Forgive me if I seem to be a little less than my usual ebullient self but I feel a little put-upon at the moment. It appears that my efforts to promote this work of literary brilliance have fallen on distinctly stony ground. Why somebody even complained that I had not even mentioned the name of the august work under discussion!
But in spite of the doubts of those to sit and watch safely from the sidelines, I have indeed worked hard to earn what looks like being an extremely meagre commission. But still, do I allow myself to be disheartened by the cavilling of those who have ostentatiously avoided dipping their fingers in the murky waters that I am obliged to wallow in?
I decided that I would tackle this problem as I would any other, so I sat in the autumn sun sipping sweet wine and meditating upon the passing of the year. Eventually as the autumn afternoon grew chill I decided I would call upon Silac Gicken. Silac is a printer and a good one, and what is better; I feel I have a call upon his time due to favours rendered to him in the past.
It struck me that this story of Webster’s would be easier to sell if it were there as a physical entity and not merely a notional waft of electrons. So I would get Silac to publish it.
I arrived at his print shop and dropped the manuscript on his desk in front of him. He grabbed a bottle and two glasses and poured us both a drink. Then he surveyed the manuscript.
“It seems a little large.”
“Nonsense,” I replied briskly,”it’s just a little over twenty-one thousand words.”
He shook his head sadly. “It’s going to be expensive. By the time we’ve put in the stuff the discerning reader really wants it could be over thirty-thousand.”
I knew what he was driving at. There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead really wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.”
“Be bold, leave out the extra,” I urged him.
“Tallis what do you know of delayed gratification? The reader is no longer interested in the book they are holding the minute they take possession. So we have to hold out a new dream for them to follow.”
Delayed gratification indeed! I glanced at my empty glass, which contrasted unfavourably with his which was as yet untouched.
Silac changed tack. “Perhaps it has a fine selection of fart jokes, and tales of overly rapid bowel movements catching respectable people unawares?”
I pulled myself up to my full height (whilst remaining seated) and treated him to a look of withering scorn. “My client is an artist, a man of letters, not some buffoon performing for an audience of moral degenerates.”
I think I heard him mutter ‘pity’ at that point but instead of commenting I pushed his glass to him. “Come let me fill your glass for you.” If he wasn’t going to play the host somebody had to. He drank a mouthful and I topped up his glass and filled mine.
He continued toying with the manuscript, “What about tales of amorous adventures, and descriptions of particularly athletic conjugal activities involving brief leather clothing, whips and chains? They are eminently saleable at the moment.”
I merely continued to direct my scornful glare at him. He shook his head sadly and stood up and walked to a shelf and took down half a dozen books. I took the opportunity to top up his glass and fill mine.
Silac placed the books in front of me. “Does his work have any similarities to these?”
I glanced at them, they were all books which had sold particularly well in recent years and had produced a fair share of imitators, mostly bad. One was a harrowing tale of poverty and deprivation written by a lady who described her struggles to keep body and soul together on an income a full six times larger than mine. Another was a tale of misery which centred on another lady’s terrible childhood where she describes in detail the pain she suffered because her parents refused to let her keep a pony in her bedroom.
One book I had enjoyed. It was not a work of literature but an adventure story written with short sentences and even shorter paragraphs; which to be fair had kept me engrossed one winter’s evening. I will saw nothing about the other books save to say they were worse than the first two.
“No, this is an original work.”
I’m afraid that when I used the word ‘original’ he reeled back as if he had been struck. On the positive side he drained his glass in one gulp and when I gestured with an empty bottle he hastened to open a second bottle and poured himself another glass which he sipped meditatively.
He ventured, “Perhaps we could include pictures of pretty girls wearing few if any clothes?”
I glared at him from over the rim of the glass.
He paused briefly and then suggested, “There is a fashion at the moment for pictures of lightly oiled and muscular young men working shirtless in hayfields?”
I put my glass down. “From my experience if you work shirtless in a hayfield you end up so covered in dust and flies that nobody would ever bother with a picture. And that’s without being lightly oiled.”
Silac shook his head sadly. “For a poet Tallis, you have a distressing lack of romance.”
He stared moodily at the manuscript on the table and I took the opportunity to top up both our glasses.
I then took advantage of his silence to push forward what I felt was one of the story’s strengths. “The author feels that reading a good book should be like taking a holiday. When you finally surface you feel refreshed, exhilarated and as if you’d spent time in a pleasant place with fascinating new friends.”
Silac pointed to one of the misery memoirs. “She achieves that.”
“Silac, when I read her book, I felt as if I’d been kidnapped and held captive for a fortnight by somebody who had long ago left the bounds of sanity and decency behind.”
“It sold well Tallis.”
“Yes but how many people actually read the damned thing. I’d suggest that the fact we didn’t have an epidemic of suicides is proof that very few did!”
Silac sat back in his chair. “I’m sorry Tallis, I owe you favours and you’ve been a real friend to me, but even I cannot take the risk of publishing this. I’d love to help, but this is just too big a risk.”
I drained my glass and stood up, “I came to you because I value your honesty Silac.”
I picked up the manuscript and as I turned, Silac asked, “What’s it called, so I can buy a copy when it comes out and every time I look at it I can taste humble pie.”
“A Bad Penny.”
He just looked at me.
I shrugged, “I know, you needn’t tell me how many books have that title, I tried to count them and fell asleep.”