The proof reading did not start well. An idealistic young person, a recent graduate in English literature, took it upon herself with great charm, energy and ambition to elevate me – out of the goodness of her heart (one presumes) – from Grub Street’s hackdom to the status of Ernest Hemingway or D.H. Lawrence by rewriting chunks of Emperor. She managed to spell aircraft as aircrafts through ‘a momentary loss of concentration’. I’m afraid I had a momentary loss of temper as a result, the air turned blue, and said literary ingénue is no longer in attendance. The task has been taken over by someone else who has had to start from scratch. Proof reading, as I understand it – and I may be wrong – is all about catching misspellings, repetitions, infelicities of grammar and punctuation as well as superfluous adverbs. In other words, a long stop, a final sieve. Not an expletive deleted rewrite. Ah, well. Onwards and upwards.
At last. The proof reading proceeds smoothly. I receive the typescript in batches to check the proposed amendments, and so far the person concerned has an assured but light touch. No disagreements or queries on my part, and a good catch on page 43. Can’t wait to see what the cover designer comes up with. In the meantime, when not writing Bloody Snow, I’m attending a webinar on advertising and so far I’ve learned a great deal (well, knowing nothing to begin with, it wasn’t that hard), fiddling with Amazon algorithms – a whole lot of fun as you can imagine, and probably quite pointless – and trying to keep warm without switching on the heating. It was a crisp 5 C under clear skies at 0700 today. My solution is (a) sets of 25 press-ups at intervals (b) brisk walks (c) wearing thermals (d) catching wasps in the living room and releasing them outside (e) chasing the cat and cursing the Tories. Hey ho.
So that’s why
I think I know now why traditional publishers won’t touch my brilliant, explosive, unputdownable, authentic, riveting and gripping thriller Emperor, now being proof read by someone wearing a flak jacket and helmet. They fear being dragged into the nearest Communist Chinese consulate and beaten by the consul himself. So I’ve taken the hint, and am putting bars up on my windows.
Those few selfless friends who so kindly signed up on my website will have been bombarded with my latest work in progress, the first draft chapter of a novel tentatively entitled ‘Bloody Snow’. If you have received it, and wish to comment or criticise, please do so – provided it’s reasonably civil and constructive. At this stage, I can take all the help I can get from writers and editors, many of you being both more skilled and talented than I. There are bound to be changes, rewrites and deletions. If you haven’t signed up, please by all means do so. Last time I looked my website was at https://wwww.johnfullertonauthor.scot for those wishing to contribute. Thanks.
Hybrids? No thanks.
Rejected a hybrid publisher, who wants me to ‘share’ risk, as if writing novels over months isn’t risky. In this case, I’d bear 40 pct of the cost of the first 400 bound volumes, the sale of which would supposedly mark the point at which it breaks even. Any further production would be at the publisher’s expense, but would not be guaranteed even if the novel moves into profit. Makes sense for risk-averse publisher…not me. My royalties would be only 40 pct – equal to my share of the initial production costs. However, if I were to self-publish, my costs would be half the proposed hybrid outlay, and I’d keep 70 pct of the digital edition’s revenue and 60 pct of that from bound POD copies. The latter does not include advertising, of course, but it still seems a no-brainer. In short, I can’t help feeling that the much acclaimed ‘third way’ in publishing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s not normal, I know. Woke up around 0200, worrying about a word – just one word – in the first draft of what I hope will be a new novel and which has so far reached 31k words. Got up, changed the word, went back to sleep. Insane? Possibly. Obsessed, certainly.
I’m relieved I don’t know any of this and never will:
(From Sam at Galley Beggar via Toby Litt on FB)
‘How do you know if you’re any good? You don’t. You don’t, and you never will not now, not ever. How do you know if this version of this sentence is better than that version of this sentence? You don’t, but you feel you might know if it was worse. How do you know you’ll ever reach a decent level? You don’t. How do you increase your daily wordcount? You don’t – that’s not a good idea, not in and of itself. How do you know your first reader didn’t skip? You don’t. How do you know the voice of doubt isn’t bang on? You don’t. How do you know you shouldn’t have become a painter or an accountant? You don’t. How do you know what’s best for you and your writing isn’t seven years in solitary? You don’t, and unfortunately, you’ll never find out. How do you know if your closest friends from childhood no longer really believe it’ll happen for you? You don’t. How do you know what to change about yourself in order to become halfwav bearable? You don’t. How do you know, even if you get published, that what you’ve written isn’t ultimately forgettable trash? You don’t. How do you know your editor isn’t about to drop you? You don’t. How do vou know vour agent doesn’t make bleugh faces to their assistant when you’re on the phone? You don’t.’
What friends are for.
I’d like to thank five friends who looked at my work in progress, a spy novel tentatively entitled Bloody Snow that may be the first of a new spy series. The first had only two chapters to read, the fifth eight. All the observations, both detailed and general, were helpful. The last of my helpers – needless to say, a former Reuters correspondent – carried out what amounted to a close reading and line edit of eight chapters, or some 25k words. What a difference that has made!
Thank you all for your kindness, your time and your help.
P.S. I’m now approaching 50k words.
A review of ‘White Eagle over Wimbledon’ by John Phillips:
A well-written and entertaining history of a resistance fighter – probably the first Polish combatant in the Warsaw Uprising who managed to defect to the West from Communist Poland in a daring escape on a train packed with Soviet troops and with documents he forged himself.
He kept his sanity and his temper throughout long and intensive periods of interrogation at the hands of the Americans, the British and finally the Poles themselves, eventually building a family, a new British identity and a highly successful business career. He is, of course, the author’s father.
It’s a multi-faceted tale not only of survival, and the Phillips family – who settled in salubrious Wimbledon – but also an intriguing account of the author’s own life as a leading foreign correspondent who covered several conflicts only to suffer at the hands of the Times newspaper’s outrageous management, leaving him completely broke and stranded in Italy with a wife and child.
John Philllips’ style is fluent and informal with self-deprecating and sardonic humour. I read the book in one evening.
In his preface, Phillips points out that three generations ago, some 200,000 Poles who fought the Nazis as Britain’s ‘first ally’ were welcomed to the UK. Hundreds of thousands of Poles came to work in the UK following Poland’s membership of the EU in 2004. But the rise of the far-right in the form of the hard-right Tories and UKIP whipped up racist hostility against all East Europeans, be they Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Latvians, Bulgarians or Rumanians – and all roped together by bigoted Britons as ‘Poles’.
This tale is of a better, more generous and gentler Britain and the thriving Anglo-Polish community in London of the 1960s and 1970s.
We were better then. I for one am deeply ashamed of what the UK has since become.
A review of Sands of Valour:
By Geoffrey Atheling Wagner
An extraordinary novel which held me spellbound for days after I finished it, getting right under my skin and into the deep recesses of my head. The author, who was born in 1919 and died in 2006, had an enormous talent, now regrettably forgotten. I laughed out loud, I wept and cursed…it’s a brilliantly-told and vivid tale of armoured warfare in the Western Desert in 1941. And yes, it is ‘unputdownable’.
Mr Wagner doesn’t shirk his responsibility by trying to hide or tone down the raw racism and the mutual loathing of the Egyptians and their British occupiers, either. He tackles issues of class head on. His characters display eccentricity and immense courage, and in one case, outright cowardice. They lie to themselves and they love hopelessly – as people do. It’s a tale of intense exhaustion, hunger and thirst as well as loneliness, fear, painful death and heroism.
First published in 1968, I read a U.S. 1985 reprint, bought second hand. It’s a masterpiece. If there’s one novel that I’ve read in recent years that’s a candidate to be reprinted, it’s this.
John Fullerton, October 2022