As I had suspected for a long time, my publisher has no permanent office presence – too old-fashioned to expect that! – so they have a phone ‘receptionist’ from a pool, probably working from home for some sort of agency. I remembered that in the early days when I had tried to visit the office, then encouraged by the director and editors, that the boss couldn’t manage the stairs as she had damaged her knee. Standing in the marble hall at a desk outside conspicuous shiny lift-wells, and told that my publisher’s offices are on the 33rd floor, I found that odd. The address hadn’t changed. Perhaps she suffers from lift phobia and never visits an actual office.
I insisted, much to the amusement of the clerk who had found the number for me. He came from Lebanon, so the exchanges went on something like this:
‘I want to see whoever is in the office.’
‘The editors are at a meeting.’
‘I know. You have already told me that. I just want to see whoever is in the office.’ A long pause.
‘Are you from Beirut?’
‘I’ve been there. It has an attractive city centre.’
‘There is no one in the office.’
‘There must be.’ The Lebanese clerk is smiling. ‘Find someone.’ Anxiety at the end of the phone.
‘Have you been to Baalbek?’
‘They are spectacular ruins…’
‘Richard Brown has come out of the meeting to speak to you.’ Is that his real name?
‘Hello. What can I do for you?’ I repeated everything saying I wanted to visit my publisher’s office.
‘Please make an appointment.’ I repeated that I had been trying to do that for over two years. I live in Yorkshire and can’t afford to go to London for one meeting.
‘We’ll pay your fare.’ And so it was agreed. Now I have sorted out my movements, I shall make an appointment. Sure as fate the day won’t be convenient and the editors will be at a meeting and they won’t pay the fare. Let’s see.
‘There isn’t a coliseum at Baalbek, but the temples rival the ancient ones in Rome…’
That Lebanese clerk was the nicest part of the doomed attempt to visit my publisher.
I should have written my candid thoughts on the writing business before, but events intervened as they have a way of doing. I have mentioned that we might be in a second Elizabethan age, when everyone seemed to be penning sonnets (if you were literate and had a pen) passed along the corridors of power and exchanged on bucolic encounters, or so one might imagine. Our Elizabethan age is out in cyberspace where the world is writing and, maybe, some are reading.
I’m a culprit myself.
Everyone has a novel in them struggling to leap out, so the saying goes. Except that most works are now floating on cyber waves. So the writing business is born.
I must be honest. My experience is limited to a one week-long course in Wales when lorry drivers were on strike and roads were filled with every sort of viable vehicle rallying to the cry to keep the nation on the move. The surroundings were pleasant and meant to be relaxed. Other participants were eager and the tutors all writers themselves. They dealt out exercises, writing to do in one’s room and always gave encouraging comments. Occasionally something came from the other participants. Then a one-to-one from a well-known writer on one’s own work in progress, and one left, primed by the red wine and unremittingly positive though vague suggestions about one’s work and the whole craft of writing. I wanted a tutor to cry out, ‘Crap!’ to provoke strong reactions and help us to come to grips with our own strengths and weaknesses. ‘Try, fail, and try again, only fail better.’ I think Samuel Beckett said something like that.
I put aside what I took to the course and entered a fallow period. But that can’t be typical. Soon I was helping with the local literary festival. The famous writer came to it, and though I greeted her at the door, she didn’t recognise me. Everywhere one reads of writers being advised to frequent literary festivals as a way to meet a stray agent or publisher on the lookout for the next novel to promote. My experience over many years is that one meets other readers or aspiring writers, never an agent or publisher, all surely too busy coping with the hundred unsolicited manuscripts plonked every week on their desks, so we are told. Nor did any of the tutors shout, ‘Eureka!’ when reading our efforts and discussing them in the one-to-one sessions. Their minds were clearly on their next work to be published in the uncertain state of the world of publishing.
When I helped with the writing sessions in these festivals I saw the same pattern emerging of exercises and unremittingly similar encouraging comments. Were all these published-writers-turned tutors singing from the same hymn sheet?
The only constant is money, and the doors it opens. Money made from courses, degrees. What can one do with a degree in creative writing? Teach in the degree course & give others, all similar to Wales
Dear Ms. Thornhill,
Thank you for your recent emails.
I met with the publishing board this morning in reference to your publication, and after much discussion their decision regarding the remaindering of ‘In Restoration’ still stands. In light of this and the difficulty with attempting to arrange a meeting that is mutually convenient for both of us, please do not feel any obligation to maintain the dates of either the 22nd or 23rd July for a meeting as we no longer feel this is a necessity.
We would like to thank you for your dedication and hard work over the past four years, and for your continued interest in Austin Macauley. We are very grateful for your understanding in this matter.
On Behalf of The Publishing Board
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd
CGC-33-01 25 Canada Square,
Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LQ
July 9 2013
Dear Mr Brookes,
I have not noticed that other Austin & Macauley publications have been awarded prizes, but as In Restoration won the 2012 People’s Book Prize for Fiction, I continue to receive a number of enquiries about its publisher. It was this, among other matters, which I wished to discuss with you. You wanted to make an appointment to see me when I spoke to you on the phone in early May, and offered to pay my fare from Yorkshire. It is strange that it has now proved impossible, in spite of the advance warning you requested to make the appointment and which I gave you by offering the dates at the end of July. It appears that the sudden decision about the remaining copies of In Restoration, hastily taken without any reference to me, the author, is connected with my attempts to meet in person anyone involved with Austin & Macauley. This, in spite of Annette Longman’s initial phone conversation stressing that she would like to see me and ‘welcome me into the community of Austin & Macauley writers’. It makes one wonder whether Austin & Macauley has only a postal address but no actual office other than, perhaps on occasion, maybe a hired room.
I wished to discuss a promising development, which would be both beneficial to Austin & Macauley as well as to myself, but which you do not seem willing to hear.
Spring is slipping into summer. The noisy woodpigeons have taught their fledglings to fly and their nest is now deserted. This year they shifted it to one side of the pergola arching over the entrance to the garden area. I miss them, especially as they did not splatter the brick path with their droppings this time. Instead, their cousins are decorating the roof of our car as it stands in lockdown on the only vacant street parking place under stately but inconvenient chestnut trees, the home of an active avian community.
Following the fledglings flying out to their fate, my book will soon be published, launched into a greyish blue future that is difficult to conjecture, even if one wants to try. So 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.
My foxglove where a bee visited 8 glove flowers and flew off very merrily