Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writers on Obama - and Google

Right wing Obama fan?: Jeffrey Archer and wife Mary at Hatchards Authors of the Year party

To Hatchards, the 200-year-old bookshop on Piccadilly, for its annual Authors of the Year party. This is one of the UK booktrade's best-known events and is rather special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is extremely rare to have such a gathering of writers in one room and secondly, there are no publishers or agents present. This really is just for authors, plus a smattering of literary journalists.

Guests last night included Michael Holroyd and wife Margaret Drabble, AN Wilson - the three are pictured above - David Lodge, Tibor Fischer, Philip Kerr, Victoria Hislop, Lady Antonia Fraser, Robert Goddard and Man Booker-shortlisted Philip Hensher.

I couldn't resist asking the famously right wing Archer, former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, what he thought of Obama. "He's wonderful. He's had a remarkable first 100 days, and all of us want him to succeed. I can't remember a US President with so much good will behind him." But surely you're a Republican? "If I think back over the last ten Presidents or so, I could have voted Democrat five times and Republican five times. It's fifty-fifty. I could never have voted for Goldwater, but I would have voted for Kennedy. I would have voted for Reagan too - he was a wonderful Mayor of California."

Conversation veered from the trivial - Wilson and Drabble were talking about the prices at the British Musuem's restaurant - to the serious. I asked numerous writers for their views on the Google Settlement, possibly one of the hardest topics for anyone to get their minds around. Stanlingrad author Antony Beevor said: "I don't even think our agents understand it, and if they don't what hope have we got."

AN Wilson, author of The Victorians and much else, said: "I had a huge screed on it this morning from my agent Gillon Aitken but I haven't read it yet." Lodge, pictured left, whose best-known novels remain Small World and Changing Places, was a little more forthcoming. "The advice we're being given by Curtis Brown is not to opt out because then you can't control anything. If you opt out and wanted to take some sort of legal action at a later date, you'd have to make a private case against Google which would be impossible. Google is so powerful. They are in the driving seat, so you have to protect your position as best you can. I think the real issue is that we don't really know the different the Net will make on the culture of print that we have all grown up with."

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