‘I Really Loved Your First Novel’
Is there any more inadvertently insulting comment ever made to an author? (Unless they’re only on their second novel). In an old episode of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ Kenneth Williams tells Hancock ‘I used to love your old shows – you were very funny in those days.’ People loved the ‘early, funny’ Woody Allens. They don’t mean to wound, but authors usually start with their most straightforward books and work up to more complex novels.
But this is also a problem, because readers often don’t want their authors to change to something less clear. I always joke that I’ve had more makeovers than Madonna. Every few years I do something entirely different. It means finding new readers and also losing some, but it’s an exciting exercise and a necessary one, because the market is always changing. And if you write well, you need never run out of options.
In the last few years writing has been treated as something anyone can do if they put their mind to it, but it’s not, any more than playing the piano is. The other day a woman saw my memoir ‘Paperboy’ and said rather dismissively ‘What happened to you in your childhood that was so interesting you felt you had to write about it?’ I replied ‘It’s not that my childhood was interesting. I made it interesting in the writing.’
So, sometimes first novels are only novels, because the writer isn’t interesting but the events upon which they based their book were – and then nothing else interesting happens. People remember the first novel because it’s the one that gets the publishing push – you’re a new face. Nobody can tell you how to prepare for that moment, and it’s soon gone. Last night we were talking about a very famous author, and someone said ‘She was all the rage a few years ago’. But I know she’s just written one of her finest books. For ‘Perception Of Obsolescence’ see the earlier post on ‘The Story Of Stuff’)
PS The shot shows not a first novel but a new version of the Spanky cover, produced for the audio book.