My new novel, Mastering the Sun, is finished and the cover designed but with publishers now even slower than usual with no end to the pandemic lockdown in sight, it will be published shortly online with an option to read it in paperback. It is a work for these times, proposing a future of possibilities.
In the meantime here are my continuing experiences of publishing In Restoration a few years ago…
Shannon was the only one of my five minders who reappeared and actually listened to one of my suggestions. I had for months asked them to enter my novel for suitable book prizes and even gave full details of some I had heard of. I was told that it wasn’t the right time to present the book, or that they had entered it. How was I to know if this was true? Then out of the blue Shannon said that my novel had been entered for The People’s Book Prize, decided by votes from all who had read it. I had never heard of the prize, but this was the first initiative shown by the inert publisher without my having to prod. Over the months support gathered and finally my book was one of the finalists. I was invited to go to the Stationers’ Hall next to St. Paul’s in London, precisely where the earliest booksellers’ stalls were allowed to be stationary, and not move on. This was after the invention of the printing press towards the end of the 15th century. Book agents, readers and writers gathered around old St. Paul’s and the first Stationers’ Hall was built for their guild. The one where we gathered had been rebuilt after being destroyed by fire, and more recently, partially destroyed in the 1940-1 Blitz.
All finalists were invited with their publisher’s representative, each having to pay £150 for the dinner and occasion. I found this out, not my publisher. Shannon seemed to have moved on and Emily took her place. I asked if someone was accompanying me. She didn’t know. Could she find out? More prodding. Then a negative. I insisted that they bought me a place. This finally they did, very reluctantly. They wouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t asked the prize administrator whether the money had arrived, and when it hadn’t, sent yet another email to Emily. You would think it good for business to have their author as a finalist for a literary prize.
Organisation was excellent. Interviews, photographers, films, and a really good meal surrounded by other writers, all, it seemed, with their publisher except me. Then one envelope for each prize was given in turn to the guest of honour and patron, Frederick Forsyth. The first one to be called was the prize for the best novel. It happened that the other two finalists were sitting near me. We had to stand up for an agonising moment while the envelope was opened and – my name was read out! It seemed a long way to go from my place at the far end of a long table to the top one under the portraits of eminent stationers. Frederick Forsyth presented me with an abstract glass statue and I had to say a few words to the upturned faces. I wasn’t going to thank my publishers, or do the ‘long-suffering and patient family’ stuff, so I said a few words about the importance of prizes for books to be noticed and reviewed and thanked the organisers.
So it went for the other prize categories: nonfiction, children’s book and so on. At the end more interviews. It had a sense of occasion and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. At least I didn’t trip up on the way to the podium!
I was featured with the other winners on The People’s Book Prize website. All the publicity material was sent to the publisher to use to promote the book. Did they use it? No prizes for your answer to that.
I’ve already been over into the next valley and found that the nice Giovanni, who sold a few copies of my book, and the bookshop Gulliver at the ‘Poet’s corner, have gone out of business. How could I get back the unsold copies? Giovanni no longer answers his phone or emails. Yesterday in another Tuscan town, I found the bookstore chain Edison had also gone bankrupt, taking all the money from my book sales and unsold copies with them. Jonny was as welcoming as ever.
‘Here’s their email. Try to get the money owed you and the unsold copies. Good luck!’
He didn’t look very hopeful. That’s a fair warning. In the future one must get one’s share of the proceeds for each copy sold before the shop goes out of business. This store has been saved by Jonny and his friends, real book-lovers. He took copies of my new book and looked confident. I wish them all the best of luck.
When television was invented, it was said, the cinema would die. It didn’t. The computer would kill off television. Well, they merged digitally. Will we drive in the future, or merely program our vehicle, and take technological tests instead of driving ones? Will I have to take lessons on how to program my robot to clean or cook? I don’t think I’m up to it.
What happened to all the scribes and manuscript illuminators working away painstakingly in monasteries when Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 550 years ago, or inexpensive books were printed by the Aldine Press in early 16th-century Venice? Did they just die off, surplus to requirements? Will the pleasure of looking at a book cover, of turning the pages over, feeling the totality of that particular work created, be lost, except, perhaps, to the collectors of rare books?
A friend, who is himself a poet, tells me that we are entering another Elizabethan era when everyone writes and exchanges their intimate thoughts, except now it’s not through sonnets slipped behind the image in a pendant, or in surreptitiously exchanged letters. Thoughts in their trillions are publicly available on the internet and, I’m told in my ignorance, cannot be deleted. So supposedly infinite internet space is filling up. Does that make it more or less infinite?
A friend has just been on the phone to say she is no longer answering emails. She can only be contacted by phone… She spent from 5 till 11 one morning trying to get on top of the emails that are crowding both her work and personal addresses, and gave up in despair.
‘There’s no “Galateo” for the internet!’ she exclaimed. ‘I give up.’ Except that she can’t – because of her work. So she too is caught in the tentacles of the internet and can’t escape. I liked her reference to a 16th-century Italian book of manners, roughly contemporary, I think, with Castiglione’s self- help book on how to become a courtier. Perhaps it was from the ‘Galateo’ that I recall this choice piece of advice: If you blow your nose, never open your handkerchief to examine the content as if it were an oracle!
There is no moral code that reigns over the internet as there can be no world authority to police it, I suppose. One enters the ocean and has to do all one can oneself to avoid the sharks. The best way is to delete them, and the harmful ones are zapped out by anti-virus schemes that can attack your machine but not you, unless you are in an identifiable group.
So we are in a new Elizabethan era. Then why am I so irritated by my limited knowledge of the writing industry? I admit it’s probably irrational, but here goes!
Now’s the time. I have a free morning and I’m London. I’ve emailed to say that I have an appointment in the area and can drop in to see my publisher. After all, when my novel was accepted, the director phoned to invite me to drop in any time, ‘to join our family of authors’. Three years later, after numerous attempts to visit them, always deferred because the editors are not free, or have meetings, so now, money safely in their hands, the welcome to authors is not quite what one was led to believe.
A sunny day. A quick underground journey with only one change depositing me in a large hall and, at the far end, long moving staircases up to a sunny piazza. Tall glass and steel buildings look down sternly at people smartly striding along the pavements or relaxing over coffee at tables outside well-stocked cafes and restaurants. An affluent area.
Panic. I’ve forgotten my address book, having emptied my handbag thanks to luggage restrictions on Easyjet. So after a coffee and scone, a smart woman seated by a computer finds the most likely building and directs me towards the sharp angled exterior. In the marble interior of proclaimed efficiency, I find more crisply dressed men and women sitting behind counters and computers, conspicuously under-used. I was directed round a curve to an identical counted and set of slightly bored clerks, one putting on lipstick, another stifling a yawn. I select a friendly looking young man and mention I would like to see my publisher. An identification document is politely requested and a call made. I am handed the phone.
‘Who are are you?’
‘I’m the receptionist. All the editors are at a meeting. You must make an appointment.’
‘I have been trying to do that for 3 years.’ Pause. ‘As I now have to be in the area, I want to see somebody. Isn‘t there anyone in the office?’
‘They are all at a meeting?’
‘What about you? I would like to come up and see you.’
‘I don’t work in your publisher’s office.’
‘Who are you then?’
‘I am the receptionist.’
‘But not in publisher’s office?’ Another pause.
‘I need to see someone in the office. Anyone. Is there nobody there?’
It’s all beginning to make sense. The strange whining noise when one picks up the phone and the long wait before any connection with an email name that actually speaks, who actually morphs into a person. With email, everyone is so disembodied. Now I am attempting to pinpoint a person in a geographical location, it is proving depressingly hard.