‘I Really Loved Your First Novel’

Observatory, Reading & Writing

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.

3 comments on “‘I Really Loved Your First Novel’”

  1. A.B. says:

    The Spanky cover has changed a lot… I remember seeing the rubber clad guy on the paperback in a shop in Soho and my friend insisting we had to buy the book due to him thinking the guy was hot. It was the first book I ever read of yours and I’ve read every single one of your books since then…
    And why the hell am I writing this? Well I guess because although it wasn’t your first book, it was my ‘first’ rather bizarre introduction to your work and so every time I see a copy of Spanky it makes smile.

  2. Alan says:

    The rubber-clad Spanky cover still gets me the occasional bemused glance on the tube. Heh heh.

    I usually enjoy seeing an author develop his/her work (sorry – that sounds horribly patronising) although sometimes it can go wrong – Patricia Cornwell is a good example. Then again – the late David Eddings essentially wrote the same story over and over and over again – fair enough for a horrendous hungover Monday morning train journey.

  3. Jsonn Olave says:

    oh that was me, someone message me to use my image in a book cover, im proud of it. 😛 thank you..

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