I remember getting my first copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook back in the mid 90s. At that stage I hadn’t completed a book. I’d started several, in notebooks after notebook. Writing was something I’d always done. I was by this stage, in my own estimation, pretty damn good at beginnings and was definitely getting the hang of middles. The endings would follow when they were ready. So one day, in an optimistic frame of mind, I went into Hodges & Figgis next time I was in town and got a copy of the Yearbook.
I read it from cover to cover. All the articles, all the addresses, lapping up all the nuggets of proper professional advice that used to be harder to come by in those pre-web days. Then I put it on the shelf and got back to not finishing my book.
Since then I’ve learnt how to write endings. But I still have the Writers’ and Artists’ on the shelf. Actually the collection has grown somewhat. Over the last couple of years I’ve started to collect old copies as I’ve found them. They don’t turn up very often these volumes of obsolete information, but I’ve managed to find four.
The first one I found was an American Writers’ Market from 1969. It was sitting under a pile of books in the St Vincent de Paul charity shop in Phibsboro. On the inside of the cover, censored by one of the volunteers wielding a black marker pen, it says “To Lauren, from Uncle Charlie”. Marking a page of poetry publishers is a book mark advertising the Valley Symphony in Los Angeles, season of 1980 into ‘81. I’ve always liked to think that Lauren made it as a writer and this book ended up in a charity shop after a long and happy life, ending in a contented retirement in Ireland. Opposite the inscription, Lauren has made notes in pencil. Page references to how to lay out a manuscript, an article on book length and, on page 483 her chosen publisher The American West Publishing Company. This seems to be the only publisher she was aiming for. She’s also marked the magazines that take submissions on animals and history and those with more general subject matter. She was obviously young, her other interest is the magazine’s aimed at teens.
Or take the rather tatty copy of the W & A from 1964 I found most recently. It’s not in the photo as it didn’t come with a dust jacket and it’s certainly well thumbed. There’s no name on this one but I have a feeling it’s owner was male. He’s been through it with a biro, marking his targets with enthusiastic strokes. There is a particularly bold line, appropriately enough, by Blackfriars magazine, the publication for the English Dominican order. The listing says they pay 2 and six for articles that would fit into “a critical review, surveying the field of theology, philosophy, sociology and the arts, from a standpoint of Christian principles and their application to the problems of the modern world. Length 2000 –3000 words.” He’s also marked The Dubliner, Encounter, a London based magazine that paid £8 per 1000 words of reportage, stories or poems, and Poetry Review. Casting his net wider he’s also expressed his interest in Clubs magazine which looked at “all aspects of the work and development of youth clubs” and Service Station, the monthly trade magazine of the service station industry.
The earliest book I have is the 1953 UK edition of the Writer’s Market. It’s the blue one in the picture. A neat, blue inked signature inside the cover proclaims the book the property of M.C. Watson. Miss Watson (and I’ll explain how I know it’s Miss in a minute) was not one for drawing on her books. Even the blank pages the publishers have thoughtfully left for notes are pristine. However nestled inside the pages is a letter from Chambers’s Journal thanking Miss Watson (there you go) for her story A Power of Mushrooms. “We were glad to see this story from you, but on the whole it did not seem quite so suitable for our purpose as usual.” Actually, as rejection letters go it’s rather a sweet one but I can’t help but wonder about it’s place between the pages and the pristine state of the rest of the book. I know it’s being sentimental but it was the rejection letter that made me buy the book, thus creating a collection of two. Miss Watson’s writing was obviously rather more than aspirational. If by some fluke anyone’s reading this who knows, knew her. I’d love to find out what became of her. I know from the letter she was from Bray in County Wicklow in 1954 if that helps to job anyone’s memory.
The fourth book is the 1955 Writers’ & Artists’ sitting on the top in the picture. This is the only one that doesn’t really give a clue about it’s previous owner. There’s a tightness about the binding that suggests it’s never really been opened and the front and back of the dust jacket still have the slight nap they would have had when new, unlike the edges of the spine, which have developed a shine from being sandwiched between more popular books. There’s something rather melancholy about a book like this that appears never to have been opened. A dream that never really got off the ground. I bought it principally from the ads. Free-lance Report is inside the front cover “published entirely in the interests of free-lances” Among the glowing testimonies is one from “a vicar in the north” “I am writing in haste…but I desire to say how much I have gained from the F-L R. It has put many pounds in my pocket.” I’d love to know what he was rushing off to but the F-L R does not divulge. It’s fascinating looking at publishing in days gone by. The familiar names, the legendary ones and those lost to history like Browne & Nolan ltd, the academic publishers on Nassau Street in Dublin. There’s a whole other post in then and now but that can wait.
As with most of the things I collect (including fountain pens and housewife manuals) I’m interested most in the story behind the object. Who owned them before. What were their hopes, dreams and fears? With the writer’s manuals these dreams are laid bare and are at once unique and familiar. I’ll keep collecting as long as I keep finding them. And I’ll always wonder about how they came to be given away.