And they can keep their ‘past is a foreign country’ puns, too…

‘Musicals continue to be the only art form, popular or otherwise, that is publically criticized by illiterates’, wrote Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, by which he meant illiteracy about musical theatre itself. We got to see a little bit of that with the press night of The Go-Between, the most exciting new musical I have seen for years. (In brief: the music is astonishing and has the vocabulary to navigate the psychological nuances of the story, as does a production that plays to every strength of its theatricality, its ensemble cast operating like a beautiful piece of clockwork and accompanied throughout by a single onstage piano which, thanks to the writing and the performance, weaves every colour the score needs whilst retaining an intimacy and intensity that is at the heart of the whole concept. I sat through both acts in what felt like a single breath and it has continued to haunt me since. Go and see it. And take me with you please.)

thegobetween

Not that I was so naïve as to anticipate that response being reflected in the show’s reviews, and even as I staggered out of the theatre trying not to make a fool of myself by weeping too openly on Shaftesbury Avenue I did wonder how far such subtle craftsmanship would go with a critical community more used to seeing (not to mention working in) broad brushstrokes.

Illiterates? Perhaps. It’s hard not to feel empathy with Sondheim when critics of musical theatre have so little belief in the genre: according to The Londonist ‘musical just isn’t the right genre for intense, psychological narrative’, an idea echoed by the opinion in WhatsOnStage that ‘secrets and subtext would be easier if the cast could talk to each other’ – whilst, reducing this to a special kind of stupid, Official Theatre simply has it that this musical contains ‘too much singing’. In The Times we get ‘this is not so much a musical as a play set to music’, which may be the single silliest sentence I have seen in a theatre review, partly because it implies the absence of a librettist and partly because it ignores the development of the function of musical theatre since about 1943.

But perhaps this is not illiteracy so much as inexperience; all of the above demonstrate a profound underestimation of the genre of musical theatre, even resulting in a need to redefine this piece altogether. On BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Matt Wolf went the whole hog and called it a chamber opera, though his erudite stance was scuppered by host John Wilson explaining that there were no stand out songs and the whole thing was ‘pointless’ because ‘if you love the book, and the film was fantastic, why take it to the musical stage?’ On those grounds we should give some serious re-evaluation to the likes of such pointless musicals as Oliver!, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, for which there are also perfectly good literary substitutes, not to mention the recent glut of musicals adapted directly from films which are already fantastic.

‘Ah’, John Wilson might respond, ‘but those musicals do have stand-out songs’. His assumption – not an uncommon one – is that the stand-out songs are the point of musicals. Many commercial producers clearly think along those lines with their increasingly desperate attempts to turn some back catalogue into another Mamma Mia, almost as if musical theatre hasn’t moved on since its formative years as a mere glorified revue. But even if that were the case, The Go-Between had been described moments earlier as a chamber opera, and you don’t hear people complaining that The Turn of the Screw is pointless because it doesn’t have stand-out songs and you can read the book.

(Incidentally, both The Turn of the Screw and The Go-Between do have stand-out songs, they’re just rather less heavy-handedly deployed than in, say, We Will Rock You, not least because the composers place storytelling above the audience’s need to clap every few minutes.)

It’s important to point out that not all critics are illiterates, and there have been brilliant and perceptive responses from the likes of Mark Shenton, Edward Seckerson and Libby Purves (perhaps it’s no coincidence that they are largely positive), not to mention from audiences themselves. When I saw the show the now-obligatory standing ovation was genuinely enthusiastic and the audience members who sat in their seats still sobbing as the house lights went up didn’t seem to have had their experience diminished by the shortage of ‘numbers’. It is reassuring that, in spite of the expectations of some critics, music and storytelling are all that’s needed to get that kind of response from West End audiences.

So for all that it has been labelled ‘gentle’, ‘mild-mannered’ and ‘austere’ (it is none of those things, but some critical pulses are evidently conditioned only to respond to heavy synthesisers), The Go-Between lays down a hefty gauntlet. By demonstrating that musical theatre can be sophisticated, even challenging, and still shift seats, it challenges producers to look for ticket sales in quality, not another back catalogue. That way lies a future for the British musical.

Doing things in a more civilised way

So this Labour spat over the decriminalisation (or not) of prostitution: it is tempting, as always, to sigh and say ‘Jeremy Corbyn really doesn’t help himself, does he?’. In this case, though, I’m not sure it’s that way round. After all, he is within his rights to give a personal opinion in response to a question from a member of the public, especially one consistent with his support for Amnesty International’s position on prostitution. (Whether he elaborated on it is unclear, because predictably the press have only reported The Controversial Thing What He Said, but nobody could accuse Amnesty’s stance of being poorly considered.)

As the press gleefully reported, he was immediately attacked by ‘angry female MPs’, every reporter conveniently ignoring all criticism from male MPs to portray this as a straightforward battle of the sexes. Mind you, it wasn’t the media that made it about gender in the first place, was it?

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Enter Jess Phillips, hashtag shedding a tear because Corbyn is a man who ‘says we should decriminalize a known violence against women’. This introduction of gender politics is deeply unhelpful. Even if we accept the genderisation of the discussion itself on the basis that most of the victims of prostitution are women, Corbyn’s gender is irrelevant – it is entirely conceivable that a man (especially this man) can advocate for women’s rights, and in any case the Amnesty view is championed by women and women’s groups alike. To portray Corbyn as a chauvinist with no respect for women’s dignity is pretty low and more than a little disingenuous.

Equally disingenuous, or just plain ignorant, is reacting as though Corbyn doesn’t care about violence against women, portraying him as a champion of the sex trade and confusing decriminalisation with legalisation. The Women’s Equality Party have even put out a statement which insinuates that Corbyn was ‘advocating the sale of bodies for sex’, a hugely reductive leap of non-logic.

The sad thing is that these angry Labour MPs don’t recognise that, on this, they are genuinely all on the same side. Corbyn has aligned himself with a proposal grounded in a desire to protect the vulnerable, and whilst they disagree over the proposed solution, they might at least give Corbyn the credit for raising the discussion and engage in a more sensitive, sophisticated way.

(Oh, and the shadow cabinet member who said Corbyn should ‘go and join the Green party’ can piss right off: this debate is not served by you attaching your political prejudices to it, and since you’re the one taking them anonymously to a right wing newspaper, consider that perhaps you’re the one in the wrong party.)

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Prostitution is an emotive issue, but for that very reason politicians must be wary of letting their emotions cloud their ability to reach objective conclusions, particularly in the absence of a party line. Nobody doubts Harriet Harman’s commitment to women’s rights, but her conflation of abuse with her distaste for prostitution confuses the issue; Corbyn shares her desire to protect women, so her objection to his description of prostitution as ‘an industry’ seems a bit petty when you consider that industry and exploitation are hardly mutually exclusive. Fine, we can stop calling it an industry if you like, but that won’t stop it being one a dictionary definition sense, and it won’t solve any problems.

And whilst it is a legitimate point of view to consider all prostitution exploitative and degrading, however consensual, that is a different discussion. An important discussion, but a more broadly ideological one with opinions (indeed, feminist opinions) on both sides. It would be disastrous to confuse that debate, with all its grey areas, with the clear cut need for legislation that protects the victims of categorical abuse such as coercion, sex trafficking and child prostitution; the so-called Nordic model (decriminalisation of the sellers and criminalisation of the buyer) is an attractive solution to those who are morally opposed to prostitution full stop, but it may not be the solution that best helps the vulnerable (in fact, the Amnesty proposal is supported by 60% of organisations working with sex workers, of which, conversely, only 4% support the Nordic model).

None of which is to say whether Corbyn is right or wrong, it is simply to ask, can you just sit down and talk about this, please? I mean, talk to each other rather than to the Telegraph or the whole of twitter? If you really care about these vulnerable women, men and children, then instead of spoiling for the fight that the media have predictably turned into the main story, acknowledge that you are unified in your beliefs that the current law doesn’t work, that criminalising victims doesn’t help and that you want to do something about it?

You do want to do something about it, right?

You Stupid Boy.

sunfrontpage

‘Um, hey. About this headline.’

‘Brilliant, isn’t it!’

‘Well… is it?’

‘Yeah, ’cos it’s like history repeating itself, us against Europe, like in the Second World War!’

‘Well, no, in the Second World War we were trying to save Europe from Nazi occupation.’

‘That’s exactly my point! ’Cos David Cameron, right, is so rubbish at doing it, he’s like in Dad’s Army where they just let the Nazis invade!’

‘I don’t think the Nazis ever did invade, did they? Even in Dad’s Army?’

‘Sure, but they would’ve done if Cameron had been in charge.’

‘Okay. Okay, let’s accept the analogy for the time being. Only… I can’t help noticing you’ve put Cameron’s name where it was originally, er, ‘Hitler’.’

‘Wrong number of syllables, you mean? I was worried about that too. But actually you can make the scansion work, you just have to use semiquavers.’

‘No, no, it’s not that, it’s… in your analogy, I thought Cameron was fighting the Nazis?’

‘Yep. Well, he is, isn’t he?’

‘But Hitler was a Nazi.’

‘Oh. I see your point.’ (pause) ‘I know, let’s put in a picture of David Cameron dressed as Captain Mainwaring, that ought to make it clear!’

Several hours of photoshopping later…

‘Yeah. Yeah, I see your point… he does look a bit like Heinrich Himmler.’ (pause) ‘Never mind, let’s put in a caption explaining who he’s dressed as, that ought to make the whole thing totally clear!’

Christmas is for sharing

Thank goodness Sainsbury’s is around to remind us that the First World War wasn’t all THAT bad. Those frost covered trenches were quite beautiful really, and our humble Tommies, watched by gentle officers, sang in different regional accents in time with the distant strains of German carolling which echoed through the snow each night. A simpler time, but on the whole a happier one.

Oh, and did I mention, there was FOOTBALL! (It was one of our Tommies what instigated it, of course. Jerry started the war but WE DAMN WELL STARTED THE FOOTBALL.) That’s why Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke mostly wrote poems about football, though of course their work has been hijacked by the loony left who just want to focus on the mud and blood and suffering and the fact that Boxing Day was a bit of a downer because instead of footballs it was, well, bullets and grenades, but what would they know, they weren’t there, whereas this Sainsbury’s advert has been METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED you know and clearly demonstrates that the real message we ought to be taking in the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is:

BUY SAINSBURY’S.

Because Christmas is for sharing, you see? And sharing is the thing for which corporate giant Sainsbury’s is best known, ask any British farmer or small trader. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate partner for the Royal British Legion, except perhaps for arms traders Lockheed Martin and BAE who fortunately have both sponsored Royal British Legion events this year, because it’s important that we don’t forget the vital role the arms trade played in ensuring that all sides in the First World War were able to keep it going for four years. Because if the war had just fizzled out then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY FOOTBALL AT CHRISTMAS.

And, lest we forget, that is what war, and Christmas, is all about.

Future projects, trial separation and fucking computers

James and I have been making films, together and apart, for more than ten years now. Off and on. Around other things. You get the idea: James will write a book, or I’ll work for a macho-leftist journalism startup. We’ll both bitch about Doctor Who. Before you know it, time has passed and those ideas for films we were kicking around are still ideas for films. Unmade. They don’t really count.

Which isn’t to say that films haven’t been made. A Cake for Jim Broadbent, for instance, James’ charming tail of crazy stalker fans with copious supplies of bicarbonate of soda recently picked up…well, I’ll let him say how it’s done. But those ideas and, worse, bits and pieces of unfinished films, remain kicking around, making us feel guilty, and clogging up our hard drives.

So various things are happening at Talk To Rex right now. Firstly, we’re in pre-production on a feature, of which more (much more) later. In order to do that, we’re also in pre-production on a short, of which more (slightly less more) later (but slightly sooner later). That’ll be shooting at the end of August, in London. So that’s one.

The second is that we’re trawling through those hard drives, dusting off old bits of films, and finishing what we can. Degrees of Separation, an internet serial we shot pilot footage for back in 2009, will start appearing over the winter. There are some other shorts floating around that need editing, or music, or music and editing, or possibly taking a long, hard look at and saying “nope”. That’s two.

And we didn’t really have to completely change the website, but that seems to have happened as well. Maybe that counts as three.

Easter Whoathon

So we spent Easter Monday watching some Doctor Who. This is what we found…

(You’ll notice we couldn’t fit in all of the Doctors, so this event – sorry, exercise – is likely to be repeated, to continue the Earth chronology. Something to look forward to.)

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Getting it Published #7: Genesis

More Tea, Jesus? has been perceived by some as rather a neat, parochial book. In fact, being the first novel I ever finished (if not actually the first one I ever started) it has a huge number of ideas and influences rattling around in it, so I’m never sure whether to be baffled or insulted when the ‘cosy’ or ‘neat’ epithets are applied; to my mind it’s a miracle if it feels like it has any sense of cohesion at all. Here are a few of the more obvious elements that went into the cocktail.

P. G. Wodehouse

Perhaps a foolish opening gambit, given that any comparisons will reflect negatively on my own work, but there is so much to admire in the greatest of Wodehouse’s comic writing that it would be wilfully deceptive to pretend I hadn’t been influenced by it. Probably a lot more obviously in earlier drafts. In its earliest form it opened with an introduction to the village through the eyes of an anthropomorphic sun, which I mercifully realised I had copied directly from a Wodehouse I read as a child (I’m pretty sure it’s Spring Fever) and expunged quickly (though some vestiges may remain). Although my breezy prose may all too often show Wodehouse peeping through at the linings, the way in which I was more consciously influenced was in the story’s structure; I love how Wodehouse builds up a whole community of characters in a novel through any number of subplots, which trundle alongside the main story and overlap with it when you’re least expecting them to. This is why I didn’t feel too guilty about spending so long on Bernard Lomas’ obsessive fads or his plot to steal Ted Sloper’s harpsichord. I suppose one might see more than a passing similarity between the scene in which Ted gets very drunk before the church entertainment and Gussie Finknottle’s speech to Market Snodsbury Grammar School, but it would be insane to invite comparisons with one of the finest pieces of sustained comic writing in the whole of English literature.

By the same argument, it would be extraordinarily foolish to write an entire blog about how basically my biggest literary influence of all is Charles Dickens.

The Church and Sexuality

This is the theme of one of the more substantial subplots and it looks even prescient now than when I was writing the novel. The way in which most of the priests in the story show thoughtful, accepting and supportive attitudes on the issue whereas half of the congregation have an unpleasant knee-jerk reaction towards the very idea of ‘an homosexual’, reflects the recent vote on women bishops in which the House of Laity showed themselves (again) to be by far the most conservative part of the Anglican Church. Different issues, of course, but they might as well be the same for the way a set of principles are clung to in the face of logic, compassion and even theology. I’m fairly certain that an immediate survey of churchgoers would show the biggest concentration of homophobia to be amongst ordinary heterosexuals who have never studied scripture in any great depth, whatever impression is given by very vocal handful of priests.

Priests

Through various twists of fate, I seem to have made friends with a large and growing number of priests over the years (once you’ve been invited to one ordination party you’re going to meet a whole new batch and several more invitations follow – they’re just so damn friendly, these priests). Much as I would like to take the credit for many of the stranger episodes in the book, they are most likely to be copied from real life. A priest drinking to the point that they become so red they think they have the stigmata? Check. A priest making an omelette in a family service? Check. A priest dashing to turn off a CD because the word ‘alleluia’ is about to feature and it is Lent? Check. Even though some of the characters on whom stories are based weren’t priests at the time, they have all become priests now. I like to think that I am in some way responsible.

The slightly barmy sad woman I met in a pub

I was once sitting with some trainee priests in a pub and a woman who was definitely drunk and probably a bit mad and who had just lost her mother decided to unload a lot of her unworked-through grief on us, perhaps because she sensed that trainee priests would make for a sensitive audience. In fact, I suspect we were rather less sensitive than we should have been, partly because what she said was so barking mad. Largely stuff about consenting animals. I already had plenty of human misery in my novel, but nothing at that point about consenting animals, so that’s the bit I borrowed.

William Burroughs

An unlikely sounding one, but when I wrote the first draft I was still young and pretentious enough to be playing around with techniques I had no idea how to use, and the cut-and-paste thing appealed to me a lot. It came in especially useful when dealing with really tricky things I didn’t know how to write using proper sentences. Eventually I realised that the best way to write these bits, even if I did it by messing with the English language, was to do it deliberately, but the random approach was a valuable starting point. Most of those bits have, again, been rewritten altogether because they jarred so obviously with everything around them, but I remain quite proud of Chapter 14 which aims quite high and I reckon succeeds in its depiction of Gerard Feehan’s rude awakening into adulthood. It could so easily have been dreadful – mawkish or unpleasant or just plain pornographic – and I don’t think I would have approached it in the way I did if I hadn’t been so moved by the end of Cities of the Red Night once upon a time.

The vicars and tarts party

There is very little in the book that is even semi-autobiographical, but I once went to a vicars and tarts party and had a rather profound experience when I happened to glance at myself in a toilet mirror and realised I looked better as a vicar than I did as a real person (or indeed as a tart) and briefly contemplated taking the cloth purely out of vanity. Not only did I feel my evening as a vicar equipped me to write with absolute authority about what it is like to be a vicar, but the whole anecdote found its way into the novel pretty much unchanged, in the mouth of a vicar who actually had taken the cloth after the same experience.

All of the above, and much more, were rattling around my head as influences when I wrote More Tea, Jesus?. Surprisingly, however, one of the things that was not amongst them was:

Parish Choirs

I finished the first draft of More Tea, Jesus? a little while before I became an actual director of a parish choir. My lot were quite a talented bunch, so there wasn’t even any material to be incorporated into later drafts. That said, given that up until then I had very little experience either of singing with or listening to parish choirs, it’s amazing how much I got right about the rehearsal process.

Getting it Published #6: Judges

It was Clare Christian, the original editor of More Tea, Jesus?, who suggested it might be worth putting it on Authonomy. The website was pretty new at the time and was designed to unearth the brightest, freshest new literature through a community of writers philanthropically reading new work and pushing the good stuff ever closer to the desk of an editor at HarperCollins.

In fact, for most authors and most books – even the good stuff – it’s nothing of the sort.

Even back then, when the website was much, much smaller, the Holy Grail of the editor’s desk required a concerted effort to maintain support and a degree of luck in terms of timing. I didn’t have time to make any kind of effort at all in this respect. To get noticed you really do need to have time to spend on self-publicity, cultivating relationships and – vitally – reading other people’s books. It is a community quite rightly based on reciprocation and, having recently found myself in a full-time composing job, I had little time with which to reciprocate.

Not that the editor’s desk is the only reason to join Authonomy: far from it. The value of a community of writers and enthusiastic readers commenting on your work is self-explanatory. But again, this was not something I was in any position to appreciate; I had already been through the lengthy editorial process and questioned, rewritten and chopped the novel as much as I could bear. The last thing I wanted was a load of well-meaning suggestions about what needed changing.

The prologue came in for quite a battering from a few people who either thought prologues were plain unnecessary or that it slowed the pace. In the case of the latter they were absolutely right, but they hadn’t considered the dramatic importance of the prologue (do you really begin a novel about the apocalypse with a vicar giving a sermon about an omelette?) and they weren’t aware that it was balanced by an epilogue, the mirroring of the two being one of the important satirical points of the novel, not to mention a (funnyish) joke. When More Tea, Jesus? was eventually giving a publishing contract, I went back to the comments that had been written about it and found much of them to be wise and useful in the rewrite that followed. I didn’t get rid of the prologue, but with the benefit of a bit of distance I did see that it wasn’t working and made big changes, apart from anything else making it considerably shorter. However, back when I first started using Authonomy I had not so long ago been on the verge of having this novel published, so I wasn’t in a great emotional place to listen to people whose only basis for criticism was their own writing, which was itself of… ah… variable quality.

I have read some brilliant books on Authonomy. Not many, but some, actually brilliant books. It is reassuring to see that many of those were noticed by other people and have found success since.1 Other books on Authonomy are full of good ideas but desperately in need of an editor, some read like fan fiction or school essays and some are so badly written or lacking in basic punctuation that you wonder if the writer ever read it back after they wrote it. It is a great cross section of the thousands of people who feel they have a book in them and have actually been bothered to write it down, which I think is great (though I do think people ought to self-edit their work a bit if they’re going to put it on the internet2). If nothing else, it shows that publishers, or at the very least editors, do still have a vital role to play in the whole publishing process.

(Mind you, there’s plenty of mediocre stuff put out by publishers as well. And some of the brilliant writing on Authonomy is so refreshingly uncommercial and therefore I presume unpublishable that it makes my youthful Canterbury Tales parody look like Dan Brown. I digress.)

Unfortunately, the vague promise of a fast-track route to publication has given Authonomy a sometimes rather competitive (or just plain cynical) atmosphere, in which people desperately try to bump their own work up the ratings by commenting nicely on somebody else’s after skimming through the first chapter (another reason the website didn’t and doesn’t work terribly well for me, because my inability to lie about a book I don’t think is very good makes it seem as though I hardly ever read anything on there). There is enough empty praise floating around to give you an inflated view of your own brilliance, if you’re not savvy enough to assess the quality of the criticism you’ve received, and it leads to a kind of Britain’s Got Talent syndrome where everybody thinks they’ve got something astonishing to offer the world without considering the hard work that ought to form a part of their contribution.

The forums in particular are rife with resentment from authors who feel their work is being unfairly ignored or that they are somehow being duped or taken advantage of by the powers-that-be. It is something which I experienced in a pretty full-on way when the acquisition of More Tea, Jesus? was announced: Scott Pack had been brought into the Authonomy team to ‘shake the site up a bit, iron out some of the kinks and find some books to publish’ and in keeping with this remit he plucked my book from the depths of the website and put it in front of the readers. But the announcement was followed by an explosion of fury in the forums from people who seemed to think they were uncovering a conspiracy (my previous association with Scott was already documented on the world wide web so it didn’t take a lot of uncovering). Suddenly I was under the scrutiny of people questioning why I had or had not been on Authonomy at various times, to the extent that they seemed to be (inaccurately) taking note of the length of time between my visits. The suggestion was that if I popped in it was to publicise my book and if I didn’t I wasn’t a serious member of the community. It was even suggested that my account had been retrospectively fabricated. It was nothing more or less than a collective cry of outrage from people who thought their books should have been published and not mine. And it wasn’t a lot of fun to be at the receiving end of it.

If you’re starting to think all this paints a rather negative picture of Authonomy, then STOP! Authonomy is brilliant. It is a website wonderfully full of novels, finished and unfinished, absolutely brilliant and utterly crap, and the people who wrote them encouraging each other to write more. Authonomy is doing something that plenty of schools are failing to do: it is inspiring creativity, it is getting people to write stuff down, it is even (sometimes) getting people to go back over what they have written and make it better. When I got the news that More Tea, Jesus? was going to be published I realised that it was badly in need of a rewrite and took it off the website; but I tentatively replaced it with a rather less thoroughly worked through (and completely uncommercial) novel, about which I have now received a great deal of really useful feedback, some of it from people who demonstrably know what they’re talking about. I have had a wealth of advice and feedback from kind, committed readers who have given their thoughts and encouragement for nothing except perhaps the agreement of a mutual read. That is exactly the spirit in which I would wholeheartedly recommend aspiring writers use the website.

I also seem to have recently started receiving propositions from a young lady called Donzo on the website. I get the impression she hasn’t read my book, but she seems keen on me so it’s a start.

1The Morning Drop, a startlingly good first novel by Andrew Hughes, sticks in my memory still, and I’m delighted to see will be published by Doubleday/Transworld at some point in the next year or so.
2Insert your own snarky joke about this blog here, if you like.

Getting it Published #5: Lamentations

Apologies for the delay in resuming this rather lengthy saga. You can reward your patience by visiting the new webpage for More Tea, Jesus? or liking it on Facebook. Or, if you haven’t already read it, you could read it.

It would certainly be a good time to do that, what with the recent women bishops farrago and Church House regularly putting out anonymous statements about gay marriage that don’t represent the views of the average member of the Anglican Church any more than Mike Freer represents the average member of the Conservative party. What with the Anglican Church’s penchant for finding itself misrepresented by the media – willfully or otherwise – even when I was writing More Tea, Jesus? I was rather hoping that it would not only be timely, but also commercial. After all, my book was all about religious and sexual politics, distortion of facts by the media and social injustice, all of which have been selling points for literature for centuries. And I had already had the stamp of approval from one publisher – so they had gone into liquidation, but surely I could find another who would see the book’s potential to reach a wide audience?

It didn’t take long to find a literary agent who agreed with me. Probably that was something I should have done already, but the fact that I’d already had a deal with this book (not to mention all the editorial input it had been given) certainly helped speed things up.

Sadly, that was where my luck ended. After an enthusiastic start and exciting emails about all the publishers the book had gone to, I received a sobering follow-up from my agent saying that nobody was interested, and advising me not to let it get me down, with the not-very-comforting reminder that it took Graham Greene six novels to get published. Frankly the idea of having to write six novels was a pretty depressing idea and I did not have the advantage of being Graham Greene either.

My agent was kind enough to send me the offer sheet she had sent out, enabling me to see not only how many publishers had rejected my novel but the reasons why. That was perhaps the most soul destroying thing of all: it was clear from the comments that I had not written a bad or an unlikeable book – quite the opposite, in fact, with comments like ‘absolutely wonderful’ all over the place – but that nevertheless, not one publisher wanted to risk taking it on because they didn’t think it would sell.

For all the sexual politics, media and social commentary I thought my work communicated, the stifling cloud of the Anglican communion had done its work: what the comments made clear was that publishers couldn’t see past the cosy, parochial exterior of the church. Almost a case of life imitating art, given some of the horrors hidden by the church in the book. Curiously, readers’ reviews of More Tea, Jesus? show that this is still the case – it surprises me how often the word ‘charming’ is used to describe it when I consider some of the genuinely awful things that happen in the story. Perhaps it feels more raw to me because it was my own pain and frustration that went into it, or perhaps my own flippant tongue is more distracting than I imagined. But one friend of mine wrote to me, when he finished an early draft of the final chapter, ‘that’s the most depressing thing I have read in a long time’ – and I think he had it about right.

All that aside, it was still pretty bloody annoying having publishers telling me that religious comedy didn’t sell, given that it was (and is) demonstrably untrue. (Ironically, this all came hot on the heels of several theatre producers telling me that Tony Blair – the Musical was lovely but politics in the theatre meant commercial death so thank you but no thank you. And shortly before Enron transferred to the West End. But new musicals in the West End seem to be flourishing, so what do I know?)

It is worth bearing in mind a couple of things: firstly, this all happened under the shadow of the beginnings of the financial crisis from which the country is still failing to recover, and publishers were, by all accounts, running a mile from anything which didn’t immediately scream commercial success. Secondly, the very nature of publishing had started to change – people had started to buy their books online and read them on strange mechanical devices and most publishers didn’t have the first idea how they were going to carry on making money. Many of them still don’t.

In other words, I had written the wrong book at the wrong time. And short of writing five more of them, I had been offered no useful suggestions as to what I could do about it.

Next episode: Judges – along comes Authonomy.