Sunday, 8 October 2017

My misspent youth has come back to haunt me... in the form of Nick Sharman eBook covers

I love the slash-marks across the title! I didn't misspend my young adulthood...

...drowning in a vat of booze, or eating a hole through my septum by snorting my way through a mountain of cocaine, or picking up social diseases while frolicking with the ladies of the night who infested the area near Paddington Station where I used to live, or squandering my inheritance in one of London's many seedy-swank gambling dens. Neither did I spend my time doing anything noble or sensible or socially useful. No - my path to perdition was paved with a series of pseudonymous horror novels. Some of these were fairly terrible, and some were, of their type, actually pretty good. Some sold well, some badly. Some were ghost stories, coated with a light dusting of violence - and some were the literary equivalent of video nasties (the latter sold well here, while the supernatural stories fared better in America). Some were only published in the UK and the US, while some were translated into a variety of languages, including Spanish, Italian and Japanese (and, as I discovered a few years ago, Polish - but that was without my permission or, needless to say, any form of payment).

When an American publishing company, Crossroad Press, approached me out of the blue a few weeks ago to ask if I would give them permission to publish digital editions of my old books on all available platforms, I was tickled pink and instantly agreed. I dug out my old book contracts to confirm there were no rights issues (as if anyone would care), and, discovering some of them were missing, I phoned a notable literary agency which had represented me for a while - and, even though they were very pleasant, that one simple act somehow brought back to me the sheer awfulness of life as a full-time writer in the nonbestselling-but-just-about-making-a-living category: crappy reviews (or none); not being able to find a single copy of your latest book in any bookshop; facing the fact that all those promises of author tours and lavish publicity budgets were pure fantasy; waiting weeks - sometimes months - to hear if the next book had been accepted; dumb question about footling issues from American fact-checkers (who somehow always manage to let the worst howlers through); royalty statements reporting lacklustre sales; lonely days at the typewriter without a single glimmer of inspiration and wondering if 4pm was a bit early for the first double Scotch of the evening; checking proofs and wondering who could possible have written this bilge; the lurch in your stomach on realising that the infant school daub you've just received in the post is actually the cover of your next book; finding your agent mysteriously unavailable to take your calls for a week - and then bumping into the fucker accidentally, and realising you're the last person he wants to see because something's gone wrong; the three-in-the-morning insight that the plot of the book you're 200 pages into doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and that there's no way of fixing it that doesn't involve rewriting the last 100 pages... and on and on and on, until you're lost in a self-pitying fug of panic and self-doubt and regret that you ever got involved with this writing lark, you fool, what were you thinking?

I wrote a profusely apologetic email to Crossroad Press to tell them I'd decided to let sleeping demons lie, and could I please cancel my contract. But, instead of sending it, I paused for a few days to give myself time to get over my literary equivalent of an acid flashback... and then they emailed me their cover design for The Cats, and I suddenly remembered the sheer wonderfulness of life as a full-time writer in the nonbestselling-but-just-about-making-a-living category: not having to get up at some ungodly hour to slog into the office five days a week; being able to respond "Oh, I'm a writer, actually"to the inevitable question at parties; hearing within days that your book has been accepted and that the advance is three times what you were hoping for; royalty statement accompanied by handsome cheques based on real, actual sales; finding copies of your latest book prominently displayed in every shop you visit; reading a nice review; hearing news of totally unexpected foreign rights sales; staring at the cover proof of your next book for the first time and thinking it's brilliant; finishing a book that's already been sold and giving yourself six weeks off as a reward; those days when the hours race past because writing is suddenly as easy as taking dictation; waking up with the solution to a seemingly impossible plot conundrum fully worked-out in one's head... True, none of these things happened all that often - but at least they happened! 

So, reflecting on the fact that I wasn't being asked to take up novel-writing again, that I'm too damned old to care about shitty reviews or sales figures, and that I don't really need any extra income (although, of course, I wouldn't say no),  I didn't send that "loony old git" email to Crossroad. My reward has been two more excellently creepy covers which I'd love to have had on my books when they were first published (although the ones for The Switch and Childmare would probably have been a little unnerving for W.H. Smith customers back then). The lovely thing is that I just hadn't been expecting anything remotely as good. Thank you, Crossroad!

As if the covers weren't enough, I was also treated to the unique experience last week of hearing words I wrote 37 years ago read by an actor, because they're turning The Switch into an audiobook. How cool is that? Very cool - that's how cool it is. 

What an unexpected series of treats this is turning out to be - and the really great thing is I don't have to write another one! 

4 comments:

  1. The first cover is superb. My only beef is I could never find those adorable critters in the least bit scary no matter how well the book is written-I felt the same way about Hitchcock's The Birds.
    Now if it was clutter after clutter of Amazonian wandering spiders swarming across one's living room carpet that might be quite a different matter.

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    1. Ah, but cats become terrifying creatures in this novel of heart-pounding terror by master-horrormeister Nick Sharman - said nobody, ever.

      Actually, one person might have said something like that (apart from me, that is). I've probably told this story before, but I had to go round to my mother's flat one day because her paranoid schizophrenic neighbour was throwing a wobbly and had almost succeeded in setting the whole building alight. We had to shelter her 12-year old son while the police/doctor/ambulance turned up and took her away (yet again) and we waited for the boy's father to turn up and collect the poor little sod. The kid was very insouciant (he'd seen it all before), but got very animated when he saw "The Cats" on my mother's bookshelf. "Cor! Me and my mates at school love that!" he enthused. He wouldn't believe me when I told him I'd written it, albeit under a pseudonym. My mother almost persuaded him that it was true - and I clinched it by pointing out that the story starts in Westbourne Terrace in the basement of the very building we were standing in. I signed that copy (with both names) and gave it to him. Best review I ever received - certainly the most unexpected.

      Given the sorts of scary beasties to be found in the parts of the world you habitually frequent, I'm not surprised cats and birds don't quite cut the mustard, southern man!

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  2. This is a really great post. All your readers will recognise the symptoms you describe of worry about the future, sleep interrupted by self-doubt etc, whether they took a chance as you did in following a talent or opted for the safety of a secure job - when there still were such. And this makes the end of the story so funny. It reminded me, if you’ll forgive the comparison, of the end of Spinal Tap when they discover that they are unexpectedly big in Japan. I hope the online versions make you lots of money and that you sell the film rights to Harvey Weinstein. Oh. Hang on. Maybe not that last bit.

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    1. Thank you very much, Ex-KCS - I'm glad it struck a chord: I think I was satisfying a hankering rather than following a talent - but thanks, nevertheless. As for Spinal Tap, my main problem is that - unlike Nigel Tufnell's - my amplifier only goes up to 3 these days.

      I suspect Harvey Weinstein wouldn't have been much interested in any case: as far as I can remember, there isn't a single sex scene in any of the books. A BBC colleague once asked if my books were full of sex, and I said they weren't, because I found it very difficult to type with one hand. The truth is that I once stuck one in (as it were), but then considered the possibility of my mother reading it one day: I was so embarrassed at the thought that I promptly removed it, never to repeat the experiment.

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