Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Some days are more bloggable than others, and yesterday was a bumper day.  In the morning, I went to the Kensington home of Lisa von Clemm, doyenne of the Designer Bookbinders, to take part in judging their annual competition. Each year The Folio Society donates printed sheets of a set book to be bound by all the entrants. This year it was Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, illustrated by Simon Pemberton. I’m not allowed to tell you who won but here is a selection from the 50 or so entries. In addition to the Folio set book, entrants can also submit a book of their choice, here are a few that caught my eye. The middle one is called Nest and Egg. After lunch I went to visit David Attenborough to discuss a new project. David spent over a decade tracking down every plate drawn by Edward Lear for the various bird books published by John Gould. There are 70 plates altogether, and once the collection was complete, he had them bound in an original Gould binding case. Lear was in a class of his own among the bird painters of the day: here is one magnificent example, the Eagle Owl.  We are hoping to publish a facsimile of this unique volume in a year or so, including a new essay by DA himself. David also told me some of his experiences when making his current TV series Frozen Planet, including his visit to Scott’s hut, which remains just as it was left in 1913. He approached and entered it entirely alone, and felt the tangible presence of the spirits of the past – ‘if ever I were to believe in ghosts, it was at that moment!’ I told him about the forthcoming publication of South Polar Times and he said he could not wait to see it. In the evening I went to see the premiere of a new opera at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness composed by Tarik O’Regan with a libretto by Tom Phillips. The intensity and moral complexity of the story were brilliantly recreated in the operatic medium – do try and get to see it. Finally, talking of seeing things, there are two interesting shows on in London at the moment for the lovers of illustrated books. John Vernon Lord has an exhibition of his work for Alice Through the Looking Glass at The Illustration Cupboard until 5 November; while at Sophie Schneideman Rare Books the great American engraver and book artist Gaylord Schanilec has an exhibition until December 3.