Skip to main content

Old Excesses

In April 2011 literary agent Carole Blake tweeted a link to a blog by US agent Josh Gertler about authors waiting to hear from publishers. The piece was on the deliciously named “Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room” blog – to read it see (Carole Blake’s tweet was on 21 April – a very long time ago in Twitterland.)

Josh Gertler’s piece (“No News”) was a lively – and ultimately reassuring – treatment of the agony of waiting to hear from publishers and agents. The waiting is, as Mr Gertler says, “excruciating”. Of course, whether you’re a writer or not waiting is never fun, as anyone who’s ever sat an exam or applied for a job knows. In publishing, though, there’s an extra dimension of awfulness in that you don’t know when you’re going to hear – it could be a week, three months, six months, even longer – and in some (thankfully rare) cases it’s never. All unavoidable of course: no one’s to blame, though I know from some other comments I’ve read that there are people who do seem to think that the Publishing Industry is in cahoots against them. It’s a situation that at its worst can cause ill feeling on both sides. However, as Mr Gertler points out, no news really is no news.

In fact, it seems that the long wait is a tradition stretching back to publishing’s early days if the case of poet John Clare is anything to go by. According to the splendid biography of Clare by Jonathan Bate, Clare’s second collection of poetry was advertised in November 1820, but did not appear until September 1821. Understandably, Clare found the waiting difficult. In his case it wasn’t helped by a friend who helpfully told him that his London publishers, John Taylor and James Hessey, “had been sitting on a set of proofs for a month, without bothering to send them to Clare”.

Another helpful friend told John Taylor in August 1820 that the poet was so upset by the delay he had taken up drinking again. Taylor was hurt. He had a heavy workload and his own health problems, on top of which Clare’s work was a struggle to edit because of his poor handwriting, spelling and grammar. The publisher wrote to the poet: “I had thought you felt more Regard for me than to plunge into old Excesses and lay the Sin at my Door.” Then, Bate tells us, “Clare, in turn, was upset at the accusation that he had been complaining about Taylor. He would sooner the volumes were delayed till the Christmas after next than have anyone other than Taylor himself do the editing”.

Clearly, it was a difficult situation for both Clare and Taylor, exacerbated by the facts that the economy was in recession, and the bottom had dropped out of the poetry market. That sounds familiar too. Perhaps, despite the huge differences between publishing then and now, the basics haven’t changed all that much. Authors still get anxious over delays and publishers and agents still get exasperated at their lack of commercial sense. At least we can comfort ourselves with the thought that we are part of a great literary heritage - while being careful of course not to blame agents and publishers for driving us to drink!

Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room –the blog has lots of other interesting and entertaining articles for authors -

John Clare: A Biography, by Jonathan Bate, is published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and in the UK by Picador – and it’s a fantastic read.


Popular posts from this blog

Dickens and Chickens

On 17 April 1860, in fields near Farnborough, Charles Dickens joined an audience amongst whom were the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as well as a number of MPs and clergymen, to watch the American John Carmel Heenan and England’s Tom Sayers (the Brighton Titch) beat one another blind and bloody in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted nearly two and a half hours. The fight ended in a draw when Aldershot police stormed the ring, forcing the fighters and their illustrious spectators to flee the scene. It was the brutality of this match that signalled an end to the bare-knuckle era and prompted the development of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules. Dickens’s interest in pugilism was of long standing. In 1848 Dombey and Son , which had been published in serial form over the preceding two years, came out in book form. One of many of his novels that draws on the world of the prize fighter, it introduces the unforgettable Mr Toots, a would-be man about town, an

Spotlight On...Begbrook House, Frenchay, Bristol

On 11 November 1913, the head gardener at Begbrook House in Frenchay near Bristol discovered that the   building was on fire. The house stood in its own wooded grounds, and was said to have twenty rooms and a fine old staircase. Within a few hours the house was gutted. The fire caused £3,000 worth of damage. A copy of the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette , was left at the site with the message, “Birrell is coming. Rachel Pease is still being tortured”.  Begbrook House Picture: Frenchay Village Museum Augustine Birrell was the Liberal MP for Bristol North, and a cabinet minister. He was frequently targetted by militants in Bristol. Suffragettes interrupted his meetings and two women once accosted him at Temple Meads Railway Station with their demand for the vote.    Begbrook House belonged to Hugh Thomas Coles, a wealthy banker. Hugh Coles was the son of   William Gale Cole of Clifton, who was also a banker, and was born in Clifton in 1856. Lik

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring. Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery. Hen Pearce (Detail) Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (1777 – 1809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in pr