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:

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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.

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.]

Dan Rhodes at 101

We’ve done the count, and had it independently verified, and we can confirm that there are now an alarming one hundred and one Dan Rhodes books in the world. From Turku to Taipei, from to Bangkok to Brazil, from Anthropology to When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow, we have an extremely precarious tower here at HQ. 

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Many thanks are due to all the publishers who have taken a punt on my work over the last fifteen years, all the translators, rights people, jacket designers and subagents. Each one of these editions has helped to keep the wheels on the wagon all this time, and I love them all – even the really freaky looking ones. 

In other news, The Prof remains underground but there’s been much activity behind the scenes – we’re hoping to have something to say about him, and other dramatic developments, before too long. And as a gap-filler I’m thinking about giving away my long-lost Jane Austen collaboration. More news as it breaks…

Happy reading.

Adiós Professor

Exactly twelve weeks after he first went on sale, we are kicking the Prof into the long grass. The hardback sold out a few weeks ago, and some time tomorrow (21st May) we’ll be unpublishing the eBook. For the next 24ish hours you’ll still be able to get it here, but after that he’ll be toast. [UPDATE: he’s toast]

There are no dramatic or sinister reasons for this. We are working on a masterplan which will – one way or another – see him returning to print at some point. If you missed him first time around, please don’t pay collectors’ prices [we’ve seen the hardback on sale for silly money]. He will be back.

Many thanks are due to the pro-Prof camp: the excellent booksellers who have stocked him; everyone who shelled out to buy him; to all those who spread the word and passed on friendly comments; and of course to everyone who drew their own snowman. It’s been a blast.

Finally, a few weeks ago I received an email from Raven Books in Dublin. When I read this anecdote I knew that all the aggro of writing and publishing the book had been worthwhile:

Ravenbooksstory

Happy reading.

 

The Eurovision Snowman Contest – the Scoreboard

Lines are now closed in our Draw-an-Angry-Snowman competition. Entries came in from all over the world (seriously – China, Italy, Portugal, Finland – you name it) and almost every one came with a heart-rending sob story about how the artist had tried but failed to buy a copy of the ‘When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow’. It was all too much, so I shortlisted my favourites then roped in an independent celebrity panel who judged the snowmen sans tales of woe.

Thanks a lot to everyone who took the time to enter. The quality was really high, which made the judging a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Rest assured I’m never doing anything like this again. Please blame the jury, not me, if you didn’t get picked.

Without further ado, the two winners of my no-longer-available new novel ‘When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow’ are:

Naveena of Bristol:

Angry Snowman by Naveena Strickland

And Mik from the National Academy of Insignificant Arts in, possibly, the Netherlands:Image

And the runners up, who will receive – if they would like one – a copy of my golden oldie ‘Anthropology’, are:

Lynn of Milton Keynes:

snowman

 

Emelie of Sweden:

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Fiona of Aberdeen:

IMG-20140504-00488 And Wilf of New Zealand:IMG_2331I would like to reiterate that anyone who didn’t win is to blame the all-star panel, not me. If it comes to legal action I will have no hesitation in naming the culprits. I’ll be contacting the winners in the coming days…

And if you didn’t manage to get hold of a copy of the Prof, he will be back in due course [and for now you can find him on the Kindle, if you’re that way inclined].

Happy reading, snowman fans.

 

Draw an angry snowman competition

Prof cover shrunk_2

To celebrate “When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow” selling out, we at Miyuki Books (i.e. me and Wife-features) are going to be giving away a couple of signed and numbered copies of the now-officially-rare hardback. Here’s how to be in with a chance of winning:

1. Draw a picture of an angry snowman.

2. Take a photo of it, or scan it. Not too massive a file, please.

3. Email it to us here, along with your name and roughly where you come from (we’ll only be in touch for full details when it comes to posting books to prizewinners).

Terms and conditions: You won’t mind us posting your fabulous artwork here and on Twitter, and you won’t get all bolshy if you don’t win. We’ll ship the prizes worldwide if need be.

We do realise that the almost photorealistic quality of the book’s cover art has set the bar exceptionally high, but please don’t let that put you off. Your own snowman needn’t resemble the original at all – all we ask is that it looks really pissed off. The competition will end next Wednesday (7th May) with the results being announced shortly afterwards. [Lines are closed now. Thanks to everyone who entered. We’ll announce the winner early next week].

And though it may seem a little perverse to be running a promotional competition when the thing you’re promoting is unavailable, you can buy the eBook here. And I have eight other books out, and I refuse to believe you’ve read them all.

Happy drawing.

Last Gasps and Libraries

TheEndIsNigh

Three months ago today I finished writing ‘When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow’. Since then I’ve printed it, published it and sold the lot. That’s a photo of the final consignment to leave the kitchen table – twenty copies on their way to Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London. They should be back on sale there early next week. There’s a list of other possible stockists here.

I’m hoping a paperback will be out in the not-too-distant future, but that very much depends on the Prof partnering up with a non-chicken publisher. Is there such a thing? In the meantime there’s the eBook, so all is not lost.

Nice press is continuing to come in – there’s been a lovely review in The Guardian (Saturday 12th April edition). And at the time of typing, all comments below the article are positive – possibly a first in Guardian history? If you’re a book pages editor and you haven’t covered it yet you must be feeling a little embarrassed. But don’t worry – there’s still time to turn things around.

More reviews here.

I’ve kept ten copies of the hardback aside to donate to public libraries – free to the first ten librarians to email HQ here. UK only I’m afraid (postage elsewhere would be too much to cope with). Putting ‘I’m a librarian’ in the subject line isn’t compulsory but it will help. I’m old fashioned enough to feel that a book hasn’t been properly published until it’s in the library system… [UPDATE – the ten copies have now been bagged by nimble-fingered librarians.]

In other news, my 2007 novel Gold is still alive. A film adaptation is in the pipeline, but that’s top secret so we can’t mention it yet, and the Czech translation is out on 14th April. Here it is:

ZlatoHappy reading.