Saturday, 31 May 2008

Countdown to Caligula

This blog is all about the highs and lows of a writer stumbling blindly towards the publication of his first novel. Looking back, it's difficult to pick out the high point so far. Was it when I finished the Emperor's Elephant and realised I could actually write a book, even if it was a flawed one? Or when I completed the rewrite after binning 80,000 words of the original and sensed I had created something good? Or maybe it was the day when Stan told me Simon had made an offer for it that was meant to chase everyone else away and I had to ask him to repeat the figure twice.
Well Thursday topped them all.
For the past couple of weeks Simon and his team have been trying to round up endorsements for the back cover of Caligula from writers with proven track records and major followings. We've had knockbacks from some of the biggest names in historical fiction. It's hardly surprising. Writers are usually busy writing, why should someone take time from their own novel to read the work of an untried unknown? Where is the incentive in promoting a potential rival's work?
On Wednesday, Simon was about to sign off on the cover. There would be lots if interesting empty space where the endorsement quotes were supposed to go.
On Thursday morning he sent me a message which read: 'Something to cheer up your day' and five minutes later I was doing cartwheels around the office.
Manda Scott's superb Boudica books shed light on the life of Britain's most legendary heroine and on a time which I know from experience is incredibly difficult to capture from the few historical sources available. She is hugely knowledgable, hugely talented and, I now know, a very nice person.
To have someone of Manda's stature say anything about Caligula would have been amazing, but this?

'Douglas Jackson takes us by the hand and heart and leads us into the crazy, power-soaked world of Caligula, maddest of the mad Roman emperors - and in doing so gives us an insight into the man behind the madness, the fragile, bloody balances of power and the depths to which men were forced to sink simply to stay alive. It's light and dark in equal measure, colourful, thoughtful and bracing. A worthy addition to the world of Roman historical fiction.'

It was one of those wonderful moments when you sit back and think: 'Is that me she's talking about?'

I had to read it about three times before it sank in. There was more of the same and Manda found hidden depths in Caligula I didn't realise were there: things I had subconsciously been vaguely aware of, but not consciously trying to achieve. David Robinson, the Scotsman's literary editor, made the same kind of comments, but about different areas of it, and I'm beginning to realise that Caligula is no longer my book. It belongs to, and my writing will be interpreted by, anybody who reads it. They will make their own judgments on things I've written that I barely thought about at the time.

Not everyone will like Caligula, I understand that; Rufus inhabits a cruel, unforgiving world that won't be to everyone's taste. But there is a theme emerging in the feedback from those who've read it. So far, not only have they enjoyed it - they think it's special.

On Thursday I also finally completed the rewrite of Brothers in Arms ... I have a feeling it may be special too in an entirely different way. But more of that another day.

1 comment:

Lexi said...

Way to go, Doug!

Imagine some sort of dancing, cartwheeling, singing emoticon here. Possibly kilt-wearing.