Thursday, 19 July 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name ...

It's been done before, goodness knows. Would-be writers, strangely embittered or strangely suspicious (and why would they be?) of publishers, set little tests when they submit their work. Some place a strategic hair between pages 72 and 73 (I'm reminded of children's novels - Famous Five, most probably - where the children sprinkle talc or flour on the floor and check next day for footprints), some place a wodge of blank paper somewhere in the script - then they sit back, lip curling in expectation that the dastardly publishers will fall into their trap (curses, you pesky kids!).

Some take it even further. We seem to have a desperate desire to have our prejudices confirmed - but really, we don't need to go to such lengths. Publishers and agents are swamped with submissions, they don't have time, they've seen a lot a dreadful tosh, they farm stuff out to minor minions while they get on with the important stuff, they don't recognise a gem when it jumps off the page and spits in their eye -these are the common bleats of writers. Sometimes we hear news stories of famous writers sending previously published work off anonymously to see if it would be accepted now - and then being rejected. Ta-ra! Philistine blinkered publishers caught on the hop again! It seems to me to be an awful lot of effort to have jaundiced views confirmed. Literary fashions and fads change, agents and editors are often young, not well-read enough in the view of the would-be or has-been, life's a bitch and so on. Get over it, you might say.

Today, in The Guardian,(,,330220992-99819,00.html) there's a report about a chap who has sent off work originally written by a certain J. Austen, with only very minor changes. He changed Netherfield in 'Pride and Prejudice' to Weatherfield, for example, which I find a real hoot - I think that's got real potential. Coronation St meets Austen - delightful, my dear! 'Miss Mavis first caught sight of Mr Elliot as he graced the elegant bar of that well-frequented hostelry, The Rover's Return, to which so many of the residents of Weatherfield liked to repair at every available juncture, whether their personal funds permitted or not. Later she confessed to her dear friend Rita, as they sipped builder's tea together and indulged in the pleasures of checking out the horse-racing results, that, having long despaired of ever meeting a gentleman with conversational tics that could engage her for a sufficiently-long period during which interest and engagement could develop to a satisfactory degree, that his fascinating tendency to repeat the last clause of every declaration and observation he made, had caught her ear and seduced her heart irrevocably - this said with a shy blush and a very conscious look as she adjusted the decollete neckline of her leopard-skin top, a garment which served to enhance in the most tasteful and delicate manner imaginable, the sweet youthfulness of her surgically-enhanced figure.'

Getting back to the point (reluctantly), what amazes me is that David Lassman, when he submitted the opening chapter of P and P and its synopsis, didn't change the opening sentence! Only the most famous opening sentence in Eng Lit, innit? He submitted it under the title of 'First Impressions' (which was indeed its original title) and he also submitted Northanger Abbey and Persuasion with similarly minor changes. You've guessed it - very few people twigged and he received the kind of standard rejection verbiage one expects: it was of 'interest', 'a really original and interesting read' and so on but 'not suited to our list'.

I leave you to ponder that. And as I've said before - laugh or cry. You choose.

By the way, yes, I know Mavis left Coro years ago and she was never one for leopard-skin tops. Regard her as an amalgam. And yes, I know Fred Elliot is dead. Sadly missed, too. I say, sadly missed.

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