An author opts to publish his own book - London Babylon - and in this two-part article he’s still trying to figure out why.
Why do it? Why would anyone write books? Why not just pay someone to beat you up and rob you? It would be the same net effect but you could get the pain all over with in one go. It’s the long drawn out sense of expectation that destroys you. As John Cleese remarked in Clockwise, “It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.”
When I met up with the publishers of my first book, Guns, Cash and Rock ‘n’ Roll, for contract signing and drinks in the Groucho club I thought I’d made it; oh the glamour. Looking around, I spotted Keith Allen heading towards the bogs and thought, ‘This is it. I’m launched into the literati. Boho Soho. Get used to it lad, you’ll soon be spending absinthe-sodden hours in here hallucinating with Damien Hirst and Alex James, fending off starlets and being beckoned into celebrity-stuffed toilet cubicles for jazz dust.’ Some chance.
Six months of editing, fact checking and the treadmill of rights acquisitions soon disabused me of that notion, followed as it was by a further six-month hiatus ‘to give the trade notice’, during which time the libel lawyers expensively tried to rip the book’s heart out. However, the big day finally did arrive and I experienced the buzz of seeing my name on the cover of my book on a Waterstone’s shelf. For me that moment will remain forever bathed in celestial light.
In the subsequent round of press engagements, I began to feel that I really was in show business – that’s if being interviewed by David ‘Kid’ Jensen on Capital Gold counts. Lovely chap incidentally, and he really knew the subject so that was one of us. Then came a chance to travel, well a trip to Manchester to be interviewed by Kerrang Radio’s late night shock jock, who refused to mention the name of my book unless I agreed to be whipped on air by his other guest, a local dominatrix. I don’t know whether it was my venal desperation to shift product that made me go along with it or the desire to find out what it’s like to be thrashed by a fifteen stone prostitute but I suffered for my art.
Other radio interviews were sadly more sedate affairs involving numerous trips to the BBC’s Portland Place studios for ‘phoners’ with the cream of the country’s local radio DJs, sitting in a cubicle with headphones on. “Hello Steve, this is BBC Hoomberside. Can you ‘ear me?” Indeed so often was I loitering in the BBC reception area that I got on first name terms with the commissionaire as well as Terry Wogan who had started nodding at me as he passed through, and there was a serious A-List moment chatting about curry with the Two Hairy Bikers.
When the flurry of publicity passed, I sort of held my breath, waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what exactly, perhaps a call from Tarantino needing a screenplay? Could I knock out a biography for Jagger? Was I free to host the Brit Awards?
Oh and book sales; I anticipated selling books. In fact I expected to sell quite a lot, after all, Guns, Cash and Rock ‘n’ Roll was released in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Someone was seen reading it on a beach in Goa and a dog-eared copy was spotted in a Bangkok backpacker’s hostel. The reviews had been quite complimentary, there had been a double page spread in the Daily Mail, almost a page in the Telegraph; I’d been interviewed on New York radio. The book had even been translated into Czech.
Giddied by the notion that I must be selling bundles of books I looked forward to a deluge of royalty cheques – free money plopping onto the door mat every few months, and only half jokingly took a peek at the Sunday Times Best Seller list.
Poor, deluded fool; as I now know, that list is the exclusive reserve of misery memoirs, cooks, comics and hacks - Jamie, Delia and Rick, Jeremy, Stephen and Dawn… oh and Jordan. It seems you can only have a hugely successful book if you are already hugely successful or if your huge breasts are already hugely successful. And then there’s Dan Brown.
I can’t be the only small time author who resents these self-satisfied serial word spewers grinning down at me from the shelves of W.H. Smiths. Can’t Stephen content himself with presenting QI, tweeting, and utilising the licence fee to tour the world on behalf of those of us that can’t afford to, giving all the endangered species their last cuddle? Isn’t Clarkson busy enough thrashing around in Aston Martins, putting his name on a newspaper column and running his new farm? Can’t Jamie just clear off and cook the dinner? It’s doubtful any of them even know how many they’ve had published; there’s just a cynical conveyor belt of ‘books to accompany the hit series’ that every Christmas are lugged to the tills by weary gift buyers who can’t find anything else.
It’s hard enough to get published at all but if you’re not a Catholic conspiratorialist, you weren’t raped by nuns or you don’t cook or travel (or cook and travel) on TV, then you won’t be troubling the top 10,000 let alone the top 10.
Read part 2 of Steve’s febrile rant next week
London Babylon: The Beatles and the Stones in the Swinging Sixties is available in local bookshops or from www.londonbabylon.co.uk priced £12.99. There are 414 pages of previously untold stories, anecdotes and pictures. Each visitor to the site is entitled to the two ‘missing’ chapters free.
© Steve Overbury 2009