Saturday, 30 August 2008

Living with Caligula

Caligula has been making the headlines.
Unfortunately it's not my Caligula, but the 1979 softporn/hardcore (depending on your point of view) movie of the name, which stars Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren. It was hugely controversial when it came out because Bob Guccione spiced up the sex scenes after all the big names had finished shooting the film, with the result that they all, including original script writer Gore Vidal, completely disowned the final result. It was banned in Britain, but now the censors have decided to give it an 18 certificate because of its 'historical interest'.
The result is that Caligula is in the news, with stories throughout the week and a double page spread in today's outraged Daily Mail.
So is this good or bad for Caligula, the novel, with its tasteful and (comparitively) understated scenes of incest, sex, cruelty, torture and murder, and its fascinating insight into the life and true nature of the psychotic young Emperor?
The answer is that I'm not sure. On the one hand the fact that the name Caligula is emblazoned in 120pt type across two pages of Britain's biggest-selling mid-market tabloid can only be good for the book's profile, if only for the curiosity value if it provides. ie 'I wonder what Caligula was really like?' On the other, is it a good idea to be linked to what is widely regarded as one of the worst historical films ever made and a total box-office turkey?
And what does it do for my prospects of having the book turned into a film? Quite a few people who've read Caligula have commented on the fact that it would make a great blockbuster, which is exactly what you want to hear, but if it ever does come out as a movie I doubt it will be under the same name!

Still on films, I stumbled across an article on the net the other day about a well-known female newspaper columnist who is being sued by a major film company for the $700,000 dollars they coughed up for the film rights to her book in 2003. It was based on what they obviously thought was a great idea, but unfortunately she allegedly neglected to ever write the book, which I suppose would mean her publisher is also out of pocket. I'm not terribly big on morality, but the thought of taking all that money and then not bothering to produce the goods boggles my mind. But then I'm not a big name newspaper columnist.

Which brings me nicely on to Katie Price, aka Jordan, whose autobiography and chick-lit novels are currently dominating the book charts and coining in a fortune to add to her hard-pressed 'boob job' fund. Katie cheerfully told an interviewer the other day that she doesn't actually write the books, she just comes up with a few chapter ideas and then tosses them to a minion who does all that tiresome stringing the sentences together and putting in dots and commas and whatnot. And there was you thinking it was difficult to get a book published!

My last blog was something of a prolonged whinge about not being invited to book festivals and not the usual upbeat ravings of a demented, would-be bestseller writer. A good friend of mine put this into perpective during the week, when he told me he'd done a gig at Edinburgh and spent hours glad-handing only to find out at the end that he'd sold two books. Another writer I know had a similar experience, which cheered me up no end.

And finally a comment on the strange financial world of book-selling. There are quite a few Caligulas on sale on e-Bay and I thought I'd take a look to see just how much the online opportunists were asking The highest price was £59 - yes, you're reading that correctly - £59 for Caligula, life's work of Douglas Jackson, author, available from Bantam Press and all good book shops for £12.99 minus discount. It turns out the £59 was for a signed, lined and dated copy I'd sweated over (literally: see earlier bubble-wrap blog) for a specialist book company, which means my unpaid efforts have produced a potential 400 per cent mark-up. You learn something new every day.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Living with Caligula

Publicity has been on my mind, and how to get more of it for Caligula.
In a lot of ways I've done pretty well, with a wonderful spread in The Scotsman, very positive reviews in the Mail and the Sunday Express in Scotland, and some big hits in local newspapers in Stirling and the Borders. There was also my radio interview on Radio Scotland.
But where's the national publicity? Where are the reviews in The Times and the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Independent? They feature dozens of books every week but never mine.
Last Saturday I did my first webchat with members of Youwriteon, the website that played such a big part in my development as a writer. It was great fun, and in the end I must have answered fifty questions from people interested in my experiences over the last year or so.
It gave me a lovely warm feeling of belonging.
But sometimes I feel like someone standing outside a window in the snow looking in at a party where people are chatting around a roaring fire.
I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival just after the webchat, to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, and I was left wondering: why am I not here? Hundreds of authors from all over Britain gathered to talk about their books. From the very famous to people I've never heard of. People queueing five deep to buy signed copies from authors who'd written books on the most obscure subjects imaginable. Every publishing house in Britain, large and small, seemed to be represented, and it had the biggest bookshop in the country, with thousands and thousands of titles; in fact every book in the world appeared to be on the shelves - except Caligula. When I talk about it to people, they say: 'You'll definitely be there next year', but we'll just have to wait and see. For a first-time author every book counts and this seemed to be a huge opportunity that I'd missed.

I also have a sense now that when a book is launched it gains a momentum powered by the goodwill of the people who buy it. With an established author that momentum is prolonged by reputation - people will keep picking it up from the shelves because it has his name on it. For someone like me it's different, once everyone you know has bought it and everyone they've told about it, you need something a little special to push it on to the next level. Where will it come from? I don't honestly know, but with Caligula there's always been a little nudge just when it was needed. Maybe it's just around the corner.

I almost forgot. Caligula will now be published in Romanian, which brings the number of languages to six - Russian, Polish (according to one website I'm already a best-seller there, but I syspect that's just hype), Portuguese, Serbian and Italian.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Living with Caligula

It's not all champagne and canapes being a writer.

'Will you sign fifty of your novels for a specialist books company?' Naturally the answer has to be yes - a signed book is a sold book, as the manageress of one store told me recently.
Yet in that simple sentence lurked a boobytrap that turned my Saturday into an episode of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (a seventies sitcome starring Michael Crawford, for those of you too young to remember).
First, I wasn't in when they arrived, so the books were sent to the local post office. A minor problem, since it's just around the corner? Not quite. Have you any idea how much fifty books weigh? The size of box they come in? Still, I managed to get home - after about ten stops - covered in sweat and wondering what would go first, my back or my legs.
Open the box and there are no visible instructions, just two stacks of books in bubble wrap - miles of bubble wrap. These things are sold in pristine condition, so they have to be protected and I'd have to be careful how I handled them. So I got the first stack unwrapped - 25 books, twenty feet of bubble wrap. A quick signature on each book and we'll put the first batch back in the box. I don't suppose you've ever tried to wrap 25 books, stacked just so, in twenty feet of bubble wrap. It was only on the sixth attempt, with books all over the place, that it dawned on me that these things had originally been wrapped by a machine. Eventually it took two of us half an hour to get them wrapped anything remotely like they were. And still another 25 to go.
I wasn't going through that again, so I worked out that I could get at the books one at a time from the side. It was finicky and time-consuming, but at least they'd go back easily enough.
I was about five books from the end when I found the note cunningly concealed between two of them.

Dear Doug, thanks for agreeing ... lah di da ... our customers have requested that you sign, date and add a short quote from the book. Date! Quote!

The first 25 books still lie in their untidy bubble wrap cocoon, signed, but not dated or quoted. I'll get round to them eventually, but I still haven't worked out how I'll get them all back in the box, or, come to think of it, how to get the box back to the post office. Anybody know any Olympic weightlifters?

On a cheerier note, the books seem to be selling well and my old paper, The Southern Reporter did a great piece on me this week, you can read it here

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Living with Caligula

I went in to Waterstone's this morning to fulfil my promise to sign the latest batch of Caligulas and was pleased to discover it is now No. 7 on the shop's best-seller list. David, the manager, was delighted to see me and gave me a desk where I could put my name on the sixteen books they have in stock. When it was done, he slapped a black 'signed by author' sticker on each of them and back on the shelf they went. They are really happy to promote a local author, which is great.
I've come to realise it's up to a first-time author, indeed any author, to help sell every book he can, and I'm looking for other ways to do that. I've made arrangements to sign books at stores in Edinburgh next week, and I'll try to get to Glasgow before the end of the month. I've also put up personally signed copies for competitions in three local newspapers. What I'd really like is a few more reviews on Amazon, which I think helps raise the profile of a book and get it talked about. I had two, but one has been withdrawn after a crazy internet spat.
I'm also pleased to announce that Caligula has gone even more international. Portugal and Serbia have now been added to the united nations of Italy, Poland and Russia which are publishing the book.
I'm working on Simon's notes for the follow-up at the moment and I think it's going really well. I've altered the structure to remove one of the main characters and I'm now developing some of the scenes he felt had more potential. Next I'll start work on the new ending, but I know where I'm heading with it.