If you ever wanted to be a novelist, now is your chance to see what happens behind the curtain of fame. This is a riveting ‘behind the scenes’ look of MarkPepper’s too short life as a novelist and why he never published another book.
The heat in this iron is now two weeks old, but I’m still going to strike with it.
Yes, folks, it’s time to exorcise those last few remaining demons still feasting on my soul from eleven years ago. Actually, I’m pretty chilled now about the shi**ead journalist who put paid to my career as a novelist. See what I mean? A few months ago I couldn’t have said that without swearing. I’m coming on a treat.
In fact, I’ll mention the shi**ead journalist again just to make doubly sure I’m over the worst.
Uh … yah, yah, looking good.
Yes, so I mentioned in my first blog “writing with crayons” about a shi**ead journalist who quoted my clearly off-the-record comment in a magazine and caused my publisher Hodder & Stoughton to drop me like stone.
So here’s how it happened, and let this be a salutary lesson in not trusting shi**ead journalists for one, and strangers generally.
I had been down to London to visit Hodder & Stoughton’s HQ after the first hardback copies of Man on a Murder Cycle arrived from the printers. I spoke to the nice lady in their publicity department and suggested she might send a number of freebie copies to various motorbike magazines so they could review them and garner some useful press amongst a highly targeted audience. Seemed like a plan. I gave her a list of six of the top publications and I was assured they would be sent out pronto. I even offered to use my own complimentary copies and send them myself at my own expense if it seemed a bit much, but I was told not to be daft – that was their job.
And for my next trick …
So … I kept my eyes peeled over the next couple of months and saw nothing in any of the magazines. I asked Hodder if they had sent the books and was told yes, but they would send again to make sure they arrived.Huh?
I continued to scour the magazines and found nothing. I then telephoned the editors at each of the motorbike magazines to check if anything had arrived. All said no. I called Hodder again and relayed this information, and was told they must have vanished in the post. So that was six hardback books sent to six different addresses around the UK, and all six went missing in the post. Either that was really bad luck or there was a mini book-eating Bermuda Triangle lurking within the post box nearest to Hodder’s HQ. In my entire life I have only ever had a couple of things go missing in the post. Hmm, I thought, could there be another explanation? Well, you don’t like to ask, because that’s questioning a person’s professionalism and that’s not a good idea when your career is in their hands.
Beware journos bearing praise
Fast-forward a few months and I received a phone call at my home from a shi**ead journalist. After reading some positive reviews of my novel, he had bought it, read it and enjoyed it, and now wanted to do an interview with me. Great. Before we hung up, he mentioned that he was surprised Hodder hadn’t contacted him directly to review the book because he was well-known to Hodder and they usually made contact as a matter of course.
That’s when it started to go a bit tits up, as they say. I said I wasn’t too surprised because it seemed to be par for the course. He said we could talk about what I meant by that when we met. I realised I might have made a gaff and resolved myself to say nothing further on the subject.
I must admit, I don’t have much luck meeting strange men in hotels. I’m going to try and avoid re-reading that last sentence. During my acting days I auditioned in my underpants in a bedroom at the Liverpool Holiday Inn for a man with a video camera who assured me he was making a film about boxing. Yeah, yeah, I know what it looks like now. It had actually been set up by my acting agent who subsequently could not find any trace of this guy as a director, nor his company, nor the film he was supposed to be making. Checks, methinks, that perhaps should have been performed before the audition. When I’m relaxing in the noonday sun, my thoughts drifting, I still imagine I might be a minor celebrity on some gay boxing fetish website.
Hopping back to my literary career, I met this shi**ead journalist chap at the Manchester Crown Plaza Hotel and we sat down in the lobby to talk. We discussed the usual: how I got into writing, where my ideas came from etc. Twenty minutes later he closed his little notebook and the interview was, so it appeared, at an end.
An outbreak of foot-in-mouth
And then he asked: What was that I’d mentioned on the telephone about my being a little disgruntled with Hodder? Thinking I had a fan in front of me, and feeling quite relaxed, I told him about the “mishap” with the motorcycle magazines and my feelings about what I suspected had – or hadn’t – happened. I remember distinctly that I did make sure to prelude my comments with “completely off-the-record, strictly between you and me”, but it was clearly a request that fell on deaf ears.
A couple of weeks later I found his review in City Life magazine. It was fairly glowing, and as I read it I could feel my chest swelling with pride. What’s that they say about pride? A minute later my heart skipped a few beats and an awful feeling of nausea rippled through me.
Right at the end of his review he had given his own interpretation of my off-the-record, strictly-between-you-and-me comments. Basically, he hinted very strongly that I was pissed off that Hodder had not publicised my novel properly. I had not put it in such direct terms, but I suppose when you have to précis something like that the details can get a bit lost. It sounded awful and I knew if Hodder saw it I would be screwed.
That’s all he wrote
A few days later I received another telephone call. It was my editor, the one I found very … Canadian. Hodder’s press cuttings agency had found the review. I was screwed. She wasn’t angry; she just mentioned something about biting the hand that feeds and it being disappointing that such a comment should have appeared in an otherwise good review. I tried to explain that my actual words to the shi**ead journo had not sounded so damning at the time and that I had been misquoted, but I knew it was game over.
When I sent my third novel for review a few months later, it was rejected in pretty short order. Of course my literary agent tried to place it elsewhere, but if a publisher takes two books then refuses the third, it’s not a great advert to other publishers. It says either the book isn’t up to much, or you’re a pain in the arse to work with. Hey, maybe there was some truth to both of them. Anyway, as I said in my first blog, I never got into print again after that, and I never wrote another novel. There’s a lot more involved in my decision than just this experience, though. Writing a novel requires hard work, dedication and plenty of uninterrupted time. My circumstances were changing. When you have a family and you need to earn a proper living, what little spare time you do have needs to be spent wisely. You can either watch your kids grow up or lock yourself away with your novel in the vain hope that you may one day get published and earn an advance that equates to hugely less than minimum wage for the time you’ve put in.
I’m still not sure why the journo did what he did. Maybe it’s just what they do. Perhaps it was simply a small way for him to spice up his review and stir in a final note of controversy. I doubt it was malicious but it was definitely reckless, and deeply dishonourable. Then again, I’ve always accepted I should have known better than to speak so candidly. There’s a certain irony in there, too – that someone who actively sought me out because he liked my writing should then so glibly put an end to it for the sake a few extra words on his part.
Well, that’s it. I’ll talk more about the pros and cons of writing a novel in another blog, because I know that it still remains, for many, the pinnacle of writing achievements. Let me tell you now: it really ain’t – not unless you’ve made some Faustian pact with the Devil to reach JK Rowling heights.
See, I can be fairly serious when I try. Until next time …