Friday, June 30, 2006

A friend of the Friends of Highgate Library.

Last night I met up with the Friends of Highgate Library and a very enjoyable evening it was.

It was, I have to say, a small, intimate gathering. But as John, one of the FOHLs, said: "Quality not quantity."

I quickly abandoned the written notes I had, which I'd only cobbled together to help me get my thoughts in order. We just sat around and chatted. Two of the Friends had read the book already (Richard and Enid). John was about 50-60 pages into it.

The discussion was lively and friendly, with lots of great questions. Enid, who's the treasurer, was very enthusiastic about the book. She was wholeheartedly recommending it to the Friends who hadn't read it. As she said to me beforehand: "I didn't think I was going to like it but I did." Richard, the Vice-Chairman, had also read it but I got the impression he was less enthusiastic. "It gripped me," he admitted. "I had to keep on reading." But he used the word "dark" quite a lot, in a way that suggested that was not a quality he appreciated in a book. And I think he might have been a bit disapproving of the behaviour of some of the characters.

I have to say I was slightly intimidated by John, who is a journalist and has interviewed all sorts of novelists, including Martin Amis and Margaret Forster. He said that the opening of the book frightened him. And by the look in his eyes I think he meant it. But he was very complimentary about it, saying that it had really pulled him in and that I had written an opening that many TV writers and dramatists would envy.

One of the other friends, Andy, another journalist, wanted to know about my professional background (I'm a copywriter) and how this had influenced the book. Crikey, you see. A handful of people in the room, and two of them turn out to be journalists! I can't remember Andy's exact question, but it was very perceptive. Basically, if, in some sense, the book is critical of consumerism and identifies a spiritual void created by the desire for and comfort taken from possessions, how do I square that with my day job as the devil's lackey? It was something along those lines.

I took a deep breath and said that I thought writing the book was somehow a kind of purging.

Enid and Richard both thought it would make an excellent film, which is something other people have said. John thought there was a play desperate to get out, which was interesting. I said that if someone wanted to make it into a film that would be fine by me, but I probably wouldn't want to be involved in the process. In other words, I would be interested in having someone else write the screenplay, because they would have more distance. At that point, one of the other FOHLs, a lady whose name I didn't catch, piped up, saying that she knew the perfect person to do it: Christopher Nolan.

I think I must have given her one of those "Right, yeah" looks, because she became rather insistent. "No, really. I know Christopher Nolan and I shall talk to him about your book."

Imagine that. The director of Memento reading my book. We shall have to see.

So there you go, two journalists, a personal friend of Christopher Nolan, an enthusiastic reader of the book, a gripped but slightly disapproving reader of the book, a Green Party councillor, and another gentleman called Bert. Such are the Friends of Highgate Library.

If I were a building, I'd like friends like these. Quality not quantity indeed.


Jack said...

This touches on something I was wondering about the MacMillan New Writing contract. If a film was made of your book, and it was a huge success (you never know), haven't you have signed away the film rights to MacMillan as a condition of being published under that imprint?

It would be immensely frustrating I think to see the box office figures for a film of your own book, knowing that you haven't received the price of a single ticket admission to go and see it.

Be interested on your thoughts on this issue.

roger said...

Hi Jack, thanks for popping in. Macmillan have the rights, but that doesn't mean that they get all the money. If there is a film sale, the proceeds are split 50-50. The same for foreign rights.

Jack said...

I see. Thanks for letting me know Roger. 50/50 is VERY steep for essentially acting as a kind of sleeping agent for the sale of film and foreign rights. I think that was the issue that the various critics of MacMillan New Writing were mostly complaining about when they said the publisher was taking advantage of writers ("screwing them" I think was some people's terminology).

While it is great to have a book published, and some would say that without that there would be no film or foreign rights sale anyway, I tend to think this is the issue that may prove controversial in the end. Since in point of fact there is absolutely no reason why MacMillan couldn't offer far more generous rights to authors in these areas, unless, of course, it is precisely there that they hope to hit the big-time for relatively little outlay.

Just thinking aloud, since I too kissed away certain rights on a book contract (choice between that and not having the book published, I figured), and realised in the process that book publishers are in it for the money not the art. I think these days I would be far more wary and value my work higher. Don't get me wrong, it is good to be published and for the work to reach its readers, but it is galling sometimes to see the lion's share go to the publisher, and film and foreign rights just rub salt into the wound.

Ah well, we all learn. Keep up your enthusiasm, but don't feel *too* grateful to your publisher.

Debra said...

Highgate Library has some very interesting and influential friends, it would appear. Keep us posted of any developments, won't you?

roger said...

Thanks Debra. I will.

Matt Curran said...

Hi Jack

I’m also a Macmillan New Writer, and I would be lying if I said the whole film-rights thing hasn’t crossed my mind too. A few people have said they could see my book as a film, and for a self-confessed movie addict, that would be a dream come true – but it’s not just about the money.
The way I see it, if you did get a film made of your work you might get very little under the MNW contract compared to the normal deals, but more people would buy your book if it was adapted and you would get better deals from any following books. I reckon a small bite on the “rights” is only a very small pay-off compared to getting published at the end of the day. Yeah, Macmillan might also be in it for the money (they're a business like anyone else), but most publishers won’t even look at first time writers any more – and for that I am grateful to MNW.

roger said...

Well put, Matt. That pretty much sums up my feelings too.

Jack said...

I do take your point Matt about MacMillan at least addressing the difficulties faced by a first-time author (notwithstanding that every Nobel Prize winner was also a first-time author at some time), but I don't think that excuses them from providing film and translation rights more favourable to authors. Why can't they have a standard-contact and no advance approach with better film/translation rights?

Also, don't they have first refusal on your second novel on the same terms?

At the end of the day, our signature on the contract signifies our acceptance of its terms. Of course. And you have accepted a bite on rights in return for publication. I understand. But I do think it's a shame, a bloody great shame, that MacMillan are sending out these MNW books on their maiden voyage by first demeaning authors in this way. They are taking advantage of a writer's desparation to get published, and this is factored into the equation right from the word go and needlessly tarnishes the books under this imprint. They are pushing onto authors less than acceptable terms. They only *become* acceptable because desparation makes them so. And MacMillan know this, as do, I imagine, you do yourself. This is what is not really being said underneath (or alongside) the gratitude. And if it isn't expressed, it won't change. In this respect I think MNW authors have a duty to press for change, a duty to other writers who at some point will wish to get their first novel published. You've expressed the gratitude, but I think the reservations could do with some air-time too.