It’s that time again in the publishing cycle: the time when I have to bend my mind to promoting my new novel. Cold Cold Heart comes out in the UK in November and in the USA in January 2018. It is always a thrill and a privilege to have a book published. But as for the promoting . . . That is another matter. I’m British! We don’t like to blow our own trumpet.
Or at least it used to be the case . . . This is what I read in the i newspaper a few weeks ago: ‘judges for this year’s Man Booker prize have condemned the breathless blurbs that overhype mediocre novels . . .’ and rejected ‘submissions accompanied by exaggerated claims by their publishers. “I learnt to ignore blurbs. They are outrageous in certain places,”said Tom Phillips . . . Fellow judge Colin Thubron [added) “In one case, a publisher submitted three or four novels and gave the same blurb to each of them, “the best novel since Tolstoy . . .”’
Perhaps publishers would do better to emulate the wonderful Ray Brooks, a London estate agent who was famous in the 1960s for brutally honest descriptions of the properties that he was selling. Here’s an example. ‘Do not be misled by the trim exterior of this modest period res with its dirty broken windows: all is not well with the inside. The décor of the nine rooms, some of which hangs inelegantly from the ceiling, is revolting. Not entirely devoid of plumbing, there is a pathetic kitchen and one cold tap. No bathroom, of course, but Chelsea has excellent public baths. Rain drips sadly through the ceiling onto the oilcloth. The pock-marked basement floor indicates a thriving community of woodworm, otherwise there is not much wrong with the property.’ In spite of this – or because of it – he made a fortune.
I am not going to emulate Roy Brooks. But nor am I going to claim that my novel is the best thing since sliced bread. I will only say that I have done my best to write a gripping story, to entertain my readers and – perhaps – to keep them up past their bed-time. It will be for them to judge if I have succeeded.
One of the disadvantages of becoming a writer is that you lose your innocence as a reader. I used to love to dive into a crime novel, suspending my critical faculties as I was swept along by the excitement of it all. That doesn’t happen so much these days. Now that I produce the stuff myself, I can see just where the writer has tried to covered up an enormous hole in the plot, or where they have painted themselves into a corner and something implausible has to happen to get them out. I find myself muttering, ‘she wouldn’t have done THAT’ or ‘no, no, the solution can’t be as obvious as all that’. This happens with TV crime shows, too, and it annoys the hell out of my husband. The converse is that when something is really good, there is an extra dimension to my enjoyment: I can relish the skill and the craft of it.
So, did Stieg Larsson’s ecstatically reviewed novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, pass this test? ‘The ballyhoo is fully justified, wrote Marcel Berlin in THE TIMES. But was it? Not quite, perhaps. The friend who passed it on to me warned me that it took a long time to get going and it did. Still, eventually I did find myself being carried along by it. It’s dense and complex and thoughtful. Though I was never all that surprised by the way things turned out, I did enjoy it and I’ll read the next one. It’s sad, very sad, that Larsson died soon after delivering the manuscripts of three novels to his publisher and didn’t enjoy their great success. Maybe too if he had lived, he would have revised it and made it even better