First Editions, Second Thoughts

By | Art & Design
Quentin Blake adds illustrations to Roald Dahl's Matilda © Sotheby's

From book winners to bestsellers, 50 of the best contemporary authors open up the margins of their own first editions to offer fascinating glimpses into a writer’s handwritten musings and reflections upon their own work.

Quentin Blake adds illustrations to Roald Dahl's Matilda © Sotheby's

Quentin Blake adds illustrations to Roald Dahl’s Matilda © Sotheby’s

On Tuesday 21st May, Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and rare collectibles, will auction an impressive catalogue of heavily annotated major works by 50 outstanding contemporary writers. Authors including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Alan Bennett, William Boyd, Margaret Drabble, Helen Fielding, Nadine Gordimer, David Hare, Seamus Heaney, Kazuo Ishiguro, Howard Jacobson, Ian McEwan, Michael Morpurgo, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Shriver, Ralph Steadman, Tom Stoppard and Jeanette Winterson have generously contributed to the sale. All proceeds from the evening will be in aid of worldwide writers’ association, English PEN, an organisation operating in over 100 countries which campaigns to defend writers and readers whose human right to freedom of expression are at risk.

The project, entitled First Editions, Second Thoughts, allows each author to interact and relate personally and independently with their own work – standardised interview questions are substituted for candid and authentic commentary which combines humour, poignancy and insight in equal measure. The uniquely personal annotated books, with extensive annotations offer a captivating glimpse into the creative process of each author, and the genesis and nature of their work.

Rick Gekoski, Trustee of English PEN and curator of First Editions, Second Thoughts said: “In 40 years in the rare book trade I have never seen a collection of books to compare with those in this sale. The self-scrutiny of the authors is highly considered – crafted, thoughtful and thought provoking. And like the works of literature themselves, their annotations give a peek into the soul of their maker. In many cases, the commentaries will affect how the book is to be read and understood in the future.”

“The authors’ annotations are as unique as the authors themselves and each book reflects an author’s highly individual response to the task of annotation” commented Philip W. Errington, Director of Printed Books & Manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

Jeanette Winterson annotates her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit  © Sotheby's

Jeanette Winterson annotates her novel Oranges Are Not the Only
Fruit © Sotheby’s

The catalogue includes works by an outstanding array of major novelists, playwrights, poets, memoirists and writers of non-fiction, including numerous distinguished winners of celebrated literary prizes such as the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Man Booker and Orange prizes. Highlights of the 50 works to be auctioned on 21st May include Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Philip Pullman’ Northern Lights and J.K. Rowling’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The full First Editions, Second Thoughts catalogue is available online at

All the works from First Edition, Second Thoughts will be on public exhibition at Sotheby’s London galleries, Monday 20th May and Tuesday 21st May, ready for auction at Sotheby’s on Tuesday 21st May at 7:30 pm.


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