To kill a literary career

Why has Harper Lee only published one book?

On every list of once-productive authors, Harper Lee appears, if not at the top, then at least muscling for the first few places. Her acclaimed 1960 debut To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize and became a classic in its own right. But 51 years on, no second novel has followed, and the only thing more notorious than Lee's refusal to write again is her decision to abstain from interviews. So when news came in the Guardian last week that a journalist would attempt to speak on her behalf, with what her lawyers insist is "an unauthorised" biography (though the journalist contests that description), the press were eager to unearth Lee's secrets and to hear why a second book never materialised.

Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee is written by Marja Mills, a journalist with "direct access to Harper and Alice Lee" according to the book's press release, which comes with the promise that it will reveal "why Harper Lee chose to never write another novel". Mills had dug around the subject before for the Chicago Tribune in 2002, and had spoken to the author's sister, Alice: "I don't think any first-time writer could be prepared for [the response to the novel]," she said. "When you have hit the pinnacle, how would you feel about writing more? Would you feel like you're competing with yourself?"

Lee's increasing reluctance to write appears to coincide with her withdrawal from the gaze of the media. The last she spoke of a second novel was in 1964 for the Chicago American: "I hope to goodness every novel I do improves," she said. Soon afterwards she stopped accepting interview requests. Her unwillingness to engage the media reminds us of J D Salinger, another curiously reclusive author who, like Lee, achieved phenomenal success with a debut novel. His was Catcher in the Rye, which sold 65 million copies worldwide and was translated officially into 30 languages (I bought a copy in Spanish, too, though my grasp of the language outdid my fleeting enthusiasm). And though his success was followed by a smattering of short stories for magazines and three novellas, he never published another full novel.

Salinger declined every interview for the last three decades of his life and most before then, though in 1974 in a truce with the New York Times he went some way to explaining why he wouldn't publish anything more, calling it "a terrible invasion of my privacy" which marred his enjoyment of writing. "I write just for myself and my own pleasure," he declared, and reports suggest this was true. The Mirror claimed last year that Salinger had 15 novels "hidden in his safe", making a posthumous career a tantalising possibility.

It's not known whether Lee has any hidden works of her own, though it seems unlikely. From her earlier 2002 interviews, Mills builds an image of a woman conscious of the weight of her reputation and loathe to sully it -- perhaps she couldn't bring herself to offer up a literary comparison. Of course there's an alternative, as Lee's friend Rev Thomas Lane Butts put to Mills when recounting a conversation with the author. He said Lee simply never wrote again because she said all she needed to: "I've already made my statement in To Kill a Mockingbird".

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Marching against climate change in the age of Donald Trump

The People’s Climate Movement is as much about politics as science. That's its strength.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But the present generation are facing an awful lot of farewells: to the melting arctic, the dying Barrier Reef, and the general resilience of ecosystems around the world. As Margaret Atwood described it in her essay of the same name: “It’s not climate change, it’s everything change”.

The problem with “everything-change” is that it can be overwhelming. How do you even decide where to start?

The People’s Climate Movement want to begin by making visible the extent of concern out there. This weekend, a coalition of organisations have planned a protest march on the American capital. Between 50,000 -100,000 people are expected to attend, including eco-celebrities Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore and Richard Branson.

In London, a group called Campaign Against Climate Change, are co-ordinating a UK-based solidarity event. Protestors will meet at 11.30am in Old Palace yard opposite Parliament, then move to Westminster Bridge, where they will spell out a message to Theresa May: “Trump and May: Climate Disaster”.

For UK campaigners, this is a vital opportunity to raise awareness of the many ways in which action on climate change is under threat. Claire James from CACC outlines the sense of frustration and injustice that many feel with regard to recent government policy: “There have been 12,000 jobs lost last year in the solar industry alone and installation numbers have plummeted. Meanwhile fracking, hugely unpopular, is given determined backing.”

Ahead of the June election, campaigners are using the event to call for specific, cross-party commitments. One, fast-tracking the UK’s delayed Climate Change Plan. Two, ruling out new trade deals that compromise environmental, worker or consumer rights. And three, implementing a fair deal for UK solar and wind industry. “Our action on Saturday is about saying to the government – and to anyone who wants to form the next government – do your policies measure up?” says James.

These concrete political aims are an important way in which the movement differs from last weekend’s March For Science. That protest, inspired by the popularity of the Women’s March earlier this year, kept its message intentionally wide. As one of the London event’s organisers told DeSmog, it placed its emphasis on a generalised “celebration of science”. But this lack of specificity drew criticism from some quarters – for presenting a confusing message about politics' relationship to science.

Generalisation can also risk putting people off joining marches at all. Over the last few months, numerous friends have said they feel uncomfortable joining protests where they’re not sure that the person marching next to them is doing so for the same reasons. They’d feel much happier signing a petition, with a more specific and limited aim, they tell me.

This weekend’s climate marches risk drawing some of the same concerns. “Climate-change has become a synecdoche, a surrogate, for many causes in today’s world – social justice, the protection of nature, the rights of future generations, the defence of science,” says Professor Mike Hulme from King's College London. “Marches such as this give political voice to anti-establishment protest, but they don’t stop the climate changing.”

In addition, not all who want to see climate change prioritised by governments may agree over the exact course of action – with outright opposition to fracking, for instance, or to a third runway at Heathrow.

But this weekend’s movement also appears to have taken these lessons on board. First, they are putting their political aims up front. According the US event’s website, whereas the March for Science strove to be non-political, this movement “believes strongly in the need to call out the politicians.”

The link to the Paris Climate Treaty is helpful in this respect. The People’s Climate Movement traces its birth back to September 21 2014, the eve of the UN climate summit, when 400,000 people marched through New York demanding action on the climate crisis. This gives the movement a clear piece of legislation to both celebrate and defend.

And the London-based event is also attempting to re-think and expand what street-protests can achieve. “We’re doing a smaller action rather than a big march,” explains Claire James, “but we’re trying to have a real focus with the speakers on ‘what next’”. After the protest in Westminster, attendees are invited to join an afternoon of free food, activities and music, hosted by the food waste campaign Feedback. Here there will be even further opportunity to learn about the many ways – from divestment campaigns to local renewable energy groups – in which people can help press for change.

In this respect, public action against the climate crisis promises not to end when the walking does. And while protests won't stop climate change in themselves, joining a march can be a powerful reminder that we are not in this crisis alone.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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