Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greed and intrigue

The American edition of Setting the Desert on Fire is now finally coming together. After the publication of the Bloomsbury edition last summer I made further changes to the text to make the story tighter. My publisher WW Norton's Winter and Spring catalogue is now out. "Greed and intrigue", it says, "combine explosively in this gripping tale of how the mercurial Lawrence of Arabia changed the Middle East forever." Publication is set for February next year, and the book will include more of the photographs I took during my research, as well as photographs from the time.

Separately, and halfway round the world, Auckland City Library has nominated Setting the Desert on Fire as one of its "Good Reads" this month.


Patrick Kidd said...

Hi James,
I visited Sissinghurst Castle in Kent yesterday, the former home of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, and, on flicking through the visitors' book, was interested to see just above Virginia Woolf's name in the mid-1930s that of Ronald Storrs, who I recalled from your book played a leading role in British diplomacy during the Arab Revolt. I presume that as governor of Jerusalem in the 1920s, he will play a part in your sequel to Setting the Desert...

No surprise that Storrs should have been a guest at Sissinghurst, given that Nicolson was also a diplomat. I'm afraid I didn't note the precise date he visited but it may have been after he returned from being governor of Northern Rhodesia in 1934 and certainly before 1941 when Woolf died.

I did a bit of amateur (Google) digging into Storrs and Nicolson's relationship and came across this review of Richard Aldington's biog of Lawrence in Time magazine from 1955 (,9171,807016-1,00.html). Neither Storrs nor Nicolson, who are quoted in the review, rates Aldington's warts-and-all work. I rather liked Nicolson's comment that "It is as if someone were to describe Shakespeare's atrocious table manners at the Mermaid tavern, while omitting to mention that he also wrote plays."

The review mentions that Nicolson had his own prejudices against Lawrence, but doesn't list them. It would be interesting to know what you have uncovered on their relationship.

Also, should you be feeling flush with money, Paul Evans, a West Sussex rare books dealer, is selling a first edition of Vita's The Edwardians that is inscribed from her: "To my old friend Ronald Storrs from Victoria Sackville, 1st September 1932, for your new library". Just £450...

James Barr said...

Dear Patrick

Thanks very much for taking the time to add such an extensive and interesting comment. Storrs will undoubtedly have a walk-on role in the next book, but I'm not going to concentrate on the situation in Palestine.

Harold Nicolson first met Lawrence at the peace conference in Paris in 1919. He was working on the redrawing of borders in the Balkans at the time and so the two men did not cross professionally. Nicolson found Lawrence's tales from Arabia "vivid" and the two men went to the circus together when they found themselves at a loose end one evening, but Nicolson wrote in his diary that he could not understand Lawrence. By 1925 he wrote: "What an odd shifty charlatan that man is. A mixture of brute and schoolboy. He tells me that his book is so conceived as to mystify the bibliophiles – no two copies being quite the same." (1 July 1925)

The reason Vita Sackville West gave Storrs a copy of her book was that he had just lost his entire collection when his Residence in Cyprus was burned down during rioting late in 1931 - hence Sackville-West's comment "your new library".