BLASTED HEATH: One Man's Journey Into The Unknown
14 October 2011
All week fellow writers have been approaching me in the street, looking bemused and hurt and jealous, asking how it was that I managed to get onto the Blasted Heath slate while they didn't. Just yesterday morning I had to say, 'Look, JK, don't worry about it. Hang in there. You'll find a publisher for Harry Potter 8 eventually. Really, you will.'
So here's the story of how Blasted Heath came to be the digital publisher of the Barney Thomson series. Read it and weep, James Patterson, you bastard.
About a year ago I was slumped in the pits of misery and gloom, as the Barney series muddled along in the lower divisions of crime writing football. No one seemed terribly interested, and I was able to keep things ticking along thanks largely to hand outs from Benedictine monks, and from busking with my ukulele outside the Little Theatre in Wells on a Saturday evening.
Douglas Lindsay accepts another rejection with a typically phlegmatic shoulder shrug
Deciding that I needed a new marketing approach, I started to put together a brochure for the series, which I would give to my distributors, with the idea that they would pass it on to Waterstones and WH Smiths, and then I'd be driving a DB9 by Christmas. I had a bunch of decent review quotes with which to populate the brochure, but decided to go online, looking for more. I Googled myself. Writers do that. Maybe everyone does it.
There, in amongst the tremendous amount of internet dross, I found an interview with Al Guthrie, in which he stated that he'd been influenced by reading Douglas Lindsay and Christopher Brookmyre. I sat staring at the screen, thinking, that's the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my life. Being an avid reader of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, and not much crime writing since, I don't think I'd be offending anyone to say that I'd never heard of Al Guthrie. Well, maybe Al Guthrie.
Time moved on. I never did finish planning that brochure. A couple of months later my Twitter account recommended that I follow Al Guthrie. (Which makes far more sense that what it's doing at the moment, which is recommending that I follow Tulisa Contostavios, for fuck's sake; and I genuinely just had to Google her to find out who she is, but then I'm 47, so I believe that's enough of a reason not to have known, despite the fact that she appears to be even more famous that Al.)
Crucially he didn't just describe himself as an author on his Twitter account, but also as an agent. I thought, Hmm, an agent that's not only heard of me but cited me as an influence. I e-mailed him in a conversational way, inquiring if he'd like to represent me, trying not to imply that I was so desperate I was currently surviving on methylated spirits and left over bits of dog from the bins outside the local Chinese takeaway. He said yes.
Many things in life are true.
Having an agent = not having to starve is not one of them.
Time passed. Al mentioned in passing that he was starting up a new digital publishing venture. I wrote to him implying in a subtle way that it might be a good idea for him to take on the Barney Thomson series. If I remember correctly, I used the phrase Pick me! Pick me! Me! I can do it! Me! Pick me!
Al said that it would be too much of a conflict of interest for him, so not at the moment. I accepted this and managed not to cry in front of him. A few weeks later he e-mailed to say that he and Kyle and been talking about it and actually, it would be really good if at launch they had a pre-written, ready to use, easy to handle, super-genius crime series.
I said yes. We signed a deal. Now here we are, it's October and untold riches and the most incredible fame and fortune await.
Or am I getting mixed up with something else?
Al is no longer my agent, he's now my publisher. There are downsides. For example, a few months ago I gave him a new crime novel I'd written; a crime novel so brilliant that it makes the THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON look a short comedy crime book set in a barbershop. If he was my agent, he would have read it in July. However, since he's now my publisher, he has carte blanche to be a complete bastard, and can consign everything I send him to the I'll Read It Next Year pile. All through the summer I'd send him an e-mail saying Have you read it yet? Have you read it yet? Have you read it yet? but now he starts every working day by just sending me an e-mail with the word No in the subject line to save me the effort.
This morning, while walking down Wells High Street, I bumped into Dan Brown. He said, 'How did you do it, you fortuitous, Scottish fuck?' 'Good things come to those who wait,' I said, because I get most of my small-talk conversational lines from alcohol adverts. 'Here, Dan,' I said, as he started to walk off, looking sullen and bleak, 'I've just been up at the cathedral. There's a rumour that that's where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden, but apparently there's some clandestine society keeping it secret.'
Dan looked excited, and walked off with a sense of purpose.