A publisher by any other name


Such is the current craze for Irish writing that English publishers have been signing up almost any Irish person showing evidence of being able to put pen to paper, but now one such publisher is taking matters a significant step further - Hodder and Stoughton are to launch an Irish imprint that will be based in Ireland and that will publish Irish books for distribution here, in Britain and internationally.

Overseeing it editorially will be Hodder's publishing director Roland Phillips, with strong input from Dubliner Breda Purdue, who's currently the company's sales and marketing manager for Ireland, and from Michael McLoughlin, who handles Hodder's publicity here. In fact, it was Breda, along with fellow-Dubliner Sheila Crowley (Hodder's London-based sales and marketing director), who thought up the idea of a separate Hodder imprint for Ireland.

The imprint, which is to be launched next autumn, will initially concentrate on non-fiction, and its first title will be yet another biography of Mary Robinson - though this time a semi-official one, written by Olivia O'Leary "with" (as they say in the biography business) Helen Burke, a close friend of the ex-President, and with the full co-operation of the latter.

Meanwhile Hodder are running a competition to find a name for the imprint. Dodder, perhaps? Or Fodder? Probably not.

There's this book called Angela's Ashes and there's also this book called Ashes, and both of them are about growing up very poor in the backstreets of Limerick, but apart from these niggling little details the two books are entirely different in every conceivable way.

Angela's Ashes you may have heard of, unless you've just returned from Mars on this morning's shuttle. Ashes you may be less familiar with. Angela's Ashes, written by someone called Frank McCourt, has won things like Pulitzer prizes and has sold zillions of copies. Ashes, written by someone called Gerard Hannan, hasn't yet won any international prizes and hasn't yet sold zillions of copies.

I learn this fascinating story about the clash of the Ashes from last week's Sunday Times, which also informs me that Mr Hannan is a Limerick journalist. However, as I don't know Mr Hannan or where he works I can't ask him about this strange memoiristic coincidence, and as Mr McCourt (whom I do know) is currently on a promotional tour of Australia and New Zealand, I can't ask him, either.

The paper tells me that Mr Hannan scoffs at the notion that his book is an attempt to cash in on the success of Mr McCourt's book, that in fact he has written a different book altogether, depicting a much happier poverty-stricken Limerick childhood than Mr McCourt's self-confessed "miserable" poverty-stricken Limerick childhood. Personally, I found nothing miserable about Mr McCourt's book - indeed, found it positively bursting with vitality and humour - but that's neither here nor there.

What is here and there is that Frank McCourt is on his way back to Limerick from Down Under to receive an honorary doctorate from the city's university for his services to literature, tourism, civic pride or whatever it is that they award honorary doctorates for in Limerick, and that he's about to become writer-in-residence there as well.

There are mutterings that some people in Limerick think this a bad thing, that Frank McCourt has perpetrated an unforgiveable slur on the city of his childhood, and that vigorous protest should be registered about any embracing of him. Anyone who's read his remarkable book would hardly agree. That great Limerickman Jim Kemmy, who introduced him to me, certainly wouldn't - Jim was very proud of what Frank had set down about his childhood.

I think Sean Keating would have felt the same. Sean once said to me that he could sum up Limerick in two words: rain and confraternities. And then he added two more: poverty and child mortality. I think Sean would have recognised Frank's Limerick. I haven't yet read Gerard Hannan's book, but maybe Sean would have recognised what's in that, too.

However, neither Sean nor Jim is with us any longer. Ashes to ashes.

For a mere £195 you can go along to Trinity College's Samuel Beckett Centre on either the weekend of November 8th-9th or December 6th-7th, and for that paltry sum you will learn how to write a blockbuster novel, just like Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum or Danielle Steel, and perhaps make a vast fortune for yourself, just like Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum and Danielle Steel.

The person revealing the miraculous secrets of blockbuster success is a chap called John Sherlock who has written a string of novels that for some reason I've never heard of but that are undoubtedly blockbusters to beat the band and probably well-known to the rest of the entire universe.

His publicity also declares that he "created" the legendary Peyton Place for television, so my Guinness Television Encyclopaedia must be wrong when it lists Paul Monash as "creator" of Peyton Place (Grace Metalious wrote the original novel on which both the movie and television series were based, but, sure, that's only a book).

If you don't want to part with £195 to hear Mr Sherlock explain, in a series of "master classes", how to "create reader empathy" and "weave plot strands" and "build characters that are uniquely interesting" and "develop synopses which rivet attention," perhaps you might care to part with £195 to hear his thoughts on screen-writing and the marketplace.

Yes, Mr Sherlock is a versatile fellow, having served as "creative consultant" on such filmic and tele-visual feasts as Von Ryan's Express, Our Man Flint, Logan's Run, Dynasty, Dallas, Shogun and The Thorn Birds. Neither my Television Encyclopaedia nor my Halliwell Film Guide mentions him with regard to any of the above, but I know that creative consultants are the unsung heroes of the business, making silk purses out of the sows' ears that big-name screenwriters usually come up with.

Anyway, if you want to learn about such things as story-boarding, dramatic context, activating exposition, audience-penetration, story-pitching and the myriad of other material that goes into screen-writing, Mr Sherlock is obviously your man, and he'll be imparting his wisdom on the weekends of October 25th-26th November 22nd-23rd. Richard Seager in the Samuel Beckett Centre has all the details.

Dylan Thomas was killed by his doctor. That's what a book just published in the US says. In The Death of Dylan Thomas, neurosurgeon Dr James Nashold and biographer George Tremlett argue that Thomas's American doctor didn't know the poet was suffering from diabetes and gave him drugs that he shouldn't have had and that killed him.

However, there are those who feel that drink would have done for him anyway. Indeed, his wife Caitlin son from a later relationship, Francesco Fazio, says: "If Dylan wasn't an alcoholic I would like to know what he was." Francesco is currently writing a book about Caitlin and Dylan. He describes it as "the story of two people who had a drink problem - they always ordered doubles." That might do it, all right.

John Boland is a journalist and poet