Monday, July 21, 2008

The ones that got away ...

Hello chums. Well, the final piece of QI Annual artwork was delivered in the wee hours of this morning, as was the two page spread I've written. I crawled into my bed a tired, but contented bunny. However, although I can now shift down a gear or two, there's no time for relaxing as I have one more commission to complete and then it's off to the USA on Thursday for my four day visit. But I can hardly moan ... the work is great. And I'm meeting some extraordinary people, many of whom are personal heroes of mine. Or, if not quite heroes, certainly people I respect and admire.


The buzz about my book continues to grow. Pan Macmillan have now dished out 5000 copies of the sampler edition (intro and first three chapters) and the comments coming back have been both complimentary and quite humbling. The first proper event leading up to the launch takes place on the 30th when I host a pub quiz type event for booksellers, reviewers and other notables at a West End theatre. Eek! Hopefully I won't be too jet lagged. Frankly, I think that the adrenalin will be enough to sustain me. As regular visitor Stu 'The Factory' Peel said in a comment recently, I am living the dream. And I'm loving it. Suddenly the 18 years of rejection letters seem inconsequential. Jet lag? Pah!

Now, back to this post. I titled it 'The ones that got away' because I wanted to talk about ideas. More specifically about having a great idea and then finding yourself gazumped. It's a topic I've mentioned before; you may recall that I've had to trash three whole novels because their central theme bore an uncanny resemblance to novels by other people. I may have written my books first but the other authors passed the publishing winning post before me and, sadly, that's what counts. The most recent example was when I had to basically ditch a 100,000 word novel called Apollo wears a vest? because Marie Phillips' Gods behaving badly had the same main plot device i.e. that the gods of ancient Greece are alive but living in London in reduced circumstances. I'll admit that it hurt. It feels like a punch in the guts when it happens and it's very easy to get despondent. But that's life I'm afraid. It's a pisser ... but the best thing you can do is get back on the horse, rescue what you can (a lot of your work can be recycled), and gallop off into the sunset to start again. Steven Moffat said much the same thing in his recent interview with Jason Arnopp: 'It’s all too easy to be a neglected genius in a reeking bedsit, railing at the world.' You can't adopt a mindset like that. It's worth remembering that if an idea is good, you won't be the only person to have had it.

Just today, my friend Huw Williams sent me this story from The Metro newspaper advertising a new TV series:

'Valentine, Inc. - In this one-hour romantic comedy, the Valentines do whatever it takes to bring soulmates together, all the while keeping their true identities as the Gods of Ancient Greece a secret. Grace Valentine, the Goddess Aphrodite, is the sexy and seductive matriarch of the family; her son Danny Valentine, the arrow-slinging Eros, has traded up for a magical gun that makes people temporarily fall in love; Danny's best friend Leo, the muscle man Hercules, is the strong and emotional moral compass of the group; and Phoebe Valentine is the Goddess of the Oracle at Delphi, which helps the family track down and help bring soul-mates together.'

Yet more Gods living in suburbia. You see? There's almost nothing that you can call truly original any more. It's the execution of the idea that counts. Just look at the difference between Batman: The Movie (1966), Batman (1989) and Batman begins (2005). Same bat-characters, same bat-idea - Three wholly different bat-films.

So, if you find that your idea has been 'stolen' don't resent it. Regroup, rethink, re-imagine, recycle, rewrite. A good idea is a good idea. You'll just need to rethink your delivery. Disney have managed to tell the same story three times in Bambi, The Lion King and Finding Nemo but no one could say that the films are the same.

The Disney formula revealed: Small cute animal loses parents and ends up far from home, finds a couple of friends, sings some truly irritating songs and comes home to a heroes' welcome. La la la.

I'm now re-writing Apollo without the Greek gods. It can be done and, believe it or not, I think the new version is better and fresher. I'm also thinking about re-writing some of the other things I've had to abandon.

You can't keep a good idea down.


Images (C) Warner Brothers and Disney

6 comments:

Stuart Peel said...

Oooh that must have really stung, to have to junk something that you worked so hard on. But as you say, the execution is key.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Oh it did. And to have it happen with three novels, two books, a TV show and all manner of articles and features ... ouch.

I'm the man who always came second.

Stop sniggering.

willow said...

I can't imagine having to trash whole novels! You must have some great fortitude.

Fun to see your work place.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow - Oooh it hurts. But that's life. Sorry about the messy art studio workspace ... you should see the state of my writing area.

And as for my shed ...

Stuart Peel said...

Well you´re not second anymore. Maybe there´s someone sitting in a bedsit right now, cursing you for having got the Joined Up Thinking idea into print before they did ?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Stu - That's a lovely thought! Ah, the pleasure to be had in another's suffering! The Germans (who else?) have a word for it, don't they? - Schadenfreude.