Sometimes I admit that there is reasonable occasion for contemporary literature (though I'd maintain it's usually in about two years, when the hype has worn off).
A couple of weeks ago I went to a talk at the Festival Hall as part of the Orange Prize, making use of a ticket a friend of mine seemed to have bought without quite understanding what it was for. As to who won this year, I still don't actually know and in truth, would remain reasonably whole if I never found out. I only remember the startling claim by Kate Mosse that three of the books on the shortlist were attributable to one agent and three to one editor, which reduced my rather slight interest in the outcome to outright apathy.
So what is the secret of being published, for an aspiring first novelist? If there could have been one, no-one in the room would have found out, in a Q & A that strictly observed the single commandment Though Shalt Not Break Their Little Writerly Hearts. After a fairly clear discussion about what agents and publishers were looking for (essentially, a good novel, with perhaps some assurance that a second would be on the way), the Q and A session picked up on the point. "So," said a member of the audience, "a friend of mine tells me that I shouldn't mention in my covering letter that the novel I'm about to write is part of a sequence of nine. But I think an agent might be really excited by that fact. What do you think?" [Say yes! Please say yes!]
On the face of it, there could have been several truthful and succinct answers to this young woman's question:
- Please don't do that.
- Hey, it's your funeral.
- Have you even been listening?
- [Laughter, falling off chair]
- So you're two novels better than J.K. Rowling?
- Why not?
- That sounds a lovely idea. Nine lovely novels. Well done you. How super. You are clever, aren't you? Who's a clever writer? You are! Well done you. Nine novels, you've thought about writing. Gosh, and I've only written one...
- Of course we'd seriously consider representing a set of nine unwritten novels from an unknown would-be novelist! Well, we're not usually interested in fantasy fiction, but there's always a first time!