[Thought I’d have a bit of rant every now and then to liven things up. I’d be interested to see what you think.]
We live in strange times. William Boyd’s Bond novel, “Solo”, is just about to be published, following in the footsteps of – amongst a surprising number of others – Sebastian Faulks and Jeffrey Deaver. Sophie Hannah has recently been commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate to write a new Hercule Poirot novel. This isn’t by any means a new phenomenon. After all, “Virginia Andrews” has churned out considerably more novels since her death than prior to it. (BTW Did you realise there were quite that many? I didn’t. Whew.) But there seems to be more of it about now than there used to be.
Here’s what’s bothering me.
I have no problem with the idea of taking an existing character or set of characters and reusing them. It’s what literature has done ever since people started telling stories to while away the hours sitting around the campfire. But the whole point of creating stories is to add value to the material – to bring in something new. And I worry that any work generated to meet the demands of a dead author’s estate is necessarily going to be limited in terms of what the new writer can bring to the party.
On the contrary, I would argue that the only truly creative way to go when writing any sort of sequel, prequel or whatever is to mark out your own territory by heading off in a completely new direction.
The initial germ of an idea for “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” (ah, here we go) was actually a creative writing consequences game in which I started playing with the idea that, a couple of years post marriage, the Darcys hadn’t had any kids yet and that Wickham might not necessarily be quite such a bad guy. Then the alien concept came along, and that immediately opened up the possibility that Wickham was a hotshot deep cover alien hunter. In this new worldview, the elopement with Lydia was actually to protect her from alien kidnap and all the concomitant probing and stuff. The entire plot of “Pride and Prejudice” was henceforth up for reinterpretation.
I’d like to think that Jane would have approved. But I’m actually not that bothered. As I’ve said, my main concern was to use her characters as a starting point, not a straitjacket.
In fact, all the best Austen spinoffs are the least reverent and most outrageous ones. I normally try not mention “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (because of all that, you know, daring to turn up in print while I was still writing mine), but it’s surely got to be more interesting proposition than “Murder at Pemberley”. Best Austen film? Got to be “Clueless”. And so on.
I realise there are copyright reasons for all of this and that, at least outside the dark and weird worlds of unpublished fan-fiction, you can’t just grab anyone’s work and do whatever you like with it. But if you can’t do that, I do wonder a little what the point is, especially when there are big-name authors involved. I hope I’m wrong, and I wish the likes of Boyd and Hannah well (although I will admit to continuing to harbour ill will towards Eoin Colfer – I mean, how could he?)
All the same, I would still love to think that one day the Fleming estate will give the nod to someone like, I dunno, Jeanette Winterson and say to her, “Go on, do what you like. It’s all yours.”
Well, this is nice. DOT DASH has been chosen as one of five recommended short story collections for this year’s National Short Story Week. I’ve no idea what this is likely to mean in terms of sales (I suspect not a lot, as short story collections are never big sellers), but it can’t be bad for the old profile.
Quite coincidentally, the first review of MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS for a while (well, it is over two years since the book came out) popped up on Goodreads the other day as well, and fortunately, it was a good one. A bit of detective work also revealed that she’d urged all her Twitter followers to read it. So obviously I’m expecting THOUSANDS of new sales. I still have dreams of some celeb type stumbling across it by accident and hailing it as an overlooked comic classic, but unfortunately they tend to be the sort of dreams in which this is followed by me being chased naked through Brent Cross by a giant mutant jellyfish. You too, eh? I hate those dreams.
Episode two of TAKE IT COOL, “Googling Dennis“, is now up. It’s a bit shorter than the last one, but I think it sort of stands on its own. Breaking this one up into digestible chunks won’t be quite as easy as Mrs Darcy (which was actually conceived as a series of 600-700 word segments), but I think it should work reasonably well.
Speaking of the MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS, anyone out there who hasn’t yet got a copy (no, I can’t believe it either) can take advantage of this splendid half-price offer if they order direct from Salt. Well? What are you waiting for?
Just realised it’s about time I made a bit of a noise about this upcoming thing. Short Stories Aloud is a regular event held at the Old Fire Station in Oxford (what is it about Firestations and Arts Centres, by the way? Just wondering…). It’s a bit like Liars’ League, in that the short stories are read by trained actors, except that there’s a bit more of a focus on the writers.
This month, I’m going to be one of the featured writers, along with a couple of other blokes called Jon McGregor and Ernest Hemingway (nope, me neither). Apparently, four of the stories from DOT DASH are going to be read – one dot and three dashes, to be precise – which is more than a little exciting. Not only that, but as I’ll be the only one of the three authors present, I’ll be the one subjected to the audience Q&A.
Like a certain other Firestation-based event, it offers free entry to anyone bearing cake, so if I were you, I’d book the kitchen for next Tuesday. The fun starts at 19:30 and here’s the official Facebook event page. Be there or be square.
In other news, the estimable David Hebblethwaite has given DOT DASH the thumbs up, describing it as “lovely stuff”:
What brings them together so well is Pinnock’s wry wit, his knack for sharp twists and rueful endings. The dots are marvellously concentrated bursts of language – not just punchlines, but stories reduced to their essence in a few sentences.
Finally, Mrs P and I were browsing in a bookshop over the weekend and she drew my attention to this remarkable reference in Susannah Fullerton’s “Happily Ever After”. I say remarkable, because it’s quite clear from the description that the author – the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, no less – has actually read the book
Hope you had/are having a jolly super Christmas/Winter Solstice/whatever. Mrs Darcy’s been feeling left out lately, so I thought she was due for another Christmas Special. It’s not particularly seasonal, but you may find it mildly amusing.
In other news, if Santa happened to bring you a Kindle or other electronic book substitute, “Dot Dash” is still only 77p, and – amazingly - still in the Amazon charts, where it’s been almost continuously since the Kindle promotion began. Not that I’ve been checking ever hour or so. Oh no, not me.
I thought it was about time we had another Mrs Darcy Special (having not had one since the Christmas two-parter) and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee seemed as good an excuse as any. Possibly the only work of literature ever to feature references to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Duchy Originals and Talking Heads. At least I hope it is.
Every now and then I do a Twitter search for references to Mrs Darcy. Mostly the results have nothing to do with aliens – in fact quite a few of them are from pupils complaining about a teacher of theirs who happens to have that name – but very occasionally something relevant does pop up. Like this. As one of my Facebook chums remarked, it is rather charming that she has, quite literally, judged my book by its cover. On balance, though, I’m going to chalk it up as a win.
It’s been a while since I last relayed any news about reviews for Mrs Darcy, so here are a few. First of all, here’s what Chelsey Flood had to say about it (her debut novel, Infinte Sky” is being published by Simon and Shuster next year, so she knows of what she speaks). What I like about this review is that she’s honest enough to say that the book wasn’t quite what she was expecting, but she still goes on to appreciate it on its own terms. I couldn’t really ask for more.
Next, here’s Nyki Blatchley‘s opinion. I’ve met Nyki a couple of times (he’s another denizen of Hertfordshire), but we’re not sufficiently familiar with each other that I could guarantee a good review (you mean that doesn’t happen?) – so I was really pleased that he liked the book, especially as he says he’s not usually a big fan of sci-fi comedy.
Finally, here’s the verdict from the brilliant Laura Benedict. This is another one to savour because, as she says, she’s never been on the classic-novels-morphing-into-contemporary-schtick literary bandwagon, a comment that rings a very loud bell with yours truly. I often wonder what might have happened with this one if I’d got my arse in gear and finished writing it before P&P&Z came along. Well, I don’t think about it that often, because, frankly, life’s too short. But, you know?
A couple of other pieces of oddness popped up in the last couple of weeks. Apparently Mrs Darcy is a recommended horror read in Brighton and Hove, in the “Other Monsters” section, just about Frankenstein. And shortly before that, she was referenced in an Easter address. Whatever would Mr Collins have said?
Meanwhile, my current WIP tipped over the 40K mark yesterday. I’d better finish it then, hadn’t I?
Many thanks to the lovely Martha Williams for pointing out to me that Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens would make an utterly brilliant Mother’s Day present (assuming that you live in a country such as the UK where Mother’s Day happens to be this Sunday). There’s just time to order it from Amazon, too! So much better than a bunch of petrol station daffs.
And in case you’re still in two minds, here are some reviews. So daffs or Mrs Darcy? Looks like a no-brainer to me.
I’ve been a bit quiet, both here and on Twitter/Facebook this last week, mainly because I’ve been trying to get Book #3 off the ground (Book #2 being October’s short story collection, which I will be boring you senseless about in due course). As with all these things, it’s a question of finding a project that seems worthwhile committing a sizeable portion of my writing time to – which is exactly the same problem that faced me before I got properly stuck into Mrs Darcy.
Anyway, last year I did have quite a neat idea for a new novel – a kind of literary sci-fi-ish sort of thing – and I duly started writing it. Unfortunately, what with all the running around (actual and virtual) promoting Mrs Darcy, I got interrupted, with the result that when I came back to it towards the end of last year, I found that I’d lost momentum.
So I did what any normal writer would do and reanimated a completely different project instead. This is a non-fiction thing (no clues yet, sorry) that I started work on several years ago and then dropped because I couldn’t see how to pull it all together. What’s interesting is that, having completed a novel now, I’ve got a much clearer idea of how to structure a narrative and the new version is (to my mind, at least) several thousand orders of magnitude better.
Ironically, having got stuck back into this project, I then found that the other one suddenly unblocked itself, so it looks like I’m going to be working on both simultaneously for the time being. I’m quite cool with this, because I can use each one as a distraction from the other – provided, that is, I don’t come up with a third project to take my eye off the ball, such as a sequel to Mrs Darcy.
Incidentally, if anyone out there has read Mrs Darcy and desperately wants a sequel, this is what you need to do:
1) Make sure you’ve “Liked” Mrs Darcy’s Facebook page.
2) Tell ALL your friends to go out and (a) buy it and (b) “Like” the Facebook page.
3) Give it
an utterly brilliant a searingly honest review on Amazon.
And speaking of reviews, I’ve been catching up with my reading lately, and I really must get around to putting up some reviews myself. Wow, there aren’t half some wonderful books out there…