The Trouble With Richard

Most days I’m asked why my latest novel, When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow, isn’t available. The sorry situation was neatly summarised by Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 17th January:

Teleg

It’s safe to say that news of the book and its attendant difficulties will have reached the real Professor’s court. He is, of course, under no obligation to endorse a work that makes fun of him [which the book does quite relentlessly, let’s be honest], yet not to do so would seem a little inconsistent with his furious defence of free speech, and satire in particular. It might even appear to the casual observer that he is all in favour of public figures being ribbed in light rural comedies, just so long as the public figure being ribbed in the light rural comedy isn’t him. Hmmm…

As the piece said, he’s a busy man; there’s still plenty of scope to give him the benefit of the doubt. You never know, maybe tomorrow I’ll find he’s sent me a clearance note along with a congratulatory bottle of single malt, a signed first edition of The Extended Phenotype and an open invitation to join him for biscuits when I’m next in Oxford [though a clearance note alone would suffice, and would only take a couple of minutes].

In the meantime I’m kicking my heels. My interview with the late Sir David Frost [the last post on this site] explains much of the background. It’s clear that Richard Dawkins shouldn’t even be involved – publishers should simply have more guts – but as things are, without his say-so we’re stuck…

…or are we? Rumours are reaching us of a small seam of publishers who might not be unaccountably afraid of being sued for printing a satirical novel about a vociferous defender of free speech and satire. So wish us luck there. We’ve had several false alarms over the last few months – publishers who have been gung-ho about the project, and ready to take it on, only to wake up one morning realising they are not that brave after all. It’s become a little tiresome, so let’s hope we’re on to something this time around.

Finally, in answer to an FAQ, the e-book is unavailable because we withdrew it in order to keep things clean for an incoming publisher. If no incoming publisher materialises, we will get the e-book back out. And if it sells enough to cover the cost of it, maybe we’ll do a short run of a paperback. But that’s a back-up plan – for now we’re holding out for a conventional book deal. The support we’ve had, and the resistance we’ve faced, suggests very strongly that this is a book that ought to be out there, in libraries and bookshops, being read.

If the real Prof does the right thing, good on him. If he doesn’t, then stuff him. One way or another the book will be back some time this year.

Happy reading.

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Frost/Rhodes

Last night, while reclining at home at the end of a long day, Dan Rhodes was alarmed by the sudden appearance of legendary satirist and interviewer the late Sir David Frost. At Sir David’s insistence, Rhodes hurriedly donned a collar and tie before yielding to a particularly gruelling interrogation.

Frost-RhodesBWWhat follows is a transcript of this conversation.

SIR DAVID FROST: Who would live in a house like this?

DAN RHODES: Me. It’s my house.

FROST: I suppose it is. You should tidy up. But that’s enough small talk – earlier this year you published a new book.

RHODES: Yes, a novel called ‘When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow’. It’s a comic romp in which a clearly fictional Professor Richard Dawkins finds himself snowbound in a small town en route to a Women’s Institute, where he’s due to give a talk on the subject of ‘Science and the non-existence of God.’

FROST: And it was published by Miyuki Books, I see. Is this a large publishing house? One of the conglomerates, perhaps?

RHODES: I’ll let you into a secret, Sir David – it never really existed; it was just my wife and I at our kitchen table. ‘Miyuki Books’ was a label we slapped on the enterprise to give it a veneer of authenticity.

FROST: That would explain all the typing errors. Now why would you do a thing like that?

RHODES: I wanted to finish a book one month and publish it the next, to see if the novel could in some way keep up with the world around it. I knew publishers wouldn’t be responsive to that idea, and would be wary of the subject matter, so rather than waste time in boring and fruitless talks with them, I decided to just bang it out myself.

FROST: Sticking it to the establishment, I see – rather like me, back when I was alive. And this venture – triumph or disaster?

RHODES: Somewhere in the middle. We printed 400 hardbacks, and sold about 340 – the others going to the press, supporters, etc.. I flogged a load via my web site, and through a dozen independent bookshops with no trouble at all. Most press copies went straight in the bin or on to eBay, which is the norm, but a few papers gave it some friendly coverage. We broke even on the costs – so far so triumphant.

FROST: And being a canny businessman, presumably you printed a second run?

RHODES: Well, no. I decided to see if I could get a publisher in for a paperback edition. With a knackering day job and small children I can’t also work as a publisher and distributor. It was fun for a while, but it would be too much to do it indefinitely. Also, by this point it had picked up a respectable clutch of press quotes, and I’d proved that it could come out without me getting into trouble. I withdrew the eBook and threw myself at the mercy of the British publishing industry.

FROST: How did that go?

RHODES: Catastrophically.

FROST: The publishers didn’t like it?

RHODES: No, that’s not been the problem. Some of them even loved it, and wanted to publish it, but they were so frightened of being sued by Richard Dawkins that they wouldn’t take it on.

FROST: So let me get this clear. Your book is set to remain unavailable because publishers think that the vociferous defender of free expression Richard Dawkins will sue them because you’ve given him a clearly fictional ribbing.

RHODES: In a nutshell, yes.

FROST: Jesus Christ. Do you think it’s fair to say that these people are snivelling numpties?

RHODES: I wouldn’t go that far. They all have to make a living in uncertain times, and with that comes a degree of caution, and…

FROST: Give me their names.

RHODES: I’d rather not.

FROST: Give. Me. Their. Names.

RHODES: I’m not sure that would be appropriate in an interview situation.

[At this point Sir David vanished for about two seconds, reappearing with a ledger containing details of the publishers who had backed out of acquiring the book because of legal concerns. He proceeded to read out their names, home addresses, likes and dislikes, and a list of frankly alarming things they look up on the Internet when they think nobody can see them. For reasons of tact we have chosen to omit this section of dialogue.]

FROST: It is safe to say that these people are unfit custodians of the printed word.

RHODES: Isn’t that a little strong?

FROST: Strong? I’ll give you ‘strong’. And something else I can tell you is that their dead relatives, over on the other side, are bitterly disappointed in them. Particularly their grandparents – some of whom fought in the war, only to see their descendents actively stifling a bit of good old-fashioned British satire.

RHODES: I was wondering about that – where exactly have you come from?

FROST: Let’s just call it ‘the other side’. It’s rather fun there. I get to spend time with my old friends – Ned Sherrin, Willie Rushton, Loyd Grossman…

RHODES: Oh, I’m so sorry – I had no idea Loyd Grossman had passed away.

FROST: He hasn’t, but he does pop over every once in a while.

RHODES: Can people do that?

FROST: Only Loyd. He’s half angel, you see. He can pass between the two worlds with ease. I’d had no idea about this while I was alive, but looking back it makes perfect sense. He’d always had an uncanny knack for wisping through keyholes. He’s rather a regular visitor – he stayed for a few days after he had that difficulty with the curry sauce. But I digress. I see your book has been described by my fellow knight Sir Michael Holroyd as ‘Hilarious – a satire as devastating as Voltaire’s Candide’ and yet you can’t find a publisher with the guts to take it on?

RHODES: It would seem not.

FROST: So where does this leave you – The New Voltaire?

RHODES: Stuck. Without a ‘publish and be damned’ note from Richard Dawkins we’re unlikely to find a home for it. We’ve sent him a letter asking for this, but we don’t know if we’ll ever hear back.

FROST: So if he reads the letter but doesn’t respond then it can be said that he is actively suppressing a novel because it satirises him?

RHODES: I wouldn’t go that far…

FROST: Well I would. And if he does give his blessing, then the book becomes ‘authorised satire’ which sounds like something out of North Korea.

RHODES: Yes, but I do think the book would survive his permission. Above all it’s a daft rural romp. I had hoped it would be the first of a series – following in the tradition of Tom Sharpe, Wodehouse, etc.. But if nobody will take on the opening volume then that’s that highly commercial idea down the swanny.

FROST: You could go back to doing it yourself.

RHODES: I can’t afford to do another print run – and even if I could I don’t have the spare time to deal with the sales and admin. I could put it out as an eBook, or a print-on-demand title but that would feel like something of a defeat – I want to see it in Waterstone’s. As a Luddite and egomaniac in equal measure, I won’t feel it’s properly out until it’s in shops and libraries.

FROST: So there you are, with a highly commercial novel – described by the Independent on Sunday as ‘Possibly the funniest book of the year’ and no home for it. You’ve not made anything from it, and you’ve had to pack up your writing room because you can no longer afford the peppercorn rent. How does that make you feel?

RHODES: Imagine how it makes me feel.

[At this point Sir David flickered for a full minute, all the while emitting a static crackle.]

FROST: Fucking hell. I’m glad I’m not you.

[Sir David takes a few moments to regain his composure.]

FROST: So all is lost.

RHODES: Not necessarily. Maybe somewhere in the English-speaking world there’s someone with the rare combination of good taste, courage and a highly developed sense of mischief. But this is looking increasingly unlikely, so we’re setting our sights farther afield – overseas publishers don’t seem to be quite such a bunch of… what’s the best way to put this…?

FROST: Quivering, lily-livered Muppets?

RHODES: Not the words I would have chosen, but foreign publishers do seem to have a little more in the way of balls than the ones I’m lumbered with in my homeland. It’s coming out in Czech, and we’re hopeful of more languages joining in.

FROST: So we’re in a position where the people of the Czech Republic are free to read something that is being kept from the citizens of your own land. What a big load of hairy bollocks. I wish you the best of luck. I think we can end there. I rather enjoyed that – it reminded me of my most incisive interview, that one with… now, what was his name? Richard something.

RHODES: Richard Nixon.

FROST: No, not him – Richard O’Sullivan. When he came on Through The Keyhole I asked him how hard it had been to make the transition from Man About The House to Robin’s Nest, and he told me it hadn’t been especially difficult because he was essentially playing the same character, just in different sitcoms. Chat show gold, and this was much the same. But I must be off – I can hear Loyd and the late Ronnie Barker calling me back for a round of whist. Goodbye.

[Before Rhodes had a chance to reply, Sir David was gone – back to the other side. And it was definitely him. Anyone who says that it was just an unauthorised cutout taped to a wooden spatula is talking rubbish.]