andrewgodsell

Tales from an author

Archive for the tag “Fame”

How Does an Author Promote Their Book?

15 cover 2014

 

I have recently published my first novel. This is something I have wanted to do for many years. Part of the reason for delay is that I have been busy writing factual books, one of which is entitled Fifteen Minutes of Fame. The title is ironic, as obscurity has outweighed any limited fame in the life, and writing career, chronicled in that book. The title of this Blog piece deliberately ends with a question mark. I am not so much offering advice on how to promote a book, as asking myself, and anybody reading this, how is it done?

Belief in the quality of my writing has always been dwarfed by a lack of confidence in promoting the books, and myself. I think a lot of this is due to my struggling with Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD. Here is a link to something I wrote a few months ago about how these things affect me. It was one of my more popular posts on this Blog – with two people commenting on it.

https://andrewgodsell.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/aspergers-syndrome-and-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/

In the case of my novel, there is the complicating factor of my not even being sure that publishing it, without a pseudonym, is a good idea. It is my first foray in the world of….(dare I say it?)….erotica. The whole book is not erotica. There is a lot of gentle comedy, updating the tales in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books to the present day. There may even be aspirations to literary fiction. Most people, this generally includes myself, do not talk openly about their sexuality, but people are equally fascinated by the concept. I ask myself, will the book be welcomed as an interesting piece of work? Will the “oddball” nature of my novel cause people to take my other writing less seriously? Or will it be largely ignored? At present I have lacked the confidence to explicitly tell family and friends, who know I have been writing the book, the direction in which it has gone. Indeed, in the real world, I have not even told people that it was published as an Ebook on Amazon Kindle a few months ago. If the book takes off in any way, I plan to publish a paperback version, with some pictures. Moving away from the real world, the book is starting to have a small presence in Cyberspace, with some people buying it on Kindle, and extracts recently placed on this Blog receiving some “likes”. Over on Twitter, a friend who spotted the book was surprised to say the least, their response being:

Blimey! #notfortheeasilyshocked #Isurvived

https://twitter.com/mayyourhope/status/754345471963901952

Much of my output has been self-published, but a couple of books have been issued by mainstream publishers. Both of these were books of football history which, after an encouraging start, lost some impact as they became out of date. In the first case, the publisher went bankrupt, while in the second the book was quietly allowed to fade away. Like many writers, I have the ongoing difficulty of getting a publisher without having a literary agent, while attempts to get a literary agent are stalled by my relative lack of prior success getting a publisher!.

It is often said that many writers have a large ego about their writing, combined with a lack confidence about promoting themselves. The outlook of the muddled creator of a piece of art has been likened, by various people, to famous lines from W B Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

The anxiety I have always felt, due to my mental health issues, has made dealing with publishers on a personal level difficult. Similarly I have attempted to sell my books in person at book fairs, but lacked the confidence to make much of this. I am good at writing and emailing press releases, but terrible at following up with telephone calls to real life journalists. More than 30 years after I started writing books, I am often overwhelmed by a feeling that it will be difficult to be a major success. Should I continue to follow my big dream? Should I settle for the limited level of literary success I have been able to enjoy? In an attempt to prompt myself to be more active, I am writing this short piece, with the intention of updating it as things progress.

I hope to return later with more to report.

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Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I have Asperger’s Syndrome combined with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These conditions have been formally diagnosed by mental health professionals in the last few years, but I had known for many years that I probably have Asperger’s and OCD. I have long intended to write a piece about my condition, but have found the prospect daunting. I find it difficult to talk, and write, about these things.

A lot of people who know me well do not seem to realise that I have Asperger’s and OCD. I do not know to what extent this is due to a lack of common knowledge about the conditions, and the clues as to who has them. It may be a result of my having the conditions at a relatively low level. Alternatively it could be due to my not openly speaking about them. Actually I am able to write about the conditions in the sense that they are central to my book Fifteen Minutes of Fame, the satirical autobiography of an obscure writer. I have had several books published, with limited success. Perhaps the obsessions that spur me to write also undermine my ability to actually promote books when they are published.

My Twitter profile announces that I have Asperger’s and OCD, and I have about 900 followers, some of whom share my interest in mental health issues. On the other hand, how many people regularly check the profile detail of people they follow and re-tweet? Actually I do such a thing – it is part of the obsession. Also I will often become obsessed about a particular news story, read and post loads of tweets about it for a day or two, before moving on to the next obsession.

As I write this, various ideas are popping into my head. I am sometimes asked what my conditions feel like. The OCD involves a lot of regular routines, which leave me feeling uneasy if they are not followed. There is also a lot of worrying, intrusive thoughts, and a strange belief in doing deals with fate to make things better. The main point about Asperger’s is a difficulty with social interaction. I often avoid doing things so as to reduce worry about being in a difficult social situation, and then regret that I missed out on something enjoyable. I have spells of depression, which can last for days or weeks, which reinforce the avoidance. Apparently worry about Asperger’s and OCD leads to depression.

There are lots of overlaps between Asperger’s and OCD. I had a quick look around the Internet recently to see if there is a term for people having both conditions, but I did not find anything that straightforward. Perhaps I should just call it “my condition” in so far as it relates to me. Everybody experiences things differently.

There are some positives in having Asperger’s. Such people usually have the ability to master a particular subject that interests them. The woman who assessed me for Asperger’s said that the most interesting part of the process is when people tell her about their “special interests”. I outlined some of my special interests, including football statistics. I also said “I like to write lists about things that interest me. One day I plan to write a list of my favourite lists”. The assessor lady burst into (supportive) laughter, saying this was the funniest response she had heard yet.

I often deal with a worry or obsession by finding another obsession to replace it. Having planned in the last few days to focus on this piece, I have found myself spending too much time on Twitter. There has been lots to debate, and share, on Twitter, including the calls for David Cameron to resign as Prime Minister, but the mental energy I devote to this is excessive. My tweeting about the links between the Panama Papers and tax avoidance by Tories, among other things, has led to a rapid growth in the number of followers I have on Twitter. I have reached a (relatively modest) personal record with one message, asking David Cameron if he is guilty of tax avoidance, getting 11 retweets, and 26 likes. I feel positive when people interact with me on Twitter. The responses are often fast, and give a short feeling of positivity. They are certainly faster than writing a book, and the process of publishing it, only for a small sprinkling of people (more like hundreds than thousands) to read it.

It was not until a few years ago that I realised that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty reading people, and body language. This has long been a problem for me. Until recently, unless somebody verbally told me there were not interested in what I was saying to them, I would assume what I had to say was of interest. I have got better at reading body language, but it is still an issue. When I am feeling confident, I have a lot to say for myself. When I am feeling stressed, I often try to counter this, using humour, and end up having too much to say for myself. This can cause confusion, and misunderstanding in the workplace – I have worked in offices for a series of private and public sector organisations. At work I am good at the technical elements of a job, but struggle in my interaction with colleagues.

Ever since I was a teenager, many years ago, I have been fascinated by politics. I have been a member of the Labour Party for 32 years. Sometimes I have been very active, other times I have withdrawn. I have stood for local council elections several times, but not been elected. Once I thought I had a decent chance of victory, but things ended badly, with political passions, clashes of ego, and party managers who did not seem to know how to manage me. The outcome was demoralisation and withdrawal. Going out door-knocking, and talking to the general public, used to feel very daunting, but I managed a few years ago to start doing this regularly – even frequently. I generally got a good response from the public.

I am a bit of a perfectionist. If I get something 95 per cent right, the wrong 5 per cent often feels more important. Sending the simplest of emails can be a struggle, as I search for exactly the right wording. I like to think I am good at grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I can also be a bit pedantic about such things as the incorrect use of apostrophes.

I take comfort, and even find inspiration, from the achievements of people with similar conditions to my own. Bruce Springsteen and David Beckham have both spoken about their having OCD. Back in the past, Samuel Pepys and Jean-Jacques Rousseau displayed symptoms of what we now know to be OCD. People believed to have Asperger’s Syndrome include George Orwell, in the past, and Bob Dylan in the never ending present. In the course of writing this piece, Internet research has informed me that Lionel Messi was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child – a piece of knowledge that somehow eluded me when I wrote a profile of Messi four years ago.

I wish I could speak confidently to more people about my condition. I often find the condition tough, but there are advantages. I like to be different, although I generally tell people this is due to my being eccentric. In a way we are all different, and all struggle with some things, but some people are more different than others. There is also the theory that people who are not on the Autistic / Asperger’s spectrum suffer from something called Neurotypical Syndrome. People from the Autistic spectrum have displayed brilliant humour in their satirical definitions of Neurotypical Syndrome – including a suggestion that it features “preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity” while “there is no known cure”. Think I will leave this Blog post now, before it becomes something I work upon for far too long. Also I wonder how many people will read this. I may return to the subject.

 

Parallel Lines / The 1970s

Hello again – well the WordPress stats say a few people have been reading this week. As for me, highlight of the week has been attending a show by Milton Jones – some brilliant comedy. In a moment of whimsy (not sure that is the right spelling), I announced on Twitter that I would dress up as a chicken for the show, but I lacked the time to go to fancy dress shop (or lacked the pluck) to do so! A cousin of mine sent same tweet idea to Milton few months ago so perhaps Milton got the joke.

Now for a bit of nostalgia – some more memories of childhood, including holidays in the sun / Devon (memo to self – should add that phrase to the piece). End of the piece has joke about potatoes – perhaps you had to be there?

Many of my happiest childhood memories stem from Summer holidays at Goodrington, a village adjoining Paignton. Mum’s extended family visited Goodrington in each year from 1974 to 1980. On the first of these trips we stayed in a cramped boarding house, owned by a grumpy couple, which did not live up to an enticing name, Paradise Lodge. In subsequent years we based ourselves in the comfortable Goodrington Lodge Hotel. We became friendly with the family, named White, who owned the hotel, and several other regular visitors. The hotel was a short walk from Goodrington Sands, the two parts of which are known as the “morning beach” and “afternoon beach” respectively in our family. We used to rent a beach hut at the southern end, which had soft sand, and base ourselves there in the mornings. We would move to the northern part of the beach, with compacted sand, in the afternoon – to enjoy swimming, making giant sandcastles, and playing tennis. The tide comes in fully on the “afternoon beach” so in practice it could not always have been used – but I have the recollection of many afternoons on that beach rather than the opposite. On Wednesday evenings there was a regular disco at the hotel, hosted by the manager, John White, who endeared himself to young and old alike by inadvertently introducing records by Showaddywaddy as performances from Showaddyshowaddy – seemed even more of a tongue-twister. The discos were preceded by cricket matches in the neighbouring park, with our family being joined by other guests. The games got rather competitive, from my perspective – there were arguments about the rules, plus displays of frustration with opponents and team-mates alike.

Cricket was a sport I followed with interest, including attendance at a few Hampshire matches. During 1974, I saw part of a County Championship game, in which Hampshire (the previous season’s champions) beat Worcestershire (who went on to win the title this year) by an innings. The trip was organised by Neville, who was a keen cricketer, playing for Droxford, a picturesque village near Hambledon, “the Cradle of Cricket”. In 1977 Fleet was the scene of a benefit game for Barry Richards, the brilliant South African batsman who played for Hampshire. An injury prevented Richards from playing that day, but I was able to get him to autograph my copy of the benefit brochure. The progress of the England team featured in excellent BBC coverage, with television pictures being complemented by Test Match Special on the wireless – the word dad used for radio.

Dad was my hero as I grew up, with his offbeat sense of humour, and enthusiasms, being a great influence. Mum was the more practical, and steady, member of the family. Each year we travelled to Cheltenham, the home town of the Godsell family, for the August bank holiday weekend, staying with Yvonne, a sister of dad, her husband David, and their daughter Elaine. Dad and David took Mark, Elaine, and I on visits to Pittville Park, with another cousin, Linda. I recall boat trips, with my poor steering rendering return to the perimeter of the lake problematic. On one occasion, reaching an island, I rapidly hopped onto land, whereupon Linda tried to do likewise, but fell into shallow water, and had to wade ashore. We would also visit my dad’s parents, Christopher and Phyllis (nee Cook-Cove). It was saddening to see Christopher, my grandfather, suffer very poor health for several years, leading to his death on March 19 1976.

I made my first journey abroad at Whitsun in 1976, joining a junior school trip to France. We stayed at Dieppe, and visited other sites in Normandy, including Fecamp and Rouen. In September I became a pupil at Court Moor Secondary School, where my mother was a member of the kitchen staff. Dad continued to work at the NGTE, with his role including the testing of Concorde engines. I developed an interest in family history, which was initially to last for a couple of years. Uncle David drew up a family tree of the Godsells, which prompted me to produce an equivalent chart covering my mother’s family. Ernest and Dorothy, my mother’s parents, provided information, some of which we found in a Family Bible, printed way back in 1877. The genealogical notes in the Bible opened with the marriage of William Pillar and Bessie Collins, at Dawlish, in Devon, during 1883. They were the parents of Alice, who was in turn the mother of Ernest.

Having previously gained a place in the junior school’s chess team, I represented Court Moor at that game. I also appeared in a couple of reserve team football matches for Court Moor. In February 1977 pupils and staff went to see England play the Netherlands. The Dutch masters gave a brilliant display and won 2-0, inspired by Johan Cruyff, who later described this as the best performance of his career. On another school outing to Wembley, we saw England beat Northern Ireland 1-0, in the British Championship, during May 1978. That year’s World Cup finals were held in Argentina, but England were not there, having been eliminated in the qualifiers by Italy, on goal difference. Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1, after extra time, in a bad-tempered, and dramatic, Final. Two members of Argentina’s squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, joined Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks later. In September, I saw Villa play for Tottenham, when they drew 1-1 away to Aldershot, in a testimonial match.

I saw the filming of an episode of Are You Being Served? at a BBC studio in London, during November 1978. With mum having obtained dozens of tickets, a coach trip was organised, with mum, dad, Mark, and I being joined by lots of friends. It was fascinating to see how the programme was made. Prior to filming, we found ourselves in a studio corridor, alongside Wendy Richard and Penny Irving, who were dressed up as Miss Brahms and Miss Bakewell respectively. Dad exchanged hellos with Wendy and Penny. As a curious teenager, suddenly catching sight of a prominent pair of ladies from the exciting world of television, I was left in silent admiration.

In May 1979 a General Election was won by the Conservative Party, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. I felt the outgoing Labour government – in which Jim Callaghan replaced Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976 – performed fairly well. The Labour government’s position unravelled during the “Winter of Discontent”, as the effects of industrial disputes were exacerbated by severe weather through the Winter of 1978-79. Long afterwards, I remember walking home from the centre of Fleet, on a cold day in February 1979, with lots of snow on the ground. I had just bought Blondie’s Parallel Lines, this being the start of a record collection, which grew rapidly in the next few years. Besides Blondie (fronted by Debbie Harry, an adorable illusion), my initial favourite artists included Elvis Costello (lyricist of genius), and the Sex Pistols (leaders of Britain’s punk rock movement). In August 1979, I bought Because the Night by Patti Smith, a passionate love song that had been a major hit on its release the previous year. I also obtained discs by Buddy Holly, tragically killed in an air crash back in 1959, at the age of just 22. With a great admiration for the Beatles, I became interested in John Lennon’s solo records. The senseless murder of Lennon, in December 1980, left millions of people around the world with feelings of immense sadness.

I acquired several records by Bruce Springsteen during 1980, starting with the Born to Run single. Next I bought Bruce’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, a remarkable album, released two years earlier, portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism. On May 30 1981, as an excited 16 year old, I attended a concert by Bruce and the E Street Band, at Wembley Arena, which lasted nearly three hours. The highlight was Because the Night, a song Bruce recorded for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but decided not to use. A tape of the song had been passed to Patti Smith, working on her Easter LP at the same studio complex as Bruce. The intermediary was Jimmy Iovine, multi-tasking (or multi-tracking) as engineer on Bruce’s album and producer of Patti’s record. With Bruce’s approval, Patti penned changes to the lyrics. Bruce performed Because the Night in concert with his set of words, but had not released his version as a record. I learned from a biography of Bruce, by Dave Marsh, that a legendary track, The Promise, intended for the album, had also been omitted, and wondered when I might get to hear the song.

Our family had a seventh successive Summer holiday at Goodrington in 1980. Some members wanted a change, but the only problem I could see (or feel) was some hard potatoes, served at dinner in the hotel restaurant. Walking through the reception one evening, I heard John White complaining, by telephone, to the supplier that the potatoes would not go soft when boiled, which meant residents were not eating them. John had raised this with a delivery man, who said the hotelier was going soft in the head.

Story-Telling

 

Here is an extract from my (newish) book Fifteen Minutes of Fame (an eccentri comnination of autobiography and cultural commentary) 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifteen-Minutes-Fame-Andrew-Godsell/dp/1447858727/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1335733260&sr=8-3

The following piece, written at intervals since 2009, recalls (with nostalgia) childhood enthusiasm for stories. The essay weaves backwards and forwards, through numerous tales, in various formats, that have gained attention across several decades, occasionally arriving somewhere near the present day.

 

“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”. This advice was given by a King to a White Rabbit, during a bizarre trial, staged near the conclusion of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (published in 1865). There is a lot to be said for starting stories other than at the beginning – I often begin in the middle, hop backwards to the opening, and meander through several digressions, before reaching something like an ending. The curious world of Wonderland has been an unlikely influence on my story-telling, as an imaginary counterpoint to the facts I normally rely upon. Following this short diversion, it is time to mention I have been fascinated by stories for almost as long as I can remember. Good stories entertain and inspire us, often providing vital insights into people’s lives. Stories can be factual or fictional – and sometimes a hybrid.

    I was born during the twentieth century – the exact year being 1964. By the middle of the 1970s, I had moved from stories aimed at children to reading books primarily written for an adult audience, with football being a particular interest. I discovered the James Bond novels and stories, written by Ian Fleming, and read all of these during a spell of about a year. Bond led an intriguing life as a spy, with missions in exotic locations, while Fleming brilliantly described the thoughts and actions of the character – including Bond’s shower and breakfast routines, plus his appreciation of fine food, sophisticated drinks, and beautiful women. Another enthusiasm was history books, consumed as a teenager.

    Besides being an avid reader, I appreciated other forms of story-telling. A notable example was television situation comedies, with great programmes from the BBC in the 1970s including Are You Being Served?, Butterflies, Fawlty Towers, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and The Good Life. I also enjoyed comedy sketch programmes, such as Morecambe and Wise, The Dick Emery Show, and The Two Ronnies. The part of the latter show where Ronnie Corbett would sit in an armchair, telling a joke, surrounded by several minutes of tangential rambling, irritated me at the time. In retrospect, Ronnie Corbett’s style of story-telling appears to have had a great influence upon me. Moving away from comedy, television news bulletins, plus newspapers, helped develop a knowledge of the outside world.

    In my youth, I planned to develop the enthusiasm for books, by becoming a writer. I started to read the works of George Orwell, who remains my favourite author, due to his profound ideas, expressed in a conversational prose style. Besides books published in his lifetime, I enjoyed The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, a posthumously-compiled four volume set. The series opened with Why I Write, an essay from 1946, in which Orwell gave a summary of his literary career. Orwell argued that writers are motivated by four factors, the first of these being “sheer egoism”, caused by a wish to be recognised as a clever person. Next came “aesthetic enthusiasm”, which could follow from appreciation of external beauty, the taking of pleasure in the usage of words, and a wish to share experience. The third factor was “historical impulse”, with an author finding facts to be used for posterity. Orwell’s final motive was “political purpose”, with writers seeking to be an influence on people’s ideas about the direction of their society.

    What is my motivation as a writer? I think – we cannot always be certain about motives – that the central factor is a wish for communication. I feel a need to connect my enthusiasms, ideas, and knowledge with those of fellow human beings. I also seek to give permanent record to experiences, many of which would otherwise be forgotten. Enjoyment in the creation of a piece of writing is followed by a sense of satisfaction when it is published, read by others, and discussed. From the preceding sentences, it appears the second and third of Orwell’s themes are predominant for me. I must confess that ego plays a big (too big?) part, while politics has often been a feature of my writing. My books may appear diverse in nature – spanning history, politics, and football, besides a miniature autobiography – but they form part of a logical progression, as writing is interweaved with other activities. The books and experiences are twin facets of the developing story of my life, with personal activity placed in a wider context (I could say “the bigger picture”).

    I have developed a role as something of a raconteur, offering funny (sometimes slightly exaggerated) tales of my experiences. Stories are told, in animated fashion, at social gatherings, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, although audience participation (or even heckling) often proves a more effective stimulant. I have a love of trivia, and thirst for knowledge, taking delight at links between odd scraps of information. Interesting turns of phrase are often adapted to new purposes in my writing. I also make (I think) good use of irony.

    Inspiration arrives from diverse sources. One of my heroes is Bruce Springsteen, many of whose lyrics take the form of extended narrative. Bruce often tells thoughtful or comic stories to introduce songs during concerts. Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978, was re-packaged in 2010 within The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce’s masterpiece, a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film. This is story-telling in the grand manner. Another great musical act are the Velvet Underground, an American band – managed at one point by Andy Warhol – that sold very few records during their creative peak, in the 1960s, but have built a legendary reputation, as innovators who influenced countless other artists. One of the strangest recordings by the group, and among the first I heard, as a teenager, is The Gift. A freakish short story, packed with telling incidental detail, is recited (not sung) against the backdrop of a monotonous piece of music. It is a work of genius. The words of The Gift were written by Lou Reed, and narrated by John Cale, in his native Welsh accent, this being an incongruous delivery of a tale taking place in the USA. Several years later, Cale produced Patti Smith’s astonishing debut album, Horses. Patti Smith subsequently co-wrote Because the Night  with Bruce Springsteen. In 1981 I read Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, a book by Dave Marsh. This work included a reference to the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, which prompted me to read the latter book in 1984, when it was re-issued by Penguin. Wolfe’s novel, based on his experiences as an author, is outstanding, although rather patchy – it was compiled by an editor, Edward C Aswell, from an unfinished manuscript after the writer’s death. One section of Wolfe’s novel originated as a short story, with the clever title A Great Idea For a Story.

    Hopping back over the Atlantic, from the USA to Britain, the television dramas and films of Stephen Poliakoff throw eloquent light on contemporary British society, characteristically featuring great ensemble acting, sumptuous settings, and atmospheric music. Poliakoff’s achievements as a writer and director include Perfect Strangers, depicting a large family gathering, with genealogy a major factor in a drama where secrets are unveiled, and Shooting the Past, which revolves around a photo library. Alongside film, I enjoy live theatre. One outstanding piece is Les Miserables, with dramatic action, and brilliant songs, making up for an almost impenetrable plot, set in nineteenth century France. I generally dislike films that are musicals, as the format appears false, but find the theatrical equivalent entertaining, with productions of Cats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (from Ian Fleming’s non-Bond novel), Peter Pan, and Wicked springing to mind. Non-musical plays I recollect as being impressive range from an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the modern O Go My Man, written by Stella Feehily. The latter is a comedy about relationships – the title being an anagram of monogamy – set in Dublin. In the novel of Frankenstein, the (self-taught) monster reads books which include The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the real world, I have read Goethe’s amazing epistolary novel (a true original), plus his two part poetic play, Faust. Goethe worked on Faust at intervals across a span of 58 years, and referred to this masterpiece as “a private fairy tale”, having modestly decided the second part would not be published until after his death. 

    The oldest surviving stories in the world are The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, possibly dating from around 700 BC. It is arguable that Homer was not really an author in the modern sense, given that his works were composed, and delivered, as oral poems. In presenting the adventures of Odysseus, Homer uses disjointed chronology, in an account full of repetition and circumlocution. This is a type of narrative that engages the attention of the reader. In the twentieth century, Homer’s The Odyssey provided a basis for Ulysses by James Joyce, who moved the action to Dublin. In a similar way, the novella Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, set in the Congo, was adapted to a new setting, with a fictionalisation of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now, a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Another of Coppola’s works is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which rates as one of the best cinematic portrayals of the tales of Dracula. The original Dracula novel by Stoker, set in Romania and Britain, during the late nineteenth century, is full of political symbolism and repressed eroticism. In 1993 I started to write a novel, (imaginatively) entitled Dracula, that advanced the story first set out by Stoker, a century earlier, to the contemporary world. My novel is uncompleted, and dormant, awaiting possible revival in the future – just like a sleeping vampire – but that is another story for another day. Seventeen years on from starting my Dracula, I set out on another novel in 2010, with a re-write of The Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith, again moving a late nineteenth century story to the modern day. 

    Great contemporary British novelists include David Lodge, author of the academic romances Small World and Nice Work, plus Martin Amis, whose London Fields, published in 1989, looked ahead to a turn of millennium that is now part of our past. Much earlier, the gentle writing of Henry James brought us The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady, described as “the two most brilliant novels in the language” by F R Leavis, one of Britain’s most influential literary critics – he strangely received a mention in the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary. In 1984 Merchant Ivory Productions released a film adaptation of The Bostonians – starring Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, and Madeleine Potter. It is a fascinating work, in which the (admittedly unappealing) character of Basil Ransome seeks both love and success as a writer, amidst Henry James’ political satire and subtle comedy – “The Master” was a consummate story-teller. Five years earlier, during 1979, the same film production team had offered The Europeans, a dramatisation of another novel by James. Merchant Ivory have also filmed three of the novels of E M Forster, A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End (the latter being the book that gave us the phrase “only connect”). Moving from the sublime to the surreal, another cherished piece is The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, a delightful fantasy about strange creatures. I was enchanted by a work that Tolkien introduces with the words “This is a story of long ago”. It also appears to be a tale from a far away land, judging by the strange maps, drawn by Tolkien, that appear in The Hobbit.

    I take pleasure from the physical feeling of a well-produced book, preferring a solid hardback to the less sturdy paperback. There is sensual delight in the freshness of a new book, but I also enjoy the mature scent of an older book. In many cases, books are enhanced by attractive presentation. During the 1990s, I was a member of the Folio Society, which issues works of excellent quality. Folio publications I have read include The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, and The Folio Anthology of Autobiography, edited by Angela Thirlwell. Another outstanding Folio book is Columbus on Himself by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, which combines extracts from the writings of Christopher Columbus with biographical commentary. A visionary explorer, Columbus was also an eccentric, and often slipped into delusion. I am fascinated by the story of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492, and his attempt “to learn the secrets of this world”. Back in 1993 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plus the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There. The Folio Society edition of Lewis Carroll’s linked novels, the latter of which places Alice’s experiences within an oblique chess problem, consists of books with matching design, in a blue slipcase. Renewed mention of Alice echoes the start of the current essay. I have reached the point where I will stop this example of story-telling, but elsewhere countless tales continue to develop, and be told, in a process full of wonder.

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