Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lit Chic: Part 2 – Lit Wits

Need an inspirational theme for your next soirée? Take a page from the lit wits, who are leading the way with book-lined parties. It's the hottest thing in entertaining at the moment – or should that be the wittiest thing? If you love books and want to incorporate them into your next dinner party or 'do', begin with some of the beautiful ideas on sites such as and other bookish sources.

Here are a few of my favourite pix from the Random House Pinterest page, including this (above) - a catalogue of guest seating cards. {Detailed sources from each individual image on this site. NB If I have featured your photos and you would like to be credited here as well as on Random House's Pinterest, please do just let me know,}

The Photo For The Wedding Invitation
I think this image may have originally come from Brides magazine but it's now turning up on a lot of sites. I love this. It could also be a wedding photo.

The Photo of the Dress
Needs no introduction, really. Nor even a foreword.

 The Cake
Seems a shame to slice into it.

The Manicure
Might be going a bit far, but still cute.

And if you're a book lover AND a film lover, you may like to see a new film that's being released next month (it's just been released in the States), called The Words. It stars an impressive cast, including Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid, and is being billed as a "layered romantic drama". I suspect it's more than that. It may not be Henry James but I suspect it's a lot more than Fifty Shades of Grey.

The story follows young writer Rory Jansen (Mr Cooper, as brooding as always) who's a struggling writer with aspirations to be the next great literary voice. When he discovers a lost manuscript in a weathered attaché case that he and his wife found in a shop in Paris on their honeymoon, he realizes he possesses an extraordinary book. It's just a shame he didn't write it. After much thought (okay a fleeting moment of guilt), Rory decides to pass the work off as his own. He is soon a literary superstar. However, he soon learns that the words are only the beginning. The trailers look great - here

On another note (or page), I was saddened to read on the weekend that writer Bryce Courtenay only has a few months to live. Whatever you think of his books, he is a magnificent writer. Even his off-hand quotes are ridiculously brilliant. I’ll always remember a fantastic line he spouted when he was asked whether he ‘embellished’ the truth.

“Do I exaggerate? You bet I exaggerate! I take a fact, put a top hat on it, a silk shirt and a bow tie and striped trousers and a tail coat and a pair of tap shoes and I do a Fred Astaire with a fact. But I don't ruin the fact. I never ruin the fact. I'm just giving it life.”

Courtenay also said: "Writing a book is never easy. It takes guts, patience and a huge amount of self-discipline to succeed." Courtenay has written 22. Can you imagine how many hours it would have taken, sitting in a room alone, to produce that much work? The man needs an award just for his Hemingwayesque productivity.

Someone else who is staring at his last words is Clive James. Mr James has also announced that he is fighting the Grim Reaper, who wants to make him pay for his excessive and indulgent life of drinking, smoking and eating quality nosh – and lots of it – at top London restaurants.

I have had the extraordinary luck to have met and interviewed James on two occasions. He was the most delightful, convivial, self-deprecating, fiercely witty and fantastically humorous man I've ever met. He didn't just answer your questions with a Kingsley Amis-style sneer and then stare around the room for something better to entertain him. He truly engaged with you, person to person, with spark, warmth, interest and genuine friendliness. He didn't need – or deserve – the horrific publicity that A Current Affair gave him earlier this year.

Did you read the (more pleasing) article about him in The Weekend Australian Magazine recently? I loved the quote by Martin Amis. Amis said that Clive, when asked how he'd like his steak, always replied "Knock off its horns and wipe its arse!" Only Clive James could get away with that.

But he is more than the classic Aussie wit with a dry bite and a sense of humour from left field. He is also a great writer. One of James' critics, the Oxford academic Peter Conrad, now regrets giving him a bad review and says "As an essayist, he is up there with Hazlitt, Wilde, Chesterton and co."

According to The Weekend Australian Magazine, Clive James is fighting for his life. But he has sold his Cambridge house to move closer to his London doctors. When the Australian's journalist, Bryan Appleyard, visited him for the story, the only things left were a single Sidney Nolan painting and piles of books on the floor. "I couldn't bring myself to sell them," confessed James.

Oh Clive, how we shall miss you.

PS Apologies for my absence on this blog. I, too, am holed up in self-imposed isolation writing several books. If I haven't yet emailed you, I am so very sorry, and promise to reply soon. Please wait for me: I shall send a personal reply to each and every one who has kindly written very shortly. I also promise that the itinerary for the The Grand Botanical Tour will be up this week! Can't wait to see you all next May. It will be such a lovely trip! xx


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Such sad news about both above but I too have a very soft spot for Clive James.....what a wit and brain!

    1. I agree.
      Have loved seeing your garden in spring. All those daffs!

  3. Dear Janelle,
    Yes, very sad about Clive James. He was such a brilliant writer and as you said, very self-deprecating. His work varied between serious analytical academic pieces and books of great wit and unpretentious humour. He was also a biting literary critic. Especially loved his memoir series beginning with "Unreliable Memoirs".

    We knew him just a little many years ago since the best man at his wedding to Prue was also the best man at our wedding in Cambridge. So as our mutual friend Tony had been best man to two Australians he thought he should bring us together over dinner in the house we shared, followed later by other lunches and dinners. Clive was known then only in Cambridge as the producer of Footlights. Best man Tony was ultimately a psychology don at Oxford but was also a writer and a star of Footlights. He was goonishly funny and did wonderful stand-up, including at our wedding.

    I remember Clive telling us about his early days in London, how he'd walked the streets with a volume of TS Eliot's Collected Poems in his hands, exploring the streets and places Eliot referred to in his poems. As a great TS Eliot fan I was so impressed by his passion and thoroughness.

    Many years after returning to Australia we saw him again when he was performing a two man show including some of the songs he'd collaborated on with Pete Atkins (I think) and brought to Oz. I remember one of the songs very well from way back in the day, quite beautiful and very original it was called something like "I could have been beguiled" and sung by Julie Covington who also starred in his Cambridge Footlights productions (when she was a student at Homerton) before she went on to do the first recording of Evita. During his visit, he seemed his old irrepressible self, well before his illness of course. Very sad to think his amazing life is drawing to a close. He was a true original.
    Best wishes, Pamela

    1. loved hearing about Mr James , Pamela. He also has a lovely speaking voice.

    2. I agree with smr, you've had such an interesting life Pamela. I'm so enthralled by your adventures.

      Would love to chat to you one day about turning them into a memoir. Of course, you may not want to, but from where this ex-book editor stands, your life story is one worth telling!

      Do hope the knee is healing well. Have been thinking of you.


  4. Hi Janelle . have been reading but too tired to comment. I have been working hard for (my) money ..yay!

    Did you hear that Byron's copy of Frankenstein given to him by the author herself has been found?

    Is there a publishing date for Picnic yet? (that's film speak )

  5. Hi smr,

    Thanks for your kind comment, and please don't worry about commenting. I realise people are too busy. I know I am!

    So interesting about Byron's copy of Frankenstein. How did they know it was the original, I wonder?

    Picnic is being edited now. It's such a complex story. Sometimes I think it has more layers than a Victorian petticoat! Should be finished this week or next. Hoping to inspire a film producer to adapt the story for screen, if they think the story's interesting enough. (They may say it's awful, who knows!) There's already a New York play in the works I see. I have a friend who's a producer in LA, but would prefer an Aussie team. I think the back story to Picnic is more haunting than the original novel. I know I can't wait to escape to Harbour Island in October to wash off the ghosts...

    Don't work too hard! I'll worry about you.


    1. PS Picnic should be published in late November, in both ebook and paper format.

  6. Dear Janelle and smr
    Thank you both for the kind comments.

    Cambridge in the late 60s/early 70s was an amazing place - probably it still is - though now we only see it as visitors. But back then you'd meet and make friends and work with all kinds of people: sons of train drivers and history professors, sons of earls and granddaughters of dukes, even scions of the Rothschild family. There was even Arianna Stassinopolis (Huffington) who was President of the Cambridge Union Society for a year when my husband was his college's rep on the Committee - she was beautiful, big-haired, rather exotic, great poise, presence and confidence even though she was then only young. Had all the young male undergraduates eating out of her hand and very courtly in their dealings with her. We all know where her career led.

    Some of the others went on to become academics, some business people, some writers, actors or artists, some famous and rich, most not. But it was a magical time with very happy memories. We still have old friends who live in villages around Cambridge and enjoy catching up with them every few years or so. Best wishes, Pamela

    1. I agree with Janelle ... a book /memoir of your experiences would be wonderful

  7. Just a few more words on the Clive James topic. Looked through our collection of Clive's books and found a few with his succinct inscriptions: For my husband, he's written on one "To the fellow bridegroom" and on another to me "Memories of St George". St George was the high school I attended in Sydney for a couple of years before my family moved to Brisbane. Clive thought it was funny as he had attended (some years before me) its brother school and had then had a bit of a thing about St George girls. Best wishes, Pamela


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