Sunday, 21 February 2016

Thoughts occasioned by the death of Umberto Eco.

Reading of the death of Umberto Eco, I came across this quote that resonates with me: “It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged.” (To the former group I might add ‘some agents’?)

   I find it strange that an agent’s response to one of my books (an historical Gothic ghost tale as it happens) was firstly that they didn’t get the ending and secondly that I must spell out every aspect as a linear novel because I can’t expect people to actually have to work at figuring the story’s various threads before they come together at the end (ie that they don’t want to be challenged but have all laid out on a platter).
   Finally, that “authors seldom break out of their genre” – despite the fact that my first book was a children’s nonsense adventure, my second a Gothic tale, my third a YA ‘magical realism’ murder story, fourth a plague tale, fifth a terrorist thriller, etc.. (only one and two are published) – and that I must stick to that Gothic Horror Genre from then on in order to establish my ‘Brand!’
  So was revealed the fact that publishing has become an exercise in corporate and individual ‘Branding’ for ease of marketing and little to do with the individual’s exercise of imagination in telling stories, whatever form those stories may take, in whatever ‘genre’ branding agents choose to slot them after the fact.
  Somehow I find this whole marketing/accountancy-led publishing milieu alien. When I read ‘The Spire’ I, as a reader, didn’t think, “gosh, this isn’t in the same genre as ‘Lord of the Flies’ – I can’t read this.” William Golding was a great story-teller. That was enough in itself to take me to the next book.
   And what the hell is wrong with complexity? With offering readers the chance to think, to figure out, to be challenged?

  Fortunately, my Gothic tale attracted some good responses (as well as bad), such as:

A gold-mining boss.
1st. Tweet to @OnundTreefoot: Just finished ‘The Flight of Birds’ - fantastic! it had me deferring
the Times Crossword on the commute to London each morning

2nd. Review: “This is a truly astonishing book. The cleverly spun threads will draw you into a web of intrigue and mystery that will have you gripped throughout. If you enjoyed the Quincunx you will love this - I can't recommend it highly enough.” 
(He last year reached the finals of the Times crossword competition but was unable to attend due to his business commitments. He met me at the London Book Fair soon after that review and offered me £10,000 on the spot for a share in my business. I stupidly turned him down, thinking I was acquiring the agent mentioned. When I mentioned the agent’s remark that the ending was for him a “What the fxxk!” moment, he agreed that, for a few seconds the shock hit him also until he realized that the entire convoluted logic of the story led inexorably to this moment.)

A blogger wrote.
“The story itself is hugely intriguing. ... (describes the tale)
Kate’s future lies in the past and terrible secrets and revelations come to the surface. Intrigue is the key here. I absolute loved the story. Alan has created a rich history filled with high drama through to delicate relationships and some truly shocking moments. Buy this book.”

Another gentleman.
“A book that's sounds frankly weird. A girl goes back in time, whilst remaining in her
current time and follows her family’s history back 400 years. This sounds all nonsense but in reality is one of the best books I have ever read. Readers of medieval whodunit novels (CJ Sansom lovers)
will love this book. This is an author with great ideas, way beyond many others. He also could easily write separate books about many of the characters in this book.”

An 18-yr-old young lady.
“This is a book which fills your mind with wonder. The characters live on in your mind
long after the last page has been turned and the story is clever, deserving applause for the
gripping plots. This book is a book to read if you want to experience a beautiful piece of writing which will stay with you forever.”

Even a 14-yr-old (who reached the finals of a national poetry competition).
“I really, really enjoyed it. Okay, maybe it was a little bit gory in places (maybe a lot), but I thought that it was really clever and a really good read. It’s what I’m always looking for - a mystery, stuff from the past, betrayal, horrid stuff like that; but that's just the sort of thing that is really very exciting. There is as much interest in the chapters set in the present day as there is in the tales from the past; I love it I love it I love it. Thaaaank you, Mr. Alan Howard!” 
(Howard is my middle name, used here to avoid this macabre tale being accidentally picked up by those younger fans of my nonsense kids book, ‘The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and Us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond.’ That book has sold 9,000 @ £15 in the UK and further 9,000 in China and South Korea so far.)

Now these are among what one might call, in America, “my kinder readers!”

Before I receive accusations of cynically plugging my book off the back of the death of a great writer, I must tell you that the book is currently out of print, so that I am not in a position to sell it (It did sell over 3,000 @ £10 in the UK before my signings were unceremoniously curtailed by edict of the new MD of the Waterstones chain in the summer of 2012).

My purpose in writing this is to relate my delight in finding that quote by Umberto Eco, reflecting my own frustrations.

If, after reading this, someone is intrigued enough to wish to read this story (The Flight of Birds: there are other posts relating to it here), do please contact me:

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