Friday, December 03, 2010

Mulligrubs for one

This blogpost is a little bit down, I'm afraid. I'm writing it to exorcise a demon or two. I may delete it after writing. Or I may leave it up to show all you budding creatives out there that there are others who share your pain. It's tough out here in writer and illustrator land.

Today, I learned that a book is being published that is almost identical to one I wrote a year ago and no one wanted. Three weeks ago I was in a bookshop in Oxford and found another book almost identical to one that I'd pitched and was told 'there's no market for it'. Consequently, I'm bobbing around in the doldrums at the moment.

It's not like it's the first time it's happened. In the early 1990s I wrote a comic novel called The Dysfunctional Strippers Club in which a group of old school friends - one a cop - get back together via a 'Friends Reunited' style website and slowly, one by one, get bumped off. I sent the manuscript off two days before I discovered that Ben Elton was writing Past Mortem.

A couple of years later I wrote The String Vest of Apollo which revealed that old gods don't die when people stop believing in them; they begin to age and decay and many of them migrate to Earth to see out their long dotage. I had Greek and Roman and Norse gods living among us and, I thought, this is a funny idea. And it was. But not for me. I was at least 3/4 of the way through my first re-write when Marie Phillips' Gods behaving badly was published.

Now thoroughly rattled, I turned to non-fiction and wrote a book all about luck. I spent an entire year researching the subject, its traditions and superstitions. I also 'walked the walk', enduring a whole 12 months of silly experiments and situations to try to prove or disprove that luck exists. It was brilliant fun. Until Richard Wiseman published the bestselling The Luck Factor, which contained about 40% of the same research material that mine did.

This kind of thing happened to me a lot. I came within a gnat's willy of having a script commissioned for Doctor Who (Colin Baker era). The script was optioned by John Nathan Turner (then producer) ... but then the series was cancelled. I wrote two scripts for Gerry Anderson's revamped CGI Captain Scarlet. They were a go for series 2. Series 2 never got made. I obviously had good ideas but either I didn't pitch them well, didn't write them well or simply didn't have the contacts to get stuff onto publishers' desks. I also, apparently, had an unerring knack of jumping onto bandwagons just before they careened off the road and crashed in a ditch.

I decided that getting an agent was the answer and focussed on doing so. And I got one. A great one. My next attempt at writing - a non-fiction book called Joined-Up Thinking - attracted cover quotes from Stephen Fry and John (QI) Mitchinson. Pan Macmillan bought it for a really very good advance. We had a launch party at the Phoenix Theatre in London's West End. I was interviewed on BBC local radio stations and George Lamb's 6 Music show. The Bookseller trade magazine called it 'dizzily intriguing' and suggested that it was likely to be the hit novelty book of the Christmas season. Every review was positive - some of them are over on the right hand side of this blog page. None were negative. Pan Macmillan even suggested I start work on a sequel. 'The curse', it seemed, was finally lifted.

Except it wasn't. Despite assurances by retailers of front of store promotions, author appearances and signings etc. (I have all the original emails between them and the Pan Macmillan publicity people), when it came to the crunch they bottled. All of the promotion was dropped in favour of celebrity autobiographies and, come Christmas, no one even knew my book had come out. It was invisible. At the time, I remember wandering desolately around bookshops and utterly failing to find it anywhere. It was so disheartening. Despite this, Pan Macmillan decided to repackage it as a paperback edition a year later. However, their money people couldn't see any point in promoting a failed book and the paperback slid into bookshops unannounced and unknown where it's been ever since. It still hasn't made back the advance I got. And guess what? I did write the sequel and no one wanted it.

I did try turning the concept of the book - unlikely connections between things - into a format for a panel show for radio or TV. Only Connect appeared a month or so later.

That's how tough it can be sometimes. Since then it's been let down after let down. Several publishers who'd expressed strong interest in new book projects suddenly backed out. Yes, I know that it's the recession and that people need to invest in sure-fire hits rather than possibles. That's why Jordan's fourth autobiography is out there and I'm not. I still don't have any kind of book deal despite my agent's best efforts.

Seeing those two books this last week or so - two books so similar to stuff I've had turned down - has hit me hard, I'll admit it. It feels like two more attempts to nail me into my coffin. That and the fact that every art agency and magazine art editor in the UK has either turned me down or ignored my application to be on their books. There's only so much rejection a guy can take.

I must quickly say that the one beacon in all of this has been QI and the people behind the show and the books. They're a marvelous bunch and I'm proud to call them my friends. I've been very very happy to write and draw for them and they seem to like my sense of humour and style for which fact I am eternally grateful. To put all of that in perspective, however, the work I did for them was the only work I've been paid for all year.

So if my blogposts and tweets seem a little gloomy, I'm sorry. There has been some personal stuff going on too which hasn't helped lift me from my despondency. However, I'm not completely down and out yet. I am a fighter and, despite everything, my disposition is usually sunny. I still have plenty of what I think are good ideas. I have a dynamic agent who's out there trying to sell my wares. There are hints of projects in the future that I might just be able to get involved with. I won't go down without a fight. And I fight dirty when I need to.

But I am also prepared for the real possibility that I'll be stacking shelves in Tesco any day soon. That, I'm afraid is the reality of this kind of career.

You're only as good as your last work.


Anonymous said...

As a sometime lurker Ive enjoyed reading about your change of career and think you should be commended for pursuing your dreams. How many people run away from such a daunting task?

I love reading biographies of people who have overcome massive rejection. I find it inspiring.

You may know that the day Stephen King had 'Carrie' accepted that the studios couldnt get hold of him as he'd had his phone disconnected in the trailer he was living in as he couldnt pay the bills

Sylvester Stallone was turned down by over 1000 agents

Michael Caine talks in his new book about running across the road to avoid creditors when he was so poor & having no money to pay his bills

I believe these people were rewarded for their persistence, as Im sure you will be

I carry a book with quotes in which inspire me when life's hitting hard

One of my favourites is Churchills 'when you're going through hell..keep going'

I think success will reward you, and its admirable you keep getting up when you're knocked down.Anybody can do the 9-5 drudgery and complain things arent great. You are following your dream and that puts you in the rare 1% of people who actually have the guts to do that so well done

Keep going..

God Bless

Stevyn Colgan said...

Hi 'Anon'

Thanks for the kind words. No, I'm not a quitter. The blogpost was by way of explaining why I'd been a bit dour of late. Sometimes things get to even the most stupidly optimistic oafs like me. After I wrote it I thought of several more 'pipped at the post' examples ... and I didn't even mention the box file stuffed with rejection letters I've kept!

No, I will keep on keeping on because it's what I love to do. And even if I end up living in a hedge somewhere and feeding on roadkill I'll still be writing and making art.


Piers said...