Hazel McHaffie

John le Carre

Acknowledgements

By the time you’ve written ‘THE END’, gone through dozens of edits, and proof read the final draft of your precious novel till you’re cross eyed, the very idea of writing another word can seem like a labour too far. But hey, what about all those folk who helped to bring this baby to birth?

Some writers content themselves with a dutiful list of agents, publishers, editors (all exemplary of course ) who’ve seen the value of the story and steered it through choppy waters to publication. Most thank friends and family (all stalwarts of course). The page can be simply ‘Thank you …’ followed by a list of names, or it can extend to several pages and include Great Aunt Gertrude who provided scotch broth on cold school days and became an unwitting template for Aunt Sally in the current magnum opus. Hey, been there, done that, myself; I’m not knocking it. I’m fascinated too by those that tell us people actually paid substantial sums of money (to charity of course) in exchange for immortality in the said book.

But best of all are the ones that manage to inject a sense of fun into this potentially dry catalogue. And I love the self-deprecating ones and those that manage to twist a fact to put an unusual slant on it. So I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you this week.

This is indeed a work of fiction, and more so than usual. Almost nothing in the previous 340-odd pages is based on reality. Research, hardly a priority, was rarely called upon. Accuracy was not deemed crucial. There was no federal camp at Frostburg, no uranium lawsuit (yet), no dead judge to inspire me, and no acquaintance in prison scheming to get out, at least not to my knowledge.
Inevitably, though, even the laziest of writers need some foundation for their creations, and I was occasionally at a loss. As always, I relied on others. Thanks to …

John Grisham (The Racketeer)

This book took an embarrassingly long time to write, also my short-term memory isn’t what it was – apparently this is what happens when you’re perimenopausal (not menopausal, I should stress; that’s still decades away, and by the time it happens I’ll be grand again and back winning Mastermind) – so there’s a very good chance that someone may have given me invaluable help at an early stage in the book and that I’ve now completely forgotten. If you are that person, I am truly sorry.

Marian Keyes (This Charming Man)

Last year I lost two friends, each of great spirit and heart. Whenever Alex Cooper (lead in story) goes to the ballet – as she does herewith Natalie Moody – she will be watching the dancers at American Ballet Theatre and honoring Howard Gilan, an extraordinary man whose spirit lives on in all those – man and beast – whom he embraced.
And my young protegee, Maxine Pfeffer, who lost her valiant struggle with cancer, will always be Coop’s paralegal, Max. Thinking of her will forever bring a smile to my face.
Some of my Vassar classmates asked me to create a character in memory of one of our dear friends, the actress Marilyn Swartz Seven, who also died too young. She is here as a woman of mystery – a role I hope she would have enjoyed performing.

Linda Fairstein (Cold Hit)

In these dog days when lawyers rule the universe, I have to persist with these disclaimers, which happen to be perfectly true. With one exception nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world … so with luck I shall not be spending the rest of my life in the law courts or worse, though nowadays you can never be sure. But I can tell you this. As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realise that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard.


John Le Carré (The Constant Gardener)

I hope that my patients and colleagues will forgive me for writing this book.

Henry Marsh (Do No Harm)

 

Oh and, strictly speaking a preface but to leave you smiling:

[This} is the only book of mine which I tried to produce without sitting down at the typewriter and getting a crick in the back.
Not that I ever thought of dictating it to a stenographer. How anyone can compose a story by word of mouth, face to face with a bored looking secretary with a notebook is more than I can imagine. Yet many authors think nothing of saying “Ready, Miss Spelvin? Take dictation. Quote No comma Lord Jasper Murgatroyd comma close quote said no better make it hissed Evangeline comma quote I would not marry you if you were the last man on earth close quote period Quote Well comma, I’m not the last man on earth comma so the point does not arise comma close quote replied Lord Jasper comma twirling his moustache cynically period And so the long day wore on”
If I started to do that sort of ting I should be feeling all the time the girl was saying to herself as she took it down, “Well comma this beats me period How comma with homes for the feeble-minded touting for customers on every side comma has a fathead like this Wodehouse succeeded in remaining at large all these years mark of interrogation”
But I did get one of those machines where you talk into a mouthpiece and have your observations recorded on wax, and I started Thank You, Jeeves, on it. And after the first few paragraphs I thought I would turn back and play the stuff over to hear how it sounded.
It sounded too awful for human consumption.

You can’t think out plots like mine without getting a suspicion from time to time that something has gone seriously wrong with the brain’s two hemispheres and the broad band of transversely running fibres known as the corpus collosum.

P G Wodehouse (Thank you, Jeeves)

Thanks, guys. I am resolved to take a leaf out of your books and make my own next acknowledgements more appealing in future.

 

 

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Autumnal reflections

Cue weary sigh. Why, on such a beautiful autumnal day?Early autumn gloryMy computer has been throwing serious hissy fits this week, that’s why, and I’ve been alternately bereft and frustrated and stressed, and hugely resentful of the time wasted trying to get it sorted out. Yesterday it died – terminal in both senses. So I’ve been acutely aware of the immense benefits of modern technology I normally take for granted.

Which brings me nicely to a current big debate. Are agents and publishers right to expect their authors to have a significant online presence? Writer Jonathan Frantzen has stirred the self-promotion pot again this week with his claim on Radio 4’s Today programme that agents are refusing to even look at a manuscript from new young scribblers unless they have at least 250 followers on Twitter.  Frantzen reckons that they should be concentrating on developing their authorial voice not messing about shouting about themselves. Is he right?

On one level maybe. And I for one would hate to crush creative ability just because someone is seriously allergic to technology. But hey, competition out there is tough. How do you get your book or yourself noticed if you turn your back on all the advantages of 21st century communication?

Personally, being a Luddite at heart, I prefer the line taken by most literary advisers: use the networking which feel most comfortable to you – website, blog, Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter – whatever. Tweeting happens to be one avenue I’ve avoided to date but I have every reason to be grateful to others who use it. Why, only last week an organisation who generously reviewed Over My Dead Body, tweeted the comments to over 17,000 followers. Thanks hugely, folks at The Bookbag. I couldn’t have reached that audience.

Another relatively recent development is that many agents and publishers simply say to would-be clients, If you don’t hear back from us within X months you can assume we are not in a position to represent you. Hmm. Off goes your precious manuscript into a great black hole. X months pass. X +1. X + 2. OK, they warned you. But you have no idea why it wasn’t accepted. Of course, it saves them valuable time, but it also denies you the opportunity of learning from the experience. Or framing their scathing comments and hanging them in your loo when you sell your first million copies of the said work.

In days of yore publishers did comment, and plenty of big names have shared their rejection with the world, evidence of serious errors of judgement which can be hugely entertaining for the rest of us. And incidentally engender renewed respect for authors who persevered in spite of the damning criticism.

You’ve probably heard lots of them. If not, click here or here or here for some salutary examples to make you chortle. I’ll share just one quote to put you in the mood. A publisher sending John le Carré’s first novel to a colleague: You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

As Frank Sinatra famously said: The best revenge is massive success.

 

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