Hercule Poirot rides again…with Jeeves and Wooster

HPI read today on the BBC website that Sophie Hannah (poet and author of the Zailer and Waterhouse mystery series) has been commissioned by the author’s grandson to write a new crime novel based on Agatha Christie’s immortal (it seems) sleuth Hercule Poirot, probably best known from the television series starring David Suchet. From the comments I’ve read on the BBC’s website, reactions are mixed, and I suppose mine are too. On the one hand, it seems a shame to let the character disappear, but if the new novel doesn’t read like Agatha Christie, will it be as good? Conversely, would it be better not to attempt Christie’s style but simply use her character? Clearly the plot will have to be set in the past – there’s no way Poirot could be expected to grapple with the modern world.

A few months ago, Sebastian Faulks, (author of Birdsong, Charlotte Gray and Jeevesmany other literary novels) was commissioned by the Wodehouse estate to write a new Jeeves and Wooster novel in the style of their original author P.G. Wodehouse. Faulks has already written a hugely successful James Bond novel, Devil May Care, so this isn’t his first attempt at writing in a style other than his own. Wodehouse seems easy to copy, but in fact, his erudition and incredible knowledge of poetry, the classics and the Bible, which he uses in many a throwaway line, will no doubt render the job difficult. But I think I will give the new book, due in November, a try because I adore Wodehouse so much that any new offering is welcome. But if it doesn’t satisfy within the first chapter, I will have to abandon it. Here’s what Evelyn Waugh had to say about PGW: “Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.” Exactly. So I can’t have my memories of Wodehouse’s world sullied by an inferior copy.

Summer in literature

I’m indebted to the BBC’s Books and Author’s podcasts, for giving me the idea for this blog. They recently ran a feature on summer, and its depictions in literature. It struck me just how different the summers in these various locales must be, since the descriptions vary so much, yet are all very evocative. It also occurs to me that the authors of the past took their time in describing long summer days. The more recent writers have to try and condense it for us – maybe our attention span has gone. Here are some of the authors they mentioned- which summer appeals to you most? By the way, if you have any favorite excerpts, let me know and I’ll add them.

 Summer – Edith Wharton

It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the pastures and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind moved among the round white clouds on the shoulders of the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and down the grassy road that takes the name of street when it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more protected New England villages. The clump of weeping- willows about the duck pond, and the Norway spruces in front of the Hatchard gate, cast almost the only roadside shadow between lawyer Royall’s house and the point where, at the other end of the village, the road rises above the church and skirts the black hemlock wall enclosing the cemetery.

The little June wind, frisking down the street, shook the doleful fringes of the Hatchard spruces, caught the straw hat of a young man just passing under them, and spun it clean across the road into the duck-pond.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Maycomb was an old town but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop, grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o”clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to but it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

Summer Lightning – PG Wodehouse.

Blandings Castle slept in the sunshine. Dancing little ripples of heat-mist played across its smooth lawns and stone-flagged terraces. The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.

In the shade of a laurel bush outside the back premises of this stately home of England, Beach, butler to Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, its proprietor, sat sipping the contents of a long glass and reading a weekly paper devoted to the doings of Society and Stage…At this moment, the laurel bush, which had hitherto not spoken, said “Psst!”

Fin & Lady – Cathleen Schine

Even as an adult, Fin would remember that moment, the harsh sunlight, the circle of crumbly buildings, the cry of the gulls overhead, the smell of coffee, the scent of perfume, and the eyes of his new sister, a young woman in a white dress, those dark eyes. He turned his own eyes away, conscious suddenly of a feeling so overwhelming it made him shy….Three strange, wonderful days for Fin. The town was full of steps and alleys. Enormous lemons hung on vines. The beach was tiny, the harbor full of brightly painted boats. There were dolphins one day. The sun was high and hot. Children kicked a ball in the piazzetta. A bell rang. And he was with Lady.

Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell

The heat, the heat. It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from the bed and down the stairs. It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome; it lies along corridors, it circles around curtains, it lolls heavily on sofas and chairs. The air is like a solid entity filling the space, pushing Gretta down into the floor, against the side of the table.

Only she would choose to bake bread in this weather.

Stay cool!

The Authors’ Cricket Club – you can’t make this stuff up

I like to think we writers are generous people. As you know, the proceeds from sales of Tangerine Tango, the cute book with contributions from yours truly, are going to support research into Huntington’s Disease.  And I’ve known for a while that there’s a rock group composed of American writers that raises money ($2 million) for the American Library Association Scholarship program and other charities. Although the group disbanded recently, due to the death of their founder, the Rock Bottom Remainders included such writing luminaries as Dave Barry, Stephen King, Amy Tan and Scott Turow.

In England, on the other hand, fund-raising by authors is more sedate. Much more sedate.

About a hundred years ago,(stay with me here) there was an English cricket team composed of people you may even have heard of, like Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), P.G. Wodehouse (Right Ho, Jeeves) and J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan). Earlier this year Leicester author Nicholas Hogg (The Hummingbird and the Bear) teamed up with writer and literary agent, Charlie Campbell (Scapegoat), to resurrect The Authors Cricket Club. Among the writers they recruited were Alex Preston, author of This Bleeding City and The RevelationsTom Holland, author of Rubicon and Persian Fire, The Battle of Britain-author James Holland, and Matthew Parker, who wrote The Sugar Barons. Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong), and First Story founder William Fiennes (The Snow Geese) also play for the team.

Dan Stevens

And to make the whole thing more photogenic, they’ve also recruited Dan Stevens, star of Downton Abbey, who is also one of the judges of the Man Booker prize this year. (He has a degree in English Literature from Cambridge, so he’s not just a pretty face. Although he is a pretty face.)

They’re helping to fund First Story, which supports and inspires creativity, literacy and talent in UK schools, and Chance to Shine, the campaign that sets out to bring competitive cricket – and its educational benefits – back to at least a third of the country’s state schools initially over a 10 year period.

So far they’ve played the Actors’ cricket team, the House of Lords and House of Commons Cricket team, and the Publishers’ cricket team.

And now they’re writing a book about it. Each team member will contribute a chapter about a particular fixture, with author Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows) set to write about the team’s game against Shepperton Ladies and William Fiennes to write about the match at the picturesque Valley of the Rocks pitch in Devon. Hogg will write about the club where he grew up playing, with the season building to the fixture against the Actors team at Lord’s, 100 years since the Authors last played.

It’s almost enough to keep you awake during a cricket game. Almost.