Courts to be proud of
Sir: Nick Cohen’s article (‘Export-only justice’, 8 December) might leave the reader with the impression that the use of the High Court in London by overseas litigants is a) novel and b) detrimental to the taxpayer. I do not believe either to be the case. Law students have long had drummed into them the fact that in a large number of cases (commercial court cases in particular), it is the norm for neither party to be domiciled in the UK, and I have yet to be informed — when raising inquiry of the listing office — that litigation timescales are lengthening by dint of an influx of foreign litigants. Indeed, my sense is quite the opposite: timescales are shortening as the system becomes more efficient. Surely the fact that the commercial world chooses English law to govern its contracts, and English courts to resolve its disputes is something to be proud of, rather than annoyed about.
Ian Lupson (solicitor)
Muted in Moscow
Sir: Christopher Andrew in his article ‘The edge of destruction’ (1 December) writes about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how ordinary Americans and Britons braced themselves for the possibility of a thermonuclear war. Not so in Moscow. I was there as a Reuters correspondent and I can assure him that ordinary Russians had no idea of what was happening. Soviet newspapers, television and radio, which were controlled by censorship, totally ignored the crisis until the very end when Moscow radio published Khrushchev’s letters to Kennedy. Only then may Russians have guessed that there was a crisis.
Christopher Andrew also writes about Oleg Penkovsky, whom I met at a party for western businessmen in the National Hotel, and how he passed on nuclear intelligence to the CIA at the American embassy. Whenever Penkovsky attended a British embassy reception he went to the toilet. There he swapped one tin of Harpic lavatory cleaner, specially adapted to store rolls of exposed Minox microfilms, for another placed there earlier by Ruari Chisholm, the MI6 man who posed as the British embassy’s visa clerk.
Sir: As a current judge for the Costa Novel and Costa Book of the Year awards I was gratified at being referred to by Giles Coren (‘Not graphic and not novel’, 1 December) as part of ‘the British literary establishment’. I recognise myself rather less in his description of book judges as ‘miserable, slavish, pompous old greyhairs… pretending to be hip’, and can certainly rebut the final accusation. Where I live, in Matlock, Derbyshire, pompous old people pretending to be hip are treated with the derision they deserve. To pluck an example entirely at random, fortysomething north London male lifestyle journalists with funky bed hair would come to no good outside the Railway Inn at closing time. I would also like to state that I am a natural blonde.
Sir: Giles Coren is ‘tickled to death’ to see two graphic books on the Costa shortlists, and mocks the judges. Give the boy a biffing, for inaccuracy and for lazy pontificating. Coren père would at least have read the books first. And whence came such muddled logic? He dismisses ‘karmicbwurks’ as childish things, now put away; but also reveres Art Spiegelman’s Maus as ‘the greatest work of art by any human hand’. ‘Graphic’ has nothing to do with it, he adds. Eh? Sorry kiddo, but graphic’s the trade term for otherwise unclassifiable books, in which an artist skilled in figurative drawing illuminates a perceptive, often piercingly moving story.
Graphic books are not ‘comics’. I grew up, a cartoonist’s daughter, on comic strips whose narratives were comparable to great fiction, and witty too. (Walt Kelly’s Pogo was a political education. Simple J. Malarkey = Senator Joe McCarthy.)
I am glad to celebrate the graphic works of Posy Simmonds, Raymond Briggs, Chris Ware, Will Eisner — and now Joff Winterhart, and Mary and Bryan Talbot, vying for the main Costa prizes in January. On this point Coren may be right: they do deserve a category of their own.
Valerie Grove (Costa Book Award judge)
On Hobbits and hankies
Sir: Melanie McDonagh’s excellent piece ‘Don’t watch The Hobbit’ (8 December) says that few fairy tales feature pocket handkerchiefs. Someone asked me if I knew any such stories. As a writer who retells fairy tales for a living, surely I could think of a few instances? I could only come up with three. The Grimms’ Goose Girl carries a blood-spotted handkerchief as a kind of amulet; Russia’s Prince Ivan uses a magical handkerchief to cross a flaming river; an Irish leprechaun conjures a forest of handkerchiefs. Handkerchiefs, it’s true, but not the kind on which you might blow your nose, which is hardly surprising. Traditional fairy tales are stories pared back to the essentials; they deal in symbols and archetypes, princesses, monsters and magic, not runny noses and linens. When Bilbo forgets his handkerchief and goes off to meet dwarfs and dragons, Tolkien creates a much bigger, more detailed world, a world remarkable for its completeness. It makes for a fantastic book and, like Melanie McDonagh, I implore you to read it. Unlike her, I say watch the film too. Retellings are how fairy tales have survived the centuries and found new audiences; why not let modern stories do the same?
Love and hat
Sir: Dot Wordsworth’s article on ‘passion’ (24 November) reminded me of my son, at five, saying that he had a ‘passion of hats’. I thought it made a good collective noun. (He is now 50.)