Sunday, 23 November 2008

Living with Caligula

I had a couple of interesting pointers this week to what happens when your baby goes out into the wide and unforgiving world. The first was the worst review I've had so far on Amazon, a single star and completely at odds with everything else anyone has said about Caligula. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and I think I've said before on this blog that I know the book won't be to everyone's taste but the tone and the personal nature of some of what was said made me wonder if the reviewer had some sort of axe to grind. He was particularly exercised about the death of Circe early in the book.

"The author seems to take a certain amount of pornographic pleasure in the descriptions of animals being killed. The leopard at the beginning is a case in point. Disgusting."

I'd never deny that the arena scene is a graphic depiction of what happened to animals in the Roman Empire, and I thought long and hard about whether to tone it down, but to accuse an author of taking "pornographic" pleasure in something he's written seems to be missing the whole point of a work of fiction. Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal contain some stomach-churning descriptive writing, but that doesn't make Thomas Harris a serial killer, any more than writing about the reality of the amphitheatre makes me a gladiator or an animal murderer. Which brings me to my second point.

Caligula has just been flagged up on the Animal Liberation Front's Facebook site as an example of cruelty to animals.

You couldn't make it up!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Living with Caligula

Caligula made another breakthrough this week when I got word that a Barcelona publishing company called Ediciones B have bought the world Spanish rights. They seem really forward thinking and it's possible that there could be a Spanish edition in the US, plus editions in Spain and South America. It brings the Caligula United Nations to seven, and came completely out of the blue.
One thing I haven't touched on that might be interesting to would-be writers is the money side of things. I got a great advance for Caligula and Claudius, but that doesn't mean the cheque arrived in the post the next day. I got 25 per cent on signing and the rest has come in bits and pieces (on delivery of the manuscript, hardback publication, paperback publication etc). However, I won't get any royalties until the total advance is paid back. That means any money from rights sales goes to Transworld, plus anything I earn from British/overseas English language sales and from the Polish edition, which has been out since the summer. Rights sales aren't like the advance and the sums involved (at least for me) aren't huge, so it takes quite a few to make a difference. I'll get the first statement around Christmas/New Year time which will let me know forthe first time exactly where I stand. I also experienced the first really major downside - my first tax bill - which made my eyes water. Even though I'd known it was coming and had put money aside it was still a shock to see it in black and white, and a bigger shock to disover that they want half of next year's bill up from at the same time last year's is paid! Ouch!
Still, it's all part of the learning experience, and if I'm ever going to write full time it's something I'll have to get used to.

PS Just had a quick look on the internet and discovered that the Italian edition will be published on November 27 by Newton and Compton and is entitled Morte all'imperatore!, which I think means Death to the Emperor.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Living with Caligula

Not a lot to report on the book front, but I had an interesting e-mail last week from Christina who is translating Caligula into Italian for Newton and Compton. It was on one of those subjects that probably cause historical novelists more soul-searching than anything else: units of measurement. She'd noticed that several times I'd lapsed into using yards as a measurement of distance and the publishers were wondering if all measurements should be metric or possibly we should use the latin equivalent. We agreed that to make everything metric would make the book look a bit daft, but I didn't think it was a good idea to use terms like pedes, heminae and iugera either. They're not terribly well known and I felt I'd have to explain them as I went along. Throughout most of the book I'd talked about paces, as the equivalent of a yard or metre, because this would probably be in use at the time as an approximate estimate of distance, so we agreed on that.

I'd also used 'thousands of gallons' to emphasise something in the sewer scenes below Caligula's palace and I had to find a way of showing it rather than using a measurement. Tiny details, but the kind of stuff that either makes a book feel authentic or not. One thing it shows is the kind of care and attention is going into the Italian edition. Christina has picked up several things I'd never have noticed and I know I couldn't be in better hands. I managed to get a look at the title page the other day and Caligula will be published either as 'L'ultimo Gladiatore di Roma' which I think is The Last Gladiator in Rome, or Death to the Emperor. Can't wait to see it. I wonder what's happening in Russia, Romania, Serbia and Portugal?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Living with Caligula

Claudius has gone. I had an e-mail from Simon in midweek with his reaction to the final rewrite. I have to confess I put off opening it just in case the news was bad, but he liked it a lot. The centrepiece of the book is the battle where the British hero Caratacus attempts to stop the invading Romans at the River Thames. It was great to write, but the scale was frighteningly large and once or twice I wondered if I'd taken on more than I could handle. So I was pretty chuffed when Simon, who doesn't go in for superlatives, described it as "brilliant and epic".
Still, it's always a strange moment to send a book on its way. It's finished/complete, but you know there's more you can do to it. It's now with the copy editor, who did a fantastic job with Caligula, and I'll be interested to see what horrors she spots this time that I failed to see the many dozens of times I've read it.
It's a year since I went through this process, but the memory is as fresh as if it was yesterday. I know I'll get the copy-editors manuscript in the post in a couple of weeks. That'll be followed by the cover art. Then the book proof, then the books themselves. Finally publication day on Thursday July 16. A huge buzz every step of the way. I'll be fascinated to see what the designers come up with for the cover. Caligula was fantastic but with Claudius the opportunities for something really special are enormous.
The Emperor's elephant has taken her next big step!