Adventures in the Writing Trade – Or
How Ayatollah Khomeni prevented me becoming rich beyond my wildest dreams of avarice (and a Spanish weekly magazine did a little to redress the balance)
In 1989, I co-wrote a book called PRINCESS, which part of me regrets and part of me wouldn’t have missed doing for anything.
Here’s how it happened:
I started writing full-time in 1986. I knew I could write, and I was fairly optimistic that the reading public would welcome my work with open arms. I was quickly accepted by an agent. This was a very positive step, since a lot of people in the trade will tell you it’s harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher, since an agent (unlike a publisher) works on a commission. He has office costs and can only handle so many clients, and since if he doesn’t sell, he doesn’t eat, he is careful to take on only those clients whose books he knows he can sell. Thus, if you have an agent, you can’t go wrong.
Well no, not entirely.
A good agent takes on clients he believes in, and uses the money makes from his already-successful clients to subsidize the loss he’s making on the new writer. And so mine was with me. He was always very encouraging with me as the rejection slips piled up. He said that that time was a very bad one for first-time authors (but then, whenever you start writing, everyone in the trade will tell you it’s a very time for first-time authors). He went on to assure me that we would make it in the end. But, as I was only too aware, we weren’t making it now.
Over two years passed, and the rejection slips continued to fall on my doormat (actually, in my postbox, since I was living in a flat in Madrid at the time, and the mail was delivered to the porter’s lodge).
Then, one evening, I went to the kiosk which served as my local (I was very much into draught Guinness in those days) and got talking to an English journalist I knew. He had just been to the royal palace to interview two people who were staying there as the guests of the king – Prince Charles and Princess Diana (who may, even at that stage, have been at each other’s throats, but were still presenting to the world the image of a perfect loving couple).
Diane was then at the height of her pre-car crash fame, and the journalist – whose name was Tim – said, ‘There are thousands of people in the media making loads of money out of this woman – surely a couple of smart cookies like us could work out how to get a piece of it.’
And so we came up with an idea for a novel in which an unspecified (but clearly identifiable) princess was kidnapped by ETA, the Basque terrorist organization.
We wrote the book quickly, sitting side by side at an Amstrad – which was one of the first word processors, and had a green screen and no hard disc – and I revised it later. Both the unnamed princess and her husband came out in it rather well, and the story had a happy ending, in that the princess was rescued in the end.
We submitted it to Penguin (to Penguin!) and they accepted it.
Things couldn’t get better than that.
And then they did.
Tim did some stringer work for the Sun, which was then (and probably still is) the best-selling newspaper in the western world. And the Sun said they would like to serialize it, using the centre four pages for a whole week.
Penguin was ecstatic. We were ecstatic. The Sun said that if we would come to London for the serialization week, they would pay our expenses.
Our ecstasy increased.
How does the Ayatollah Khomeni – the absolute ruler of a theocratic state thousands of miles away – fit into this story?
All will be revealed in Part Two