A pile of steaming dung: when a $ 2 million advance becomes worthless


Image: Pixabay

I’ve burbled on a few times on this blog about my dream of having a publishing contract, being given an advance of six figures, a movie deal … A poster of my face as large as the side of a fifty story building pasted across the moon so people could recognise me from earth …

Well, maybe not the last one.

I suppose I’d translated a large advance and being the subject of a bidding war into literary success, a sure fire winning combo for a solid writing career. A story I read today has made me rethink.

The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli gave City on Fire by the interestingly named Garth Risk Hallberg a scathing review. Vincentelli called the book an

Overhyped … steaming pile of literary dung.

The 900 page novel was at the centre of a bidding war some while back, which garnered the debut author $2 million – ten publishers bidding over $1 million. The book has already got a movie deal.

Now, not being familiar with the NYP, I don’t know if it makes a habit of flying in the face of accepted wisdom – I don’t know if their writers tend to be perverse for the sake of argument. I’m guessing from the shock tactics of the piece’s title, it’s not seen as a serious literary journal. Maybe one of our American cousins reading this could enligthen me.

But the book certainly hasn’t captured the readers’ imagination as the publishers will have hoped – the book was languising at number 825 in the Amazon chart as Vincentelli wrote her piece.

And although the Guardian was less scathing, admitting Hallberg was a promising talent, it did say the book was no masterpiece.

Now, first off, I’m feeling sorry for Hallberg.

Yes, he’s already earned a pile of dosh from the book. But he didn’t ask to be caught in a bidding war and the ‘genius’ of his novel was something bandied about by publishers, not him, I’m sure.

Maybe it would have been better for him if his career had a quieter start, with less fanfair, allowing his talent to gradually grow with each new book he released. 

Instead, it may have stalled before it’s properly begun. I do hope not.

And second off? Well, we all know publishers have missed signing great books because they’re hard to categorise or just plain weird – but that so many could misjudge the reading zeitgeist, leaving themselves so seriously out of pocket … That’s surprised me.

It’s made me rethink my own parameters for success. Maybe I won’t be so desperate for that six figure contract after all.















Is E. L. James the new D. H. Lawrence? Fifty Shades of Grey vs Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Pornography is just everywhere these days. (Image Pixabay)

Pornography is just everywhere these days.
(Image Pixabay)

Now, I don’t read erotic fiction and the few ‘snatches’ I have read fall into the slightly cringe worthy category, all full of being swooped up in manly arms and swooning over throbbing anatomies.

Unless you’re physically gorgeous and lit very well, sex is a faintly ridiculous and unattractive spectator sport, whether on screen or on the page. I’d say I’d rather watch Wimbledon, but with the parade of super fit young people exerting themselves and outrageous levels of grunting, there are some close parallels with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

But the erotic is hot right now, thanks to the controversy surrounding a certain, boringly named BDSM trilogy. Which got me  wondering if there were any similarities between this recent sex book scandal and one from the early twentieth century …

Lady Chatterley’s Lover VS Fifty Shades of Grey

The Authors

* D. H. Lawrence hailed from Nottinghamshire, becoming a clerk, then a teacher. Chatterley was his eleventh novel.

* Londoner E. L. James was a T.V executive before turning to writing fan fiction in 2009. The Fifty Shades books were her first published novels and inspired by the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer.

The theme of dominance and subservience runs through both books.

* Lady Connie Chatterley is socially superior to her gamekeeper  lover Oliver Mellors and she’s the one who does most of the chasing, at least initially, whilst entrepreneur Christian Grey lives a millionaire lifestyle and Ana Steele is a student.

* However, when it comes to the act of lurv, the men are predictably in control. Christian Grey is infamously dominant over Ana. Connie loves the fact that Mellors is a ‘real man’, as opposed to her injured, emasculated husband, Clifford.

* Grey makes Ana sign a nondisclosure agreement, whereas discretion is assumed for Mellors and Connie, given the fact both are married.

As for the ladies …

*Both are young, but whereas Ana is easy to manipulate, naïve and has been untroubled in the downstairs department prior to meeting her millionaire-letch-in-a-box, Connie is a mature, married woman who’s already had an affair with a man from her circle of friends and is actively encouraged by her husband to find someone she can produce a family heir by. Connie and Oliver Mellors have a mutually satisfying relationship which is quite conventional as they hope to marry and raise their child together. By the end of the first Grey book, Ana has learnt how extreme BDSM relationships can be and left Christian Grey – although they reunite in the second book.

So far as venues is concerned …

*Grey goes for sex dungeons, strung with any number of straps, belts, paddles – he’s a bit of a gadget nerd. Connie and Mellors make do with the woods with the occasional visit to a hut – in the woods. So whereas Connie has to look out for spiders or the odd pine cone making its way into an orifice, Ana has a whole armoury of pointy, strappy, holey tools that might end up pretty much anywhere. As I remember, the only foreign object Mellors puts near Connie is some wild flowers plaited in her pubic hair, which is actually rather sweet, if a bit hippyish for a gamekeeper who fought in WWI.

Now, controversy.

Have these two books courted controversy? Mmm, let me think.

*D. H. Lawrence was good at upsetting polite society – in 1915 all copies of The Rainbow were seized and burned, but at least the book was published in the UK. The first edition of Chatterley was produced in Italy, the first unexpurgated edition in the UK wasn’t published until 1960, after the Chatterley Trial.

*The only trial Fifty Shades of Grey has had (for taste, anyway) is trial by media, trial by critic, trial by internet, with huge popularity with the public not being reflected by the literary press. It has been criticised by the BDSM community, who claim it shows ignorance of common safe practices, that the relationship is actually domestic abuse, not sex play.

Both works have generated great quotes.

*The famously out of his depth prosecutor, Mervyn Griffiths Jones said during the Chatterley Trial,

“…when you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book. Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

This view seems gobsmackingly outdated today, but even in 1960 it came across as appallingly paternalistic and patronising, a sentiment that belonged to the nineteenth century, not the increasingly permissive mid-twentieth century.

*So far as Grey is concerned, there is one quote that summed up how many critics felt about the novel.  Salman Rushdie – not unused to controversy himself, having lived under a fatwa since the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989 – said,

“I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.”

Although both created hype, controversy, a media storm of bile and invective, from the start Chatterley was little bought (due to the ban) and much championed by critics and fellow writers, whereas Grey has had huge sales figures and been derided by many – though not all – critics.

When written, Lady Chatterley was no doubt ahead of its time, the trial of the book was behind the times.

And Fifty Shades of Grey – intentionally or not – hit the times perfectly, coming out as e-readers were becoming ubiquitous, allowing everyone from primary school teachers to vicars to read controversial works unmolested and unjudged.

Both books could be seen as game changers. Chatterley is still well respected 87 years after its original release. Only time will tell if Fifty Shades will last or be a flash in the pornography pan.

Confession time.

I have read Lady Chatterley – I have NOT read Fifty Shades and most likely never will. Any information on the latter has been gleaned from the nettershphere and if inacurate I apologise – though not that much 🙂 Here are the sources used if you want to do your own sifting – enjoy, you mucky lot!