“Where were you when…?”
There are some things that stick in your mind: the dates are indelibly imprinted on your memory, together with what you were doing when they happended. In some respects you can define a generation by the memory. “Where were you when JFK was shot?” “What were you doing when they landed on the Moon?”
One of the ones for me is the London bombings of the 7th July, 2005. That summer I was writing up my thesis, ready to defend it later in the year. I was returning from a supervisory meeting. I must have had my phone turned off or something, because it was only when I was on the bus on my way home that someone got through to me to say that my girlfriend at the time was ok. Why wouldn’t she be ok? I hadn’t heard anything about the coordinated terrorist attacks so I hadn’t had any reason to be worried. She was working in London, and had been caught up in the subsequent problems facing the transport system. I don’t think she even made it to work, but instead came straight home – although even that took several hours longer than it should have done.
I’m not going to go off on one about encoding memories or anything like that, but I find it interesting that there are few things that I remember in quite that much detail. One of the other ones is more interesting for me on a personal level because it marked a major watershed for me in how and what I read.
I was in my early teens and had been reading Terry Pratchett books for a few years, and absolutely loving them. When this anecdote takes place, some of my very favourites had been published, and when we were given the opportunity to study one of our own choices for English, I chose Reaper Man, which retains a special affection. Given the title of this #secondthoughts, you can probably see where this is going…
I went to the library one day and I picked up “Colin the Librarian” by Rich Parsons and Tony Keaveney. I had a passing knowldege of Conan etc, aware of their existance, but I hadn’t read any of the Robert E Howard classics (and now that I think about it, I still haven’t). Anyway. I was browsing the shelves for some stuff to take out, and I came across this book, obvious pun for the title, which for me was a selling point. Pick it up, on the back was a a blurb, which included the phrase “the next Terry Pratchett”. Sold!
It was bound to happen sooner or later, but this was the first book that I did not finish – I use this term loosley. If we’re more precise, then it is the first book that I skipped to the end to see if it was worth reading, and that I skipped through to find any good bits. I did not find any.
Work progresses on the shared project with Debs and on a couple of other projects, to the point that selling them is becoming an increasingly important factor. When you are writing to agents or publishers or editors or whoever, you are supposed to provide some examples of what your work is like. You can understand the rationale: on the one hand particular people specialise in particular genres and they want to have an idea about whether than can be passionate about it and sell it, whether that be to the publisher or the general public. On the other, is there a market for this book? Are there people who will buy it just because it is like something that they’ve enjoyed previously? If it is not like anything else, is it too niche? How will you get the word out about the book?
But I can’t help feeling that being compared to someone is a bit of a poisoned chalice: there are authors who are a bit derivative, but it feels unfair to compare any author to someone who might be considered a giant in their field. And then of course, what if you don’t like a top author, but might have liked the new person, but were put off. Unpopular opinion, perhaps, but I’ve been put off a lot of Dickens by the sheer size of his work, which is ironic given the epic fantasy novels that I’ve worked my way through. I’ve not read all of Agatha Christie’s stuff, because some of the ones that I have read have been a bit repetitive – although there are some stories that I love immensly.
A closing thought, because I’m not sure that there is an answer to the paradox, but on the back of Reaper Man is a quote:
I’m beginning to think that Terry Pratchett is the best humorist this country has seen since P. G. Wodehouse – less coarse than Tom Sharpe, less cynical than Douglas Adams, simply a pure joy.’David Pringle, White Dwarf