Wednesday, 30 October 2013

How stories grow

I'm always interested in the question of when and why a "literary" story makes it off the review pages, or indeed out of the academic world, into the "news" sphere. The "new scene by Shakespeare" versus "possible new attribution to Fletcher" scenario ... An under-estimated aspect is the desire of an individual, either regional or freelance, journalist to place a story nationally. It was thanks to Dalya Alberge's interest and tenacity that Collaborative Plays by Shakespeare and Others briefly became a news story. By the same account, my other half, Paula Byrne, had an interesting experience this week: answered a question about the Jane Austen banknote at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival (not exactly the buzzing heart of breaking news), pointing out that it is the "airbrushed" Victorian engraving, not the original portrait (or caricature?) by her sister. An enterprising local journo from Radio Solent is there. She does an interview with Paula for her local station, but then, presumably in order to give good profile to Solent within the fragile ecology of local radio, suggests to Radio Five Live that this could also be worth an interview. Next thing, it is the Today programme, stories in almost every national newspaper and a global twitterstorm. The mediation of author pictures (cf. Chandos versus Droeshout, whether Cobb Portrait really is Sir Thomas Overbury etc. etc.) is a fascinating subject, but of course the "mainstream media" is only interested if (a) there is a controversy, and (b) it's about a big name - Austen or Shakespeare (as opposed to, say, Burney or Fletcher - my candidate for the sitter in the "Sanders Portrait").

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