Over the weekend, the cover proof for The Marlowe Papers arrived. I swear it’s the most beautiful object I’ve ever held in my hands. The photograph doesn’t do it justice – the apple, and Fay Weldon’s quote, is in brown foil, the grub and stalk in gold. The spine is beige rather than yellow. The simplicity of the design, the ‘drawn’ lettering on the spine, the hand-crafted feel, the delicious surprise (which I have resisted revealing) on the back cover … I love everything about it. It is wonderful to think that such a beautiful looking object is going to be the container for my words. I feel valued. Which is something I know many authors, and especially many poets, do not particularly feel these days.  And for such a delicious, opulent literary object to be created in an age where people discuss the imminent Death of The Book… it feels truly special.

Perhaps it’s an antidote. I like my Kindle and have nothing at all against e-books (unlike an author friend of mine who says the ‘e’ in ‘e-book’ stands for ‘evil’). Nevertheless I love books as objects, almost to the point of fetishism. I know I would want to own this one, even if it wasn’t mine.

How thrilling, after such a long time researching and writing something I wasn’t always convinced would see the light of day, let alone snare the interest of a major publisher, that the words are so appreciated that my publisher has created something truly exceptional to hold them.  So thank you, Carole, Alice and the design team at Sceptre, thank you Jon Contino, for creating this thing of extraordinary beauty.  It almost made me cry.

Written on February 20th, 2012 , Being a writer, The Marlowe Papers Tags: ,

So here’s a copy of the bound proof of The Marlowe Papers on my writing desk at the end of 2011.  At the beginning of 2011 there was no inkling that such a thing was likely to exist.   The novel in verse had been written and the four friends to whom I’d given typescripts had all come back saying it was amazing, but then friends generally say that.  That’s why they’re friends.  My agent (of a decades standing) had said it was ‘a real treat’ and like nothing she’d ever read before. That phrase set the fuel-light blinking. If you know anything about publishing, you’ll recognise that being like nothing an agent has ever read before isn’t necessarily a Good Thing.  If something is not like anything else, it doesn’t fit into a comfortable marketing pigeon hole.  You can’t tell people it’s The Next [Insert Successful Author/Book Here]. And my patient agent knew very well (having submitted, and oh-so-nearly-sold three previous prose novels of mine) that I am very good at writing things that editors think are wonderful but the marketing people can’t work out how to market.

Some weeks had gone by and I’d twice e-mailed my agent with ideas of editors who might, nevertheless, be interested in taking a glance at it. No response. This was the engine cutting out and the vehicle coasting to a stop on the hard shoulder. Agents, I’m told, never ‘sack’ their authors. They just ignore them until they go away. So there I was with four-years’ worth of passion-project in my lap and no way forward. How did I turn things around so spectacularly?

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Ros Barber

Novelist, poet, scholar