Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Our Best-Loved Authors... and Prospects for Books in 2011, Mine Included...
If all proceeds according to plan then I will have two books published into stores during 2011. My novel The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, now in bound proofs, is set fairly squarely for June, and the revised/updated edition of my Sean Penn: His Life and Times will follow in the autumn, subject to Mr Penn’s movements about the globe and also, I suspect, the international release schedule of Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place. By any measure this double publication is a pleasing prospect for a writer, albeit with attendant/irreducible anxieties. A book is like a small child in some respects, you push it out into the world and hope that a goodly few people – someone, at least! – will take a shine to it. But I’m very thankful for what I’ve got, be assured. The making of books contains its own profound satisfactions, so long as one feels content that the final text represents what one actually intended to write. (I will never forget sitting with my then editor in 1998 as he and I turned admiringly in our hands the first copy off the presses of what was my first book, Alan Clarke. ‘Better than a PhD, eh Richard?’ he said to me with a grin. And there was no doubt in my mind.)
Of course, the high privileged gleam one might see across the surface of one’s own published endeavours can easily lose its sheen in the event of a sluggish take-up from book-buyers, or a disparaging review that people actually read. All the more reason why one must first make sure to please oneself: you never can be certain anyone else will show to your party, so you may as well enjoy a quiet moment to yourself.
In terms of making the reading public aware of these forthcoming publications: the Penn book will likely be linked, as I say, to whatever Sean is doing this year, and I expect to be running a long exclusive interview with the great man in the Telegraph newspaper come late summer/autumn. With Doctor Forrest we will just have to see what the readers of those early proofs think to it, though already I've been encouraged by the outcomes of submissions made for film/television rights and to foreign language publishers – news to follow as it’s all confirmed. But before this month is out I expect to be launching a new blog devoted solely to the novel, www.drforrest.co.uk: what I hope will be a sort of grand Gothic concordance celebrating the sort of literary/filmic/mythological darkness that informed the novel.
In such ways and by such means one tries to deliver one’s letters... The future of the book as a physical object/commodity is of course a much debated matter now, e-reader sales being tracked with particular zeal this Christmas. The user-friendliness of the new touch-screen systems has made a dent, it seems to me, in the formerly staunch cadres of readers who insisted they would never give up on printed books (or at least never fall in love with squinting at words on a screen.) The future does seem to work, though, and one might say that a text is a text, its merits integral however it is consumed. But I intend to treasure every minute of my stuff being printed and bound between covers for as long as that process is viable.
There’s a very commonsensical reason why reports of the book’s demise continue to be exaggerated, and that is the gift impulse that Christmas elevates to fever pitch. As a friend of mine opined recently, if there were no more physical books what on earth would you give as a present to those friends of yours who don’t do fragrance? There has to be something chunky and wrappable to be put into hands on the special occasion. Hence, it seems, the regrettable failure of the Rubberbandits to withstand the X-Factor’s drive to #1 in Ireland over Christmas: evidently the Bandits sold a stack more downloads than Simon Cowell’s lackey, but their CD single just wasn’t in enough stores, whereas Whatsisface’s was everywhere, and with a picture on the sleeve.
However, as the dogs in the street know, the success of the Book-as-Gift is near-wholly dependent upon that picture on the jacket, and whom it depicts: hence, as the Bookseller reported today, “Jamie Oliver scored the final number one of  with Jamie's 30-minute Meals easily outselling the second-placed title Michael McIntyre's Life and Laughing… Both McIntyre and Stephen Fry received sales boosts in the final week…”
I haven’t ‘read’ (or, rather, cooked from) one of Jamie’s books in some years, partly because his TV shows have declined in interest sharply of late. (I hazarded upon his 2010 Xmas Special, saw him sitting down in matey fashion with Jonathan Ross, and dived for the remote.) By contrast, to speak of another bestseller, Nigella Lawson keeps doing the same voodoo, sashaying fetchingly around a soft-focus West London as if she were not actually married to Charles Saatchi, whipping up yummy dinner-party-grade stuff in her kitchen with a requisite number of slatternly from-a-tin shortcuts. I won’t gripe, though, since her How To Eat, given again to my wife this Xmas after our last copy got pinched, is really excellent. And even as I was tutting over a repeat of her telly show one Saturday morning before Christmas, I was suddenly gripped to watch her whip up a blinding-hot green chilli salsa that she claimed to favour for cocktail hour round her place (or what, round mine, is the kids-abed moment when I crack a beer...)
So it’s no mystery to me why these authors have readers – though to these eyes Michael McIntyre’s stupefying success still has the feel of witchcraft or sorcery about it. But, in the manner of Dr Faustus and of Dr Forrest, I shall be practising hard at spells of my own in 2011.