It's random, Roderick, random... By Jan Needle

Isn't there something missing?
I'm sure most of you reading this will be as relieved as I am that I'm not going to be scratching around for new things to say about Wild Wood. We had a wonderful launch party in the Slightly Foxed bookshop in Gloucester Road, another in the Albert Club in West Didsbury, and a third last night at the Conservative Club in Uppermill, near Oldham. Now, still slightly hung over from Ma Ferret's Special bitter, I intend to lie back and wait for the money to roll in.

In case my fellow authors assume that that is just a normal part of writers' fantasy, let me tell you of something rather wonderful that happened today. I opened a letter and found a cheque from sales of my cut-down and edited version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. (Pleased to see that my voice recognition engine did not put in a hyphen. Like me, it assumes that that unnecessary, and technically incorrect, punctuation mark was stuck in by a junior printer while Herman was otherwise engaged.)

I produced this book some years ago for Caroline Royds, my editor at Walker. It was magnificently produced, and illustrated by Patrick Benson, and published, and disappeared entirely off my radar. From memory, all I ever got was the advance. It was simultaneously published in America by Candlewick with the same result.

The idea of an edited version of what I consider to be one of the world's great masterpieces might seem perverse. It did to me, I must admit, but the money offered was pretty good. The idea was to cut a couple of hundred thousand words down so drastically that teenagers might care to take a peek at it.

By the time I started the job, I'd probably already read the original 30 or 40 times, and knew very well that its core story is absolutely fantastic. I needn't tell you what that core story is, but today's teenagers seemed unlikely to have much clue. I very quickly decided what I wanted to keep, and very quickly realised I would need a device to make what remained intelligible. The result – I left about 30,000 of the master's words untouched, and added a linking narrative.  Both Caroline and myself thought it worked a treat.

Then I sat back to wait (see above). And today I received a cheque for £244, plus or minus, and my eyes stuck out like chapel hatpegs, as we say round here.  You've no idea how delighted I felt.

People often ask me, and have done for years, how many books I've sold within a particular period, even more so now that I publish on Amazon and can follow each book like a sickly child if I feel the need. My answer is always the same: "How the hell should I know?" The pleasure of being an author for me has always been opening the odd, random letter and finding an unexpected cheque. And it still exists!

Now I can sit and happily fantasise  that every six months another few hundred dollars will pop through my mailbox from another few hundred discerning Americans. Unlikely to happen,  that's well understood. But oooh, the anticipation!

What's more, Wild Wood is also a real book, and I met real people at the launches. It was wonderful to meet Caroline (Caz) again, and two days later her wonderful mother Pam rang me up from her home in Sussex after Caz had delivered a copy of the new version. It was Pam, in the late 70s, who accepted the book for Andre Deutsch, and commissioned Willie Rushton to illustrate it.

Last year Julia Jones of Golden Duck followed in her footsteps, and proved herself not only a terrific publisher, but also a great provider of fizzy and buns and gingerbread. God, I love women!

Right, enough of wittering. If I don't get on with writing a book PDQ, where will those random cheques come from? They don't write themselves, you know…


I got in touch with Walker Books to get a cover image for this blog. Caz is on holiday, but her assistant, Alice Horrocks, sent one within an hour. And guess what - my name doesn't appear on it! It certainly used to, and I did write it, honest! In fact, Alice even sent me these two reviews:

“Jan Needle and Patrick Benson achieve the seemingly impossible in making the gargantuan tale suitable for younger readers.” – Times Educational Supplement
Son Wilf, who finished his finals yesterday, salutes Walker Books  

“Jan Needle and Patrick Benson succeed triumphantly. This book is proof that the essence of many great books, with true respect for the original, can be placed within the compass of young readers.” – Books for Keeps

But me, now? Gorn. And publishers wonder why we sometimes wonder about them....

Moby Dick: 978-1-4063-1744-2 (walker illustrated classic, paperback, £9.99). 
And here’s the cover copy: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is an American masterpiece. It tells the story of Captain Ahab’s bitter, obsessive pursuit – across the oceans of the world – of a white whale who threatens to destroy him and his crew. Jan Needle’s superb abridgement, focusing on the intensely dramatic story at the book’s core, is illustrated by Patrick Benson, whose extraordinarily powerful pictures reveal Melville’s deeper themes of good and evil, faith and redemption.

Wild Wood:
ISBN 9781899262212



Dennis Hamley said…
Jan, how i agree about the unexpected cheque. But if the cover image Walker sent you is the one now actually being sold, I think you should go to the Society of Authors about it. But it was indeed great to see Caz at Slightly Foxed good to hear that Didsbury and the Oldham Tories saw you all right. and great for Pam to ring you. We keep on saying but never do so this year we will, go down to Sussex to see that indomitable 90-year old while there's still time.
Dennis Hamley said…
There should be commas after 'Slightly Foxed' and 'saying'.
Jan Needle said…
Last night's launch at the Con club reminded me of the joy of being a writer. Greenfield Brewery donated a barrel of Daisy"s Special Bitter, Eliza P sang her fantastic song, Ged released his ferret on a stunned world, then Mick Collins of the Hometowners organised a music-around including such superstars as Pete Macmillan and Stanley Accrington. And the food table was groaning with wonderful goodies, as it has on the last two events as well.

But the finale was the best of all. When we got back up the hill, my daughter Sadie's two pigs - Iron Age, the breed is called, noted for escaping and biting, and nothing else - had indeed escaped, and were creating mayhem. It took us half an hour to catch and corral them, Sean (Sadie's husband) doing the main part (being of Irish extraction), while wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Jaysus Mary and Joseph, the crack was fantastic! Bed at midnight, not entierely sober, but exceedingly jolly.

(No conservatives were hurt in the making of this documentary. Ah well...)
madwippitt said…
Judging by the cover, you'd probably have ended up being Jan-Needle. Or J. Anne Edle. Might be a blessing in disguise ...
Dennis Hamley said…
Jan, I've just found my 1981 1st edition of Wild Wood. I knew it was somewhere here. How much did you say it was worth now?
Jan Needle said…
just got back from early doors at the pub, dennis. so, in a state of euphoria, i'd say about three and a tanner!

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