28 JUNE 1963, Page 7

Unwitting Rivals

In the preface to Buller's Cain paign, which was published a few days ago and is very well worth reading, Mr. Julian Symons mentions that he did 'a good deal of research, over a period of several years' with a view to writing a full- length history of the Boer War; but the appear- ance, within the last five years, of two other books on the subject caused him to abandon his project. How often this sort of thing happens there are no means of telling; but it is not long since two studies of the Tichborne Claimant case were being printed and bound simul- taneously, and I suspect that authors often devote a lot of time and thought to, as it were, recon- noitring positions which, if not already occupied, are about to be assaulted by somebody else. Nobody gains, and somebody generally loses, from this duplication of effort. I should have thought that the Society of Authors would do a useful service by establishing a sort of central

registry where writers—other, presumably, than novelists and poets—could declare their interests. The information thus lodged would be treated as confidential; but if a member of the Society projected a book reconstructing (say) the Defenestration of Prague or the Massacre of Glencoe, he could at least discover whether the coast was, as far as the Society knew, clear. If it was not, he could be put in touch with Mr. X, who had staked out a claim two years ago; and he could thus ascertain for himself whether X was still in full cry, or had renounced the quest for historical truth in favour of some more re- warding enterprise.