The decision to become a writer was one of the three or four biggest mistakes of my life. I had no idea that it would lead to many years of frustration and disappointment followed by a period of relative success and, in the fullness of time, a very sour conclusion.
But to begin at the beginning.
In my late teens, working as a photographer in that part of London known as 'the City', I read a lot of fiction. I never went anywhere without a paperback in my pocket. I must have been seventeen or eighteen when I decided to try my own hand at writing. I bought a portable typewriter on tick, taught two of my fingers to type, and a couple of years later began sending out my first pieces of writing – adult novels and stories, though I was barely an adult myself, far from seasoned in the unfathomable ways of the world. Those first things were rejected, but, while continuing to work in one kind of photography or another, I wrote on and on, receiving further rejections, one after the other.
And thirty years flew by.
Three full decades in which I despatched novels, stage plays, radio plays, TV plays, sitcoms, a book of hedgehog jokes in collaboration with a cartoonist met in an orchestra pit – and almost everything either came back to me or was lost in the post. One year I received just short of fifty rejections, a sufficient quantity, surely, for any moderately intelligent person to get the message and seek a more gratifying way of wasting his life.
But I didn't get the message.
I didn't seek any other way.
It wasn't until I finally had something of reasonable substance accepted – a novel for children about alternative realities – that I began to think about focusing on a particular kind of writing. While I'd always had great affection for children's books, it had never been an ambition to write exclusively for children, but that book's publication in 1995 seemed like a way in, where there'd been no such way before. So I set about offering my services, by phone or letter, to every name or company in children's publishing that sounded promising. And some of them responded positively. It was a productive time, and five years on from my first published book I had written adventure stories for classical music partworks, early-reader stories for sizeable multi-author volumes, cultural history texts for a junior education magazine, and made dozens of contributions to a company that specialised in 'fun facts' about the world we live in. I also had thirteen books in print and eight publishers.
If there was one advantage to having my name on a few covers, it was that I no longer needed to send editors the completed text of a book I wanted to write. If an editor or publishing house liked a synopsis and sample chapters they would draw up a contract and pay an advance against sales to finish it by an agreed date. However, not everything I offered was accepted.
Far from it.
For every commissioned book, several other proposals were declined. It's the sheer quantity of those rejected offerings that has prompted me to bring some of them together between these covers, for they'll never appear anywhere else.
My last two commissioned books, a pair of linked novels, were published under a pseudonym in 2014 and 2015, the second of these twenty years almost to the day from the publication of my first book. I used a pseudonym for three reasons: 1, to see if children's books by an unknown name would sell, as my first hadn't; 2, to see if the publisher (of 25 of my books to date) would pull its lackadaisical corporate fingers out for once and actually promote books of mine; 3, because, by this time faced with zero interest in concepts that I liked more, I wrote these two without enthusiasm, each day for months on end trudging upstairs to my office, sighing heavily, to work on them hour after hour, sure that my brain would melt with boredom.
And once published, did they sell, those two books? No.
And were they promoted in any noticeable way? No. I never saw a single copy in a bookshop.
Their publication signalled the end of my writing-to-order and writing-for-kids period.
Here, in this volume, is some of the overlooked or unwanted detritus from that period.
Unwanted titles represented in this book:
The Cloak (c.1994)
Ebenezer's Ghosts (1998)
Goliath & Tangerine (1998)
Tyburn Darkhammer's Nasty Shorts (1999)
Is There Life in Other Heads? (2008)
The Lacklustre Spot (2009)
Demelza Drake (2010)
Orson Quirk (2010)
Homely Tales of Fear and Dread (2011)
Swoozie McCue (2011)
Adventures of Snott (2011)
Delius Gripe (2011)
Danny Visitor : Ghostmaster (2011)
Danni Visitor, Warrior Queen (2012)
Children's books, concepts and stories that no one wanted
Some of the children's books I published between 1995 and 2015 were very popular. Several of them were translated into many languages. A few won awards. But while all this was going on I was failing to sell other ideas that appealed to me just as much as books that publishers were paying me to write. This 360 page volume contains extracts from sixteen of those unwanted concepts, with behind-the-scenes information about their production and responses by editors and agents. Writers who have yet to find buyers for their books, frustrated by the negativity of these gatekeeps, might find this book rather enlightening - amusing, too, quite often, thanks to occasional bouts of authorial rage.