Every spring since 1992, a volume called New Writing has been published under the auspices of the British Council. This year the Arts Council has joined in the sponsorship fun, and the anthology has a new publisher, Picador. New Writing 9 came in for some friendly ribbing last March from Private Eye's 'Bookworm' because the not so new writing of a disproportionate number of the featured authors was published by Vintage, the imprint responsible for the collection. This had, according to Bookworm, shady implications. The British Council's spokesman managed to turn the insinuation deftly on its head at the launch party, announcing in his speech that when you're satirised in Private Eye you know you've really arrived. How true. I've no idea how many of the 54 writers in New Writing 10 are otherwise Picador authors, and I can't see that it matters terribly. An equally shaky criticism of the series might be directed at the number of familiar names on the contents page: Barbara Trapido, Anthony Thwaite, Anne Stevenson, Alan Brownjohn, Helen Simpson, Andrew Motion, Michael Hofmann, Alan Sillitoe, Louis de Bernières and Geoff Dyer are ten of them, and 'new' isn't the first word that springs to mind. But there are plenty of good reasons, too obvious to need repeating, for the inclusion of well-known writers, and it's not as if the book makes any bones about it - it trumpets itself as 'a brilliant collection of new writing by established and new authors'. One curious thing about the volume, though, occurs in the copyright information at the back, where Stephen Knight's contribution, 'So Early in the Year', is ©2001. This can only mean that Stephen Knight's poem 'So Early in the Year' (LRB, 1 April 1999), which bears a remarkable resemblance to its namesake in New Writing 10 - the same words appear in the same order in both poems - was some kind of April Fool.
LRB 8 March 2001 | PDF Download