Coleridge gets feedback on his Ancient Mariner. Report by Valerie Laws

Blott & Inck Publishing House, Very Ltd.
Zombies - good! Ancient, not so much...

‘Dear Mr Coleridge, or may I call you Sam,

We have read with pleasure and interest your new epic poem, The Rime (sic) of the Ancient Mariner. It has much to recommend it - a strong horror theme, vividly described, and lots of supernatural stuff, which is very now. Zombies too, cracking! Add to that travel and adventure on the high seas, and I think we’d be cooking with gas here. We also like the inherent environmental motif - don’t shoot albatrosses, is a message we’re happy to pass on. People like birds.

Think Tom Cruise meets Zooey Deschanel instead
However we have some minor reservations, easily fixed I’m sure by one of your talent. The title, and the title character. I’m afraid old protagonists, mariners or otherwise, just aren’t sexy, cool, or commercially viable and this goes double for ‘ancient’. It’s fine for spells, monsters, devices, weapons etc to be ancient, but not people, particularly heroes we are meant to identify with. Who wants to hear some old geezer banging on about his past, what a yawn! We must have an eye to the younger market, who are a strong demographic for this kind of fantasy, and we need a hero they can root for, or better still, lust after. I’m thinking, Edward out of Twilight. OK he’s ancient, technically, as a vampire, but we don’t see that or have our noses rubbed in it. No, your narrator with the very Gothic taste in necklaces should be a young sailor. In my mind’s eye I seem to see a blond, tanned, muscular but decadent lad of the sea, very like the ones in the Jean Paul Gaultier perfume adverts. Have a look at some of those on youtube and see what you think. This sailor’s adventurous, sexually as well as geographically, drop dead gorgeous in uniform like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men or Top Gun. After all at this point when he’s narrating his story to the wedding guest, he’s had time to recover from the effects of thirst, madness and starvation and get back to the gym. (I think a Jack Sparrow-alike would up the grunge factor to icky in this case but am willing to be persuaded as long as he’s young, fit and clearly ripped beneath the rags.)
Now we're talking! Hello, Sailor!
Which brings me to the next point. Just who does our mariner relate to in the story? A bunch of serpents, a dead bird and some undead sailors? Where’s the romantic interest? Why can’t this wedding guest be a gorgeous kooky girl, like maybe Zooey Deschanel, or Anne Hathaway? Weddings are great pick-up places, how about, the sailor meets the girl at this wedding, but instead of telling her the story, this happens before the action. They have great chemistry, and spend the night together hidden on his boat, which sails with her on board. She can then be part of the story. In fact, she can become this ‘Nightmare Life in Death’ character. I mean we love love love the ‘red lips’ and ‘free looks’, and the ‘yellow as gold’ hair can be turned black for contrast, but she sounds a bit skanky. Much better if our stowaway girl turns out to be a young and beautiful witch (very sexy right now) who helps our sailor fight off the zombies and monsters they encounter, with a sword preferably. A broad with a sword, always a winner (and the sword can be ancient, if you want to get the word in somewhere. I’m not unreasonable.). Maybe rename her ‘Nightsea Witch’?

Oh, just one more thing. Poetry doesn’t sell, unless you’re poet laureate, so a few minor tweaks to shake that out please. ‘The Rhyme of the Young Mariner’ is a bit clunky anyway, so drop the rhyme (that’s how you spell it btw), how about ‘Hello, Sailor!’The cover pic will show what kind of sailor we’re talking about here. I hope you’ll agree we’re onto a winner with this one.

Over to you Samuel T, oh and keep off the poppy juice, we need to get Disney on board for the film rights.

Yours ever in admiration, Etc etc.’

Today’s post is doubly inspired by AE colleague Catherine Czerkawska, whose wonderful new book THE PHYSIC GARDEN  is just out. She was told that a story narrated by an old man is a no-no in the traditional publishing world. This made me dig around in a dusty old trunk in an imaginary attic, and lo and behold, I came upon the publisher’s letter above, rather like the one Catherine ‘found’ on the subject of Wuthering Heights (read it here) and its ruthless disregard of commercial viability. Luckily a man from Porlock arrived before Samuel T Coleridge could act upon his letter and he forgot all about it due to his ‘medication’.

Ageism is something I abhor, especially now after spending some years working with older people as part of my Residency at an Institute for Ageing and Health, and I wrote CHANGING AGE, CHANGING MINDS, published by Newcastle University, challenging stereotypes about ageing. I’d like to put it out as an ebook but the formatting would be a bit of a nightmare with pictures and all kinds of different texts. It has some great stories in it though. Like many indie ebooks, it’s a mix of genres: part polemic, part poetry, part prose, part reminiscence, part protest, multi viewpoint.

The ‘boomers’ generation is the sandwiched generation, getting older, our parents lurching from health crisis to disaster, our children, though grown, still dependent to some extent in these bad times for employment. We are lively, educated, used to relative affluence and a decent welfare state, but will work till we drop, as all this is taken from us and our hard-earned dosh subsidises companies kind enough to employ our children unpaid as ‘interns’. We shouldn’t put up with any crap from publishers, booksellers, advertisers or politicians.

Now some advice PLEASE folks! My comedy novel LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG is not strictly ‘boomer lit’ as the protagonist is young, but she’s recognisable to those of us who have been through the teen years of offspring or students. How to get this across to this readership, is another matter, and how to also reach youngsters who are forced to study Austen for exams before they are ready to enjoy her, another potential readership for the book (according to Lydia fan and education expert Dennis Hamley). The generations can bridge gaps, something publishers should realise.

So, Lydia’s cover. If the current one looks like a child’s book or is too amateur, I’m thinking of a typical ‘drawing’ style pic of a Regency girl/young woman, but she’s holding an iphone and keying in her blog entry. Of course there are no modern inventions in the book, but do people feel this will get across the ‘timeslip’ aspect, and make clear it’s not Darcy fanfic? Thanks!

Valerie Laws



CallyPhillips said…
Nice to get a laugh before 8.30 in the morning! Thanks. Your 'difficult' age book looks like it might be a prime candidate for an 'enhanced' ebook (when anyone can work out how to make them!)
Dennis Hamley said…
Lovely stuff, Valerie, It would be eve worse if he'd submitted his original 'medieval' Lyrical Ballads title - The Ancyent Marinere. Yes, I repeat my opinion that kids approaching P&P for the first time and having reactions something like Blott and Inck to it might have their attitudes completely changed by Lydia. I'm still trying to think of anybody I might still know who has clout in the English-teaching world to ask if they'll spread the word, because somebody's got to, When you have your new cover will you be doing a print version? If you do, at least I could try for a review or two in non-indie publications. I managed one for Julia. A mobile would be fine for the cover. I still treasure a great line from 'Lost in Austen' - Amanda saying in wonderment, 'Elizabeth Bennett is lending me her mobile phone.' Anachronism is good.
Dennis Hamley said…
PS If the publishers were so crass as to call him 'Sam' he'd tear the letter up without reading it. He hated Sam. Esteesee was the name.
Ah thanks for this, Val - and thank-you for making me laugh out loud! Even though the sun's shining today,I've been feeling all 'wintered out' and fed up, and this has cheered me up no end. It is so funny and so horribly true at the same time. That's exactly what would happen. And the 'reader' who read The Physic Garden DID say it was 'just an old man telling his story'. In retrospect, that was a kind of tipping point for me! Every so often I feel the need to reread what happened to Barbara Pym. If it could happen to her with her horrible publisher, it could happen to anyone. But they lived to regret it.
I've been thinking about the cover of LBB ever since you mentioned it. So far, with my covers, I've tended to send a heap of pictures (like a sort of mood board in interior design) and an extract to the artist. One of them read the whole book first but she's a good friend. I'm always rather stunned by what the artist comes up with. There's one of mine I know I need to change - not because there's anything wrong with it, but because it's wrong for the book - and I am gearing myself up to pay for it!I think your idea of a drawing of a typical Regency style girl holding an iphone might be good. I remember thinking when I first read it that there might be some mismatch between the cover of the book and the book itself, but I wasn't sure why (because she's lovely!) Maybe it's simply that it should be an illustration and not a photograph.
Bill Kirton said…
Great stuff Valerie. If only STC had had that sort of advice for real, he might have made it to the Premiership with Byron, Keats and Shelley instead of having to make do with the Championship (explanatory notes of these terms available on request).
The cover idea sounds great. I once translated 3 Molière plays for performance in the USA. One of them was modernised and used the Italian-American vernacular so, for the poster we used a portrait of the man himself with a pair of sunglasses stuck into his wig. It worked.
Susan Price said…
Is it just me, or are Gaultier's sailors a complete turn off? I never liked Tom Cruise either.
I'm with you about the sailors. Too pouty. And I've never liked Cruise much either, except that I thought he was good in the one where he was the assassin - name escapes me now, but once he stopped being a sex symbol he was much better - and oddly enough, more attractive! Now if you were talking about my well known obsession with Keanu Reeves...
madwippitt said…
Great post - after a harrassing day so far, a much needed laugh!

PS: I thought Tom Cruise was exceptionally good in Magnolia. But otherwise ... easy to leave! As for Canoe Reeves: Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure. Only decent film he's done!

madwippitt said…
Re: your cover. I must admit I'm not massively keen on it, and for me it doesn't really get the book across. I like your other idea better - something like an updated Punch type sketch? Of course this is just my opinion and I've often been wrong about these things!
Oh no! Speed is the best action adventure movie EVER. (Though I'm very fond of Bill and Ted too!)
Lydia Bennet said…
thanks all for helpful comments and laughter! x
Lydia Bennet said…
Dennis, if I can get the cover right I might well do a creatspace paperback. thanks as ever for supportive comments. Madwippet, thanks for cover comments.
Enid Richemont said…
Oh wow! I LOVE this! STC getting the come-uppance from a trendy 2013 'publisher'?
glitter noir said…
Catherine, that very fine Cruise film was Collateral Damage, directed by Michael Mann. I liked it too. Valerie, good wicked fun here! Oddly, it left me wondering what would've happened if Byron had gone on to become an old lecher, trying to sell the 90th canto of Don Juan. His young heroic death in Greece was a good career move.

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