Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Step Two in the publishing revolution... by Cally Phillips

Episode Two: The Great Age of Print.

I’m currently wearing too many hats, spreading myself too thin and working to a deadline that may well kill me (whoever said hard work doesn’t kill may, I’m starting to think, be wrong) I have 16 books to get through to print/ebook production by 16th Feb and another 16 by 16th March. Like I said, I’m a bit overworked. And so I came to write my Feb blog thinking  *%%^**& (apologies for the cliché).  But luckily, being brought up on a diet of Blue Peter, I  discovered one I almost made earlier. It is, horror of horrors a ‘first draft’ (not sure blog posts should really have ‘drafts’ but you may well care to differ once you’ve read this! Though I would like to ‘polish’ it or ‘amend’ it or just make it GOOD in some way, (by cutting it to half the length?) I really don’t have time so sorry folks, you’ll just have to mine the nuggets yourself.

The title promises much. Can I deliver? I doubt it.  But can I just start by saying that two years ago, even though I thought I was a pretty well educated person (I’ve got so many qualifications I could build an escape ladder with them – and often do) I really hadn’t joined the dots on what happened in publishing in the 19th century.  I sort of thought, when I thought about it, that I knew. Then two things happened.  Both ‘happenings’ are AE related so both worthy of inclusion here. First Catherine Czerkawska FINALLY persuaded me to read ‘The Intellectuals and the Masses’ by John Carey. And I finally understood I did NOT want to be one. Not in the sense that is culturally 'acceptable.' It resolved a lot of personal 'issues' which had long bothered me. 
 
The power of writers: Julia Jones
 and Herbert  Allingham
changed my life!
Then Julia Jones hove into view with ‘Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory,’ pennies dropped, minds were blown and I actually started ‘exploring’ publishing, the history of publishing and the ‘culture’ of publishing etc in more depth.  Guess what. There’s more to it than meets the eye and so I’d really recommend that any writer (and interested readers) take a trip into publishing history in 2014.  A virtual adventure. Exploration. Maybe even a holiday. The Past is indeed a different country.

I venture to suggest that the story you've lived with all your life  may not actually be ‘the truth’ per se.  You may find in your journey that all sorts of things you ‘know to be true’ have reasons other than which you thought. And these impact greatly on things like FASHION and QUALITY and BESTSELLING SUCCESS and READERSHIP and PUBLISHING in general.

Simple logic 101: This is what a 'great' writer looks like.
I don't look like this. Ergo I am no a 'great' writer and
will be thrown on the slushpile at best...
There are uncomfortable things to be faced. Like the fact that just about all (if not all) of us reading and writing at AE are destined for the great slushpile of history.  Many have gone before us and been completely forgotten. C'est la vie!  I always felt a little bit that Chaucer was the guy who was in the right place at the right time and wondered whether there were loads of others who had better stories to tell but never got the breaks. (Did the Gawain poet write Gawain? Who was the Green Knight etc).

When you get into the 19th century this thought kind of smacks you round the head, time and again. Once you stray beyond the ‘famous’, their names are legion for they are many. Mostly forgotten heroes (and/or heroines.) 

It is now probably no surprise to reveal that for the last year or so I’ve been gambolling around the digital archives in some very out of the way places, hunting down ‘forgotten’ 19th century writers. 
S.R.Crockett (at least he
looks more like Chaucer than
I do) 
My prime candidate is S.R.Crockett (who?) who outsold Dickens, is more readable than Scott (okay, that’s not so hard) gives Hardy a run for his money in natural descriptive prose, and reached ‘the masses’ between the 1880’s and 1914; stopped only by his death.  Well that’s not strictly true. Take a closer look into the publishing history of this ‘Great Age of Print’ and you’ll find that it was a world pretty similar to that of technology companies today. There were 19th c versions of Apple and Microsoft and Pepsi and Coke and all the same battles were being fought out in publishing to gain ‘market share’ of  the newly literate and emerging ‘mass’ market – known to you and I as people. And Crockett was both a success story and a victim of these battles for ‘hearts and minds.’

I probably don’t need to tell you that during the 19th century for the first time, due to a combination of elements, ordinary people got unprecedented access to fiction/literature (call it what you will, in fact the whole genus of the debate started in 19th century and is partly ‘responsible’ for those we still know about and those we don’t). 
It's a book... but is it 'literature?'
The complex argument of whether we read what we like or we like what we read because we’re told/taught what is ‘good’  (also known in our time as the 50 shades of debate) was first really played out in this 2nd publishing revolution.  Then as now, there were winners and losers. As with  all revolutions one can state: one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; so in the 19th century one man’s fiction was another man’s literature.  Our culture wobbled as much as the class-system and fashion and propaganda were (and are) deciding factors. 

I find this subject so fascinating that I could go on for hours about it. Don’t worry. I won’t. I’ll just give you an example from S.R.Crockett and be on my way. He’s one of literally thousands of ‘forgotten’ writers who were ‘successful’ (or at least widely read) in his day.  We can all find them if we know where to look. They were, if you like, our own precursors. So next time you moan about no one finding you on Amazon, remember that you are part of a rich heritage of the ‘forgotten’ writer. And maybe go and find someone from before and tell people about him/her.  Because there is much to learn and much to enjoy away from the biggest river.

S.R.C. In his day 'famous' enough
to be cartooned in Vanity Fair! 
Meanwhile, I give you: Samuel Rutherford Crockett. Born illegitimate son of a dairy maid in darkest Galloway. Brought up by maternal grandparents in the strict Cameronian tradition. Won a bursary to Edinburgh University. Bright boy but loved History, Adventure and Romance. Also loved to read – anything from Penny Dreadfuls to Walter Scott.  Had to read fiction secretly of course due to family religious beliefs! Took up writing to pay his way through college. Wanted to be a poet (everyone in Dumfries and Galloway wants to be a poet at one point in their lives. Not as many grow out of it as should!)  In his twenties had to work out how to make his way in the world. Travelled extensively through Europe as a tutor.  Came back. Fell in love with a woman whose father was ‘religious’ (I’m guessing that may be one reason why he decided to become a minister. Nice steady, acceptable job). Got the girl. Married. Had four children. Mouths to feed. Kept writing. Had a couple of ‘lucky’ breaks, most notably getting ‘noticed’ by William Robertson Nicoll who ran ‘The British Weekly’  and recommended him for publication to T.Fisher Unwin. All of the above were part of the Hodder & Stoughton publishing ‘stable’ (or empire).   This opened (and closed) many doors for him.  He went ‘pro’ and earned his living solely from writing for some 20 years. 

Dreams can so easily go up in smoke! 
I think it is a truth mostly universally accepted that you need some luck and some connections to ‘make it’ as a writer in any generation.  Unlucky people without the social skills to get to the right parties and say the right things should really reconsider their ‘dream as career path’ at this point.  But the cautionary note is that even with luck and connections, (and of course talent/skill/hard work) it can all go bandy.  Which is what happened for S.R.Crockett.  In fact I hesitate to suggest that it goes bandy for just about everybody at one time or another.  The fickle finger of fashion undermines our perception of stability at every turn.  We are all its victims one way or another.

There are lots of ‘clues’ as to how/why Crockett got lost in what I’ve written above but I’m going to leave it as a mystery for you at the moment.  To find out more you should embark on your own journey into publishing history and if Crockett intrigues you, well you can follow my interpretation of his progress AND discover his work for yourself by becoming a Galloway Raider.  This is EASY and more importantly FREE.  Just click HERE and JOIN (You even get a free ebook thrown in!)
 Bookmark this place. 

Few of us will get this sort of
memorial. Shame they got his
date of birth wrong!!  Fame, huh?
I conclude with the startling revelation: We are all mortal. We all die. It’s daft to think that writing gives us any sort of immortality. There are two options: 1) you die and are forgotten 2) you die and are remembered. How well, how long and for what you are remembered depends on (among other things) fashion and your perceived market value at any point in time. Which changes constantly. There is of course a tipping point. My contention is that most of our ‘classic’ writers are no ‘better’ than many other writers – but once you’re on a big enough roll you’re always going to have a kerching factor which will keep you ‘up there.’  It may be as simple as that.  To achieve immortality you have work the hype and fashion equation with skill. It’s immortality Jim, but not as we know it.

The mission I chose to accept was to
turn the middle shelf (and another 20
volumes) from this...
My (non religious) mission at the moment is to make sure that 100 years after his death, Crockett and his writing move from state 1 to state 2.  I’m resurrecting him from where he languishes, a victim as well as a success story of the 2nd publishing revolution and making him live all over again in the 3rd publishing revolution. For the pleasure he’s given me over the years I feel it’s the least I can do.  
...to this. This is what 16 volumes of
The Galloway Collection (in proof)
looks like on a shelf. 

And I just don’t give a damn about the literature/fiction debate any more.  I know what I like, I know what I think is good and I’ve left the party where people impose their cultural value systems on others – I’m appealing to a classless society of readers. The ‘Great Age of Print’ is dead and buried and  I come not to praise but to bury its great ‘debate’ – is fiction literature?


More of the how’s/why’s of this next month in the final part of 3 steps to revolution.  See you there. 
The rest is just History, Adventure
and Romance... 

7 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

Terrific post, Cally. I haven't read the John Carey book Catherine made you read but I know what a great iconoclast he is and shall remedy the omission as soon as I get home. Meanwhile, as a Galloway Raider myself, I find Crockett well worth finding out about. But what about WJ Hamley and 'Treseaden Hall'. Even though he must be from the posh end of the family he may be worth resurrecting.

madwippitt said...

Great post. The power of sticky-backed plastic, sticky tape and a bit of glitter, eh? Now lets see you get busy with a teatowel and knock up a suitable Chaucer-like hat ... :-)

Jan Needle said...

i had that chaucer in the back of me cab once. drove him to canterbury. never mentioned me in the book, though. bastard.

wonderful stuff cally. must come and see you and the team again. xx

Bill Kirton said...

Great stuff, Cally. I'm a fan of John Carey already but haven't yet read 'The Intellectuals and the Masses'. I'll rectify that omission now.

Kathleen Jones said...

I haven't read it either - on the list now! Lovely post. It happened to women in the 18th century too - more than 3 times as many women authors as men - guess who got remembered and put on The Literary List? Until Virago that is...... Good luck to the Galloway Revival!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Ha! Everyone should read the Intellectuals and the Masses, though you'll never feel the same way about certain writers after you do! So glad that Cally is reviving Crockett. He never really went away in this household, but that was because my hill-walking dad found his books in the library and made the whole family read them, and then bought old copies and carried them about with him so that he could identify bits of the landscape on his many walking expeditions. He loved doing that sort of thing and so, I realise, do I. Crockett's adventure tales, some of them - especially the Grey Man - set very close to home for me, are magical. And readable. And yes, you have to wonder why he fell out of general favour and realise that luck does play quite a large part in these things.

julia jones said...

Even better than The Intellectuals and the Masses (which is great) is The intellectual life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose. Read his description of the way that the Bloomsbury highbrows kept moving the high art goal posts so that they would always be able to sneer at the cultural pretensions of self-educated clerk Leonard Bast (Howard's End) and you may (if you were snooty little me) want to curl up and die. Then take a good tablespoonful of Richard Hoggart's Uses of Literacy and you will be waving your asphidistras at Cally's perception that one man's fiction is another man's literature (or waddever) Thanks, on behalf of Herb Allingham, for the kind words. He certainly educated me