IRON Press editor PETER MORTIMER can’t quite handle the latest submission.
Two large hardback books sit on my desk. One is the latest novel by David Almond, A Song for Ella Grey and is brilliantly, often breathtakingly written, a modern retelling
through Tyneside teenagers of the Orpheus & Euridice myth. Its powerful language haunts me.
I am also haunted by the second hardback. But in a very different way. It is more than 400 pages long, printed on high quality paper and has a full colour cover. Not so long ago, you would expect the writing in any such book at least to achieve some fairly high level of professional competence.
This no longer applies. Democracy has been unleashed upon literature. Modern technology means sisters and brothers are now doing it for themselves. Can’t find a publisher? No problem. Armies of firms are queuing to run off your magnum opus, with scarce a regard for the content. Publishing in many instances, has simply become printing.
And where traditional publishers were once restrained by the need of economies of scale, such links are now irrelevant..
You can have as few or as many copies as you like, same unit price. One copy? You’re on! And suddenly the world is awash with published writers. Whether they can write or not is another matter.
This second book was sent to me by the author seeking IRON Press’ interest. Would we now like to publish it (republish it)? This is increasingly common. Where once you would get a typed mss from aspirant scribblers, now you often get a perfectly formed print-on-demand copy of their work. In this case, the author’s self-belief shone through the covering letter, convinced that here was a major contribution to the literature of the 21st century and would be acknowledged as such the moment it was exposed to the public at large.
I began to read the book. By half way down the first page, my jaw dropped. By page two I was forced to put it to one side, and exclaim ‘phew!’ At the bottom of that page I took myself off to lay down in a darkened room. Few novels have had such an extreme effect on me in such a short space of time.
Quite simply, it was the worst writing I have ever encountered. And I speak as an editor of some 45 years standing who during that stint has probably read the work of more than 10,000 authors, most of them doomed never to be seen in print. Except now they often are in print. In a way. There again, they’re not. Take your pick.
I put the book down and stare at it. I pick it up and glance through the pages, pausing at a random paragraph in the forlorn hope that glinting there will be some small diamond of creativity, a possible hint of submerged writing talent. None appears. I am in a wasteland, a barren desert devoid of the waters of the imagination.
I become depressed. It seems a travesty that such writing should be presented in such a
lavish manner. It is as if a lower Sunday League footballer were to run out for Man Utd with no raised eyebrows. The book is a denial of natural law. The book offends the eye
of someone who believes that one way or another a book had to earn the right to be in print, any print and that the process of any book coming to fruition is a special one.
And now I am faced with this! I tell myself it is none of my concern. I tell myself the person has every right fork out their loot if it makes them happy. No-one has to read the book, after all. What harm can it do?
Yet I cannot rest. Something is not right. For some weeks now, I have passed the book on the stairs. Each time it pulls me up short. Each time I realise I have thus far failed to reply. Yet I feel duty-bound to reply in some way. I sit down at my desk. I prepare to type.
An editor’s lot it not always a happy one.