A book proposal I sent to a publisher nearly a year ago, but which then dropped out of sight as the publisher (the excellent IB Tauris) was being taken over by the (equally excellent) Bloomsbury Group, has suddenly re-emerged, with Bloomsbury writing to say that they want to consider it again. It’s actually both less and more than a ‘proposal’; it’s a collection of my old articles, essays, reviews and a couple of blogs, together with some new material to bind them all roughly together, on the general topic of ‘Britain and Europe’ (going back to the Stone Age, and finishing with Brexit). It would be a companion piece to my already-published Empire Ways (IB Tauris), which is a similar collection of my old imperial history essays.
How that sold I don’t know, and haven’t bothered to find out. It’s bound to influence Bloomsbury when they consider the new proposal. Publishers are commercial enterprises, after all. But sales of my books have never concerned me much. A couple have sold well, but others have merely had modest ‘academic’ runs. One was eventually pulped. That doesn’t matter to me. I write books because I enjoy writing them, and I like to see them in print in much the same way as one thrills to hold one’s new-born baby. Being in print also gives them a kind of solidity and permanence which electronic publishing, for example, can’t. (What if there’s a sudden sunburst that wipes out all our computer files?) And it means that my ideas are on record, for as long as the world lasts. That gives me comfort, aware as I always am of the cosmic impermanence of things. Which is why I’m so anxious to have Cosmopolis (my working title) out in print. Bloomsbury may turn it down; it is, after all, a bit of a mix, albeit (I think) a novel and stimulating one. If they do I may even try to publish it privately. If anyone here has had experience of this, perhaps they’d let me know. But I’d prefer a ‘proper’ publisher, obviously.
I’ve also been approached with a couple of other book suggestions, one of them with the attractive title of Farewell to Empire, which I may consider; and my and Kajsa’s Modern History of Sweden for Anglos, which we’ve been accumulating material for. The problem with all these projects is the work that will be involved. Having just turned 78, and suffering as I do (or think I do) from ME and occasional depression, I find it difficult to sustain an interest in anything that requires that kind of effort. (I spend much of my time dozing off.) In fact I can hardly credit or understand the enormous work I put in over the past 50 years in researching the books I wrote then; just as I can’t think myself back to the time when I could – and did – do 50-mile walks and 10-mile jogs, or play squash and tennis energetically, and actually enjoyed it. That sort of physical activity is out of the question now, for bodily reasons (lots of ops); but I feel I should still try to keep my mind exercised.
Writing does that. It stimulates me creatively, so that just an idea for a piece, like this blog, once written down, will engender new ideas, and keep my mind working. It’s a kind of therapy. Not that I think that none of my ideas is worth anything objectively; but that’s not the main reason I write them down. It’s to keep me going, creatively, in ominous times, both personally (the end looming!) and politically – Trump, Brexit et al. Humans live to create. It’s what differentiates them from the other animals, and makes them akin to Gods. If they stop creating, they die.
Dear Professor Porter.
On “Humans live to create. It’s what makes them Gods. If they stop creating, they die.”. Very neatly put, and something everyone worth reading feels in their bones. The trouble is that the people in power wouldn’t even understand, let alone agree. For example, I work in a public sector office – we help to develop and improve financial systems, and it’s “creative” in its nerdish way. When we solve a particularly tough technical problem, it feels like life itself. The head of my department is all for this creativity, but she thinks of it as the first step to cutting costs and managing with fewer staff. I think you’ll find that’s the universal position among managers and politicians – mostly clever, educated, people, but lacking the spark of the numinous you refer to. The vulgarity of this demoting the great gift of imagination to a quick way to make a buck is – well, very human, in the worst possible sense.
(My own position is also, of course, contradictory).
Hope the book flies. It’ll be too late to save GB, though.
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