Taking back the reins
21st January 2013 - 12 Midnight Anne Peile
Anne Peile's first novel, Repeat it Today with Tears, was published by Serpent's Tail in 2010 and longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize. But Anne, who works at our head office in Charing Cross Road, has decided to go down the self-publishing route for her next book. Here she explains why.
Be careful what you wish for. For considerable periods of my life, when I was not misspending my youth or having babies, I have written. There were poems which became short stories and then gradually mustered themselves into novels, or parts of novels. Always I believed that the starry summation of all these words would be the publication of a book. Not only might it be a source of income, and my finances were ever precarious, it would finally provide a justification for habitually being different, for having to see all those things which most other people seemed not to see, or at least not to mind if they did see. A published book must surely legitimate the state of outsider-ness.
However, when it did happen and my manuscript was bought, nothing was as it should have been, a normal response eluded me once more. Despite the good fortune of an editor who asked that I change only three words, I found that I did not really want to let go of any of the 58,510 of them. I had been so keen to construct this story that walking to work down Belfast's Ormeau Road, I would have to stop and scribble down sentences on old till receipts. Jack and Susie and the other characters had woken me in the night to describe a carpet in a saloon bar or a family's outing on Clapham Common. Now, none of them belonged to me anymore. Compounding the unease, my reserve was sometimes read as a signifier that this work of fiction, controversial in its subject matter, was actually true: my misery memoir. Oh dear.
The process rolled on. The words in their printed form looked different, their pattern on a page changed. It was like seeing symptoms professed in a consulting room transcribed into medical notes in unfamiliar handwriting. They were packaged inside a cover I had never envisaged (I had chosen a lesser known Chagall (Window at the Dacha, left) which pictured Jack and Susie's devotion in one all-seeing image). My familiar names and events were relayed in synopses which sounded somehow out of tune. Did I want my book published or just printed?
The distance between the words and my intentions lengthened as they were sent for translation into languages I did not speak. Translation was wrong, I thought, for great parts of the book would lose veracity: it is not, nor can it ever be, possible to reproduce speech pattern and nuance, a character's biography, an incident or an atmosphere in a language and a culture not its own. Strange then that it was the diligence of an Italian translator which discovered a typo in the first edition. The line was one of the most important in the book and I felt that I was guilty of a consumer fraud, the product sold under my name was faulty. I did, you see, take it all rather seriously.
Soon after that, the greatest of the book's sins emerged - it did not sell well, the irrefutable Nielsen's BookScan figures showed me up as a non-runner. When it was nominated for the Orange longlist it was marshalled, briefly, back to the starting gate but already its useful life as a commodity was over. The things that I had thought mattered - ordering words in a certain way because of a line in The Aeneid, who presented The World at One in 1972, how the light falls in SW3 - apparently did not.
Contrarily perhaps, I have two more books ready; I would like them to be published but I intend to self-publish. To explain why I should want to continue to produce novels it is easier if I borrow someone else's words. Speaking at a Foyles event not long before his death in 2010, Alan Sillitoe said that when people asked him why he wrote he told them it was because he did not want to die. My motivation is that I do not want other people - or places, or events - to die or to be forgotten.
My next book is called Seeing the World. Its setting is early-sixties London, its characters include an eight-year-old girl given to visions, a dying man, a horse whisperer, a great aunt, a White House researcher and President Kennedy. I am about to embark upon the process of self-publication and will continue to document the process.
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