society, The Betjeman Society, The Bronte Society, The Joseph Conrad Society, The Wilkie Collins Society, The Dickens Fellowship, The George Eliot Fellowship, The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, The Jerome K Jerome Society, The Kipling Society, The Philip Larkin Society, The D H Lawrence Society, The Orwell Society, The Beatrix Potter Society, The Arthur Ransome Society, The Shaw Society, The Dylan Thomas Society, The Tolkien Society, The Oscar Wilde Society and the P G Wodehouse Society are expected to attend.

Given the Trollope Bicentenary, formal events of the weekend will have a natural bias towards the host society’s author, but there promises to be a rare opportunity to bring together anyone with an interest in good writing whether it be poetry or prose, adult or children’s fiction, genres including crime and fantasy, earnest (sorry Oscar!) or humourous.

For more information about the Alliance and its affiliate societies go to:


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Surprises in the Post

is there anything that quite matches the delightful surprise of an unexpected parcel received through the post?

I received two such parcels on successive days this week: both from friends in Australia. 

My first thought on receiving the earlier of the two was how pleased Trollope would have been that the international postal service he helped to establish was still functioning today. Indeed, over this distance it is hugely quicker than in his time. He travelled out with the mail to Australia on the SS Great Britain; a voyage lasting more than 50 days. This parcel, I saw from the postmark, had made the reverse journey from Queensland in a bare week. 

Sadly, somewhere en route around the globe, somebody had made a careful incision in the edge of the small package and extracted the memory stick my friend had so thoughtfully posted to me, thereby depriving me of the hundreds of articles and items relating to Trollope that my friend had collected and wished to share. 

I cannot begin to express my disappointment at this let down. 

I also cannot help but imagine the wrath that Mr Trollope would have felt that some person in the chain to whom the parcel had been entrusted for conveyance around the world had abused that trust in such a way. 

It was therefore with delight that I received a second parcel from another Australian friend the following day. Intact this time. 

In it was a small personal gift which touched me greatly. It was a book from her father’s collection, clearly kept and treasured for many years. 

The book was about Simpson and his donkeys, recounting the story of the medic at the ANZAC battle for Gallipoli in the first world war, who saved so many of his fellow countrymen who had been wounded using a donkey to carry them to safety. 

Sadly Simpson was himself killed but the story of his courage and the stoicism of the donkeys under fire has been inspirational to generations of children of those ANZACs ever since. 

The choice of book was doubly appropriate because I look after four donkeys which were rescued from conditions of over-crowding and what can best be described as benign neglect on a Welsh farm where the owner was clearly overwhelmed by the needs of more donkeys than she could cope with. 

So I want to record my thanks to both my friends for their kindness in sending me these surprise gifts. I look forward to reading the book and hope that an alternative means may be found for me to get to read the articles filched en route. 

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Prequels, Sequels and Mash-ups

I am about to embark on reading the Barchester Murders by G M Best which is following hot on the heels of having just read The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah. 

Each book takes characters from an existing series of another author (and in Best’s case their author as well) and uses them in a new book. 
This kind of thing has gone on no doubt since almost the first novel’s publication but seems to be becoming more prevalent now. People like reading about favourite characters and when they have read everything by a particular author, they cast about for more to feed their craving. Such books cater to this market. 

My first concern is whether these new works are respectful to their sources. 

There is no doubt, listening to Sophie Hannah, that she has been a fan of Agatha Christie from childhood. Thus she approaches writing a new novel featuring Poirot with a fan’s perspective. 

The fact that Agatha Christie expressly stated she did not want others to continue her detective series after her death is an important argument against the writing of a new Poirot story. Should that be the only voice in the debate though? Can fans’ desires for more justify overriding the original author’s wishes?

I have strong reservations about the practice. In particular I am concerned about how such a book is marketed. In the case of The Monogram Murders the prominent use of Agatha Christie’s name on the cover and a strap-line “the brand new Hercule Poirot mystery” stretches the limits of what I feel confortable with. 

Sophie Hannah is a very successful author on her own right and so can deflect arguments that she is riding on the coat-tails of her illuatrious predecessor. Indeed, she can point to increased sales of Agatha Christie novels in the months following the massive publicity and marketing exercise that accompanied the launch of her book. 

I find this argument persuasive. If a new book stimulates people to go back to the originals then that cannot be a bad thing. 

Which brings me to The Barchester Murders.  It cannot be said that Best has the same scale of success or number of followers as Sophie Hannah. This leaves the accusation of riding on coat-tails more difficult to deny. 

Will The Barchester Murders bring new readers to Trollope? In all honesty, I doubt Best can hope to do this. 

It may however be a respectful supplement to Trollope’s Barchester chronicles. I would certainly argue that could be said of John Wirenius’s sequel to the Palliser series Phineas at Bay

There is also a question in my mind about Best’s decision to cross genres and write a murder mystery novel with Trollope as a detective. Having an author as detective is not new. Nicola Upson has author Josephine Tey as her detective. But Tey was a crime writer and so there is not the risk of shoehorning a person into an unfamiliar genre as we face with Trollope in The Barchester Murders

Having said that, a mash-up of genres can produce something new and exciting. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies credited to Jane Austen and modern writer Seth Grahame-Smith was for me a successful and playfully irreverant adaptation of a classic novel. 

So it isn’t always essential to be respectful if that means to set the original in aspic. 

So what it boils down to in the end is: does the new book stand on its own merits. 

I will let you have my views when I have finished it. 

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Trollope Urban Myth

We have all heard the urban myth of the man who died at his desk in the office and nobody noticed for five days. 

In the article attached below, this story and its ramifications are explored a little more deeply. Before reading it, you may want to remind yourself of Trollope’s notorious work ethic. 

He paid one of his servants extra to get him up early every morning so he had a couple of hours time to write before he got on with his day job at the Post Office. In that time he set himself the task of writing approximately 1,000 words per hour. 

So in those apocryphal five days, that’s 120 hours, Trollope would have written 120,000 words. Put another way, that’s a 400 page novel. 

Makes you think how much time we waste nowadays.

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The Way We Believe Now

An intriguing report reveals changing patterns in religious belief around the world. 

The UK is seeing a drop in religious belief and rising secularism. However, this is not unique to the Anglican Church – which might come as a relief to Trollope. The trend is Europe-wide. 

That said, Trollope’s Barsetshire series focussed on the clergy at a time a significant change within the Church of England when such changes were important to the majority of his readers. The high church v low church debate we see in Barchester Towers is important and relevant to the everyday lives of his readership. How they publicly expressed their (largely) unquestioned belief was a major issue. 

This report suggests that for the majority in the UK this would no longer be the case. 

Where might Trollope look, if he were writing now, to capture the zeitgeist? what profession might he focus upon?

In the USA, John Grisham has made a career out of novels about lawyers – arguably reflecting the pre-occupation of the world’s most litigious society. 

A possibility for a modern day Trollope in the UK might be the media industry. There would then surely be a place for Tom Towers and Quintus Slide – with a plot revolving around phone-hacking. 

To read more about the report go to:

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Young Trollopians

I was very pleased to see that a recent survey of schoolchildren revealed that they thought reading was “cool”. 

The survey found that more school age children were reading now than in previous surveys in spite of competing demands of television and video games. 

Unsurprisingly, more girls than boys said that they liked reading. 

Favourite books included the usual suspects such as Harry Potter. No Trollope featured, of course, but it seems there is a healthy base of enthusiastic young readers who may grow into Trollope as they mature.

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Trollope At the British Library Podcast

For those who were unable to get to the British Library on 23 April for the Celebration of Anthony Trollope event – a panel discussion with Victoria Glendinning, Joanna Trollope and Edward Fox, chaired by Geordie Greig – or, indeed, for those who did attend and wish to re-live the experience, the British Library has made available a podcast which provides an audio recording of the event.

To listen, click on the attached link:

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