A Very Nice Rejection Letter
Chris Paling Constable £16.99
Everyone has a book in them, it is said, and, in the vast majority of cases, that’s exactly where it should stay.
Your memoir about life in the dog-eat-dog world of IT support? Your thriller about a woman on the top deck of the Number 19 who sees something awful through the upstairs window of a two-up two-down? Don’t bother. Even if they are any good, they’ll struggle to make much impact among the thousands of books published every single week in the UK.
Unless you happen to be J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, writing is unlikely to make you rich. Indeed, it might actually impoverish you.
The bulk of this funny and revealing book consists of novelist Chris Paling’s account of his authorial ups and downs – OK, his downs – of 2007 and 2008
At the beginning of this entertaining diary of his life in writing, novelist Chris Paling tots up his earnings for the year so far: minus £300 – the deficit being due to a payment to his accountant for preparing accounts recording just how little he had earned in the previous year.
Paling actually is an accomplished author, the UK and Commonwealth’s 1,001st Most Important Novelist (Living), by his own estimation. He has nine titles to his name and earns respectable reviews. However he is, in publishing parlance, a ‘mid-list novelist… someone who showed early promise but failed to hit the sales or prize ackpot’. And, as he drily observes, there is no such thing as a low-list novelist.
It is his job as a radio producer that puts bread on the table. His writerly life seems little more than series of indignities and humiliations.
A statement from his publisher shows that, as a result of books being returned to the warehouse, he has sold minus 45. ‘I have therefore sold 45 fewer novels than an unpublished writer. No mean feat.’ He is invited to a meeting of his local book group to talk about one of his titles, and only two people there – both of whom he already knows – have ever heard of him.
The ideal is to write something for the screen. If a screenplay is picked up, the financial rewards can be great. At any one time, Paling has several scripts at various stages of development, and is forever having meetings with producers and ‘promising young directors’, although they are never actually filmed.
The bulk of this funny and revealing book consists of Paling’s account of his authorial ups and downs – OK, his downs – of 2007 and 2008. Then he’s admitted to hospital with a serious medical condition and his projects all wither away.
But things start to look up. He takes redundancy from his radio job and works at his local library. The resulting memoir, Reading Allowed, sells more than his last three novels combined.
A Very Nice Rejection Letter will do at least as well because everyone who is convinced they have a book in them should read it.
About Time: A History Of Civilization In Twelve Clocks
David Rooney Viking £16.99
What the time is depends on where you are: when it’s noon for you, it’s already 1pm in, say, Venice. It used to vary in different parts of the UK: the sun is at its highest in Lowestoft before the same happens in Aberystwyth, so there was no reason for the respective town hall clocks to show noon at the same time.
I had previously believed that it was trains that put a stop to this – so that passengers could avoid adjusting their watches at every station. David Rooney digs deeper in this history of timekeeping and tells us that local time in fact persisted alongside ‘railway time’ until Victorian moralists keen that every pub should obey very precise licensing hours imposed Greenwich Mean Time across the land.
About Time: A History Of Civilization In Twelve Clocks is a beguiling book that shifts enjoyably between the barely fathomable nature of time and historical anecdote
But Greenwich no longer tells the world what time it is. The time we’ve now all agreed is ‘the’ time is set by a constellation of satellites carrying sturdy functional boxes called atomic clocks.
GPS – ‘Global Positioning System’ – time is heeded by your phone and mine, and most modern vehicles, machines and infrastructure.
Most of the 12 clocks of this book’s subtitle are older and prettier, and ‘clock’ here can mean any kind of timepiece. There are hourglasses. There are sundials, including the 88ft monster in Jaipur known as The Supreme Instrument, so large that you can watch its shadow move.
This is a beguiling book that shifts enjoyably between the barely fathomable nature of time and historical anecdote.
PAPERBACK OF THE WEEK
Boris Johnson: The Gambler
Tom Bower WH Allen £10.99
In this engrossing biography, Bower covers the criticisms of our Prime Minister – his lack of interest in detail, his narcissism, faithlessness, lying and so on – but concludes that despite his flaws, Boris Johnson does have a certain brilliance and seems to become more popular the more he is vilified.
It is Johnson’s father, Stanley, who comes off worst here, portrayed as a philanderer and a violent husband.