So they’ve closed their doors after 26 years.
The Independent on Sunday was conceived as a writers’ paper, but over its 26 years it built a reputation for its strikingly individual tone and balanced liberal stance. It was the first quality Sunday to go compact in 2004, but even before that it was at the forefront of single-issue splashes. The front pages in the run-up to and during the early days of the 2003 Iraq invasion were lauded across the industry and applauded by readers.
And so it continued with the paper’s cover exploring new avenues in its compact incarnation: from tough issues in a magazine style (‘Meat: the future’, 28 July 2013) to award-winning agenda-setters (‘Here is the news, not the propaganda’, 5 October 2014). In doing so the paper picked up countless awards.
It seems incredible that Britain’s only truly independent voice could not sustain print readership. What was the problem? Too many words? No in-depth articles about ‘Made In Chelsea’ or Brangelina’s shopping trip (Today’s Mail headline)?
Yesterday I talked with my local vendor, a third generation Turkish gentleman who told me; ‘In a working class neighbourhood surrounded by council flats mixed in with expensive properties we were selling four copies a day – that’s more than the Sunday Times sold around here – and I have to watch while 150 copies of the Mail on Sunday fly off the shelves. I hate the Mail and even more the Express. They have pernicious and persistent anti-immigration agendas, and are offensive to myself and my family, but locals want to read bad stories about refugees and Kim Kardashian, not real issues. They do not want to be informed.’
It’s also the end of my ‘Invisible Ink’ column. Every week for the past decade I’ve been writing about the authors we loved and forgot, the ones who wrote the popular books that shaped our imaginations and became touchstones in our lives. They were influential and often hugely successful, but vanished from bookshelves. What happened to them?
Adopting false identities, switching genders, losing fortunes, descending into alcoholism, discovering new careers, getting censored, dying of shame, going mad or reinventing themselves, the column’s missing authors had stories to tell which proved as surprising than anything they wrote. Their books live on, passed to children, friends and secondhand shops. And sometimes they surprise everyone by revealing secrets. One dated a porn star, one was involved with a murderer, one became the subject of a sex scandal and one turned out to be Winston Churchill. Some chose their own fates, some were simply unlucky, but most deserve to be remembered and revered by book lovers.
I must thank editors Katy Guest and Suzi Feay for fostering the column and supporting it over the years. I understand that there will be no books coverage in the new online subscription edition of the paper.
For today’s last-ever ‘Invisible Ink’ column, it therefore seemed appropriate that I should include myself among those forgotten authors. Here’s the column that appeared in print today.
A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter, a job he described as ‘one level above sewer-toshing’. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.
During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond. A gifted mimic, he wrote for many British performers including Kenneth Williams, John Cleese and Michael Caine.
Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir ‘Paperboy’ and its sequel ‘Film Freak’, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London. This ability of turning his hand to most literary forms granted him the honorary title of ‘Wordslut’ and landed him a column in The Independent on Sunday. The most notable feature of his writing style is a felicity with language that allows for the insertion of cheap jokes. Other works included his ‘War of the Worlds’ videogame with Sir Patrick Stewart, several peculiar graphic novels and plays of varying quality. His story ‘The Master Builder’ was filmed with Tippi Hedren. Other books included the coming-of-age fantasy Calabash, Faustian satire Spanky, haunted house novel Nyctophobia and the Ballardesque thriller The Sand Men.
In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’. There are 15 Bryant & May books so far, with more to come. He divides his time between King’s Cross, London and Barcelona.
His columns were notable for nearly always containing the word ‘peculiar’. Fowler is still alive and has finally realized his ambition is to become a Forgotten Author.
Requiescat In Pace.