Thursday, 19 January 2012

After Clemethtine

Clemethtine had gotten the chop.  Over a cream tea in Miss Angry's tearoom, Janet O'Steen's agent had explained to her why Clemethtine had to go.
"She's just too much of a downer," she'd said, slurping her tea.  Janet forced a smile on her face, and stabbed her scone with a butter knife.
"What do you mean?" Janet asked.  "She's different, she's an outcast, and she provides a reason for the family to leave the countryside."
"Yes, and that's the problem," said her agent, still slurping her tea.  "She's far too interesting and vibrant. Your readers will have conniptions when they read about her."
"They'll have to look up what conniptions are first," said Janet, still bitter that her language and erudition were considered too high-brow for her readers.  "Then they might be able to have some.  If they try hard.  For a long time."
"Janet, darling," said the agent putting her teacup down at last.  Janet was furious to see that it was still half-full.  "Look, you're a very clever girl, and you could write some very interesting books, but would they sell?  Would anyone want to read a book that, at a fundamental level, tells them just that you're very clever?  No.  They want to read about mild families with problems they can relate too, they want to read about daily drudgery and the monsters that are locked up behind smiling, happy, child-abusing faces.  When they're not reading you they're tsking over stories in the Daily Mail that you and I know are fabricated out of whole cloth using a cookie-cutter and big plastic safety-scissors, but that they think are the real thing and genuine threats to society.  Some of them have had their window-cleaners sacked for being not-English-enough!"
"Clemethine is a modern-day issue," said Janet obstinately.  "She's got all the classic problems with a modern twist.  She's Juliet in a world where Romeo deals meth and death to the landed gentry, she's Smurfette when the Smurf village gets an anthrax infection and they have to repopulate, she's... she's... she's Lady Gaga to a gay nightclub!"
"And your audience think that Shakespeare was too difficult and fail to understand how he enriched the English language; they think that anthrax is something that you post to your MP when he tries to put you in the congestion zone; and they have conniptions, whether or not they know it, when they hear the word gay.  Damnit Janet, you're writing pastoral!  Your characters are supposed to suffer in bucolic agony.  Read some James Herriott, for God's sake!"  She picked her cup up and slurped her tea, not noticing Janet once again stabbing her scone with a butter knife.
"Fine," said Janet in the tone of  a woman severely put upon.  "Fine.  I'll lose Clemethtine.  I was going to suggest conjoined twins with the whey-faced Emma, but I imagine that would be a step too far, even in the countryside where misbegotten animals are a fact of life."
"Even a small teratoma would be too much," said her agent.  "Look, give me the Waltons the way I ask for it, and I swear we'll write the book you want to next.  We'll pick a pseudonym for you so you don't damage your brand, and I'll push it to every other publisher you can think of.  You want to do rough animal bondage?  I'll see if that erotic Mills&Boon imprint will take it.  You want to do political humour?  I'll see if Private Eye will review it.  You want to do a Jacobean tragedy?  You're pretty much on your own there, but I'll be nice about it, I promise."
"Really?"  Janet laid the butter knife down, but mostly because her scone was just a pyramid of crumbs.  "You mean it?"
"Yes," said her agent.  "But finish the Waltons first."
"Why?" asked Janet.  "It's a thoroughly miserable novel, and I'm looking forward to most of them dying of tuberculosis at the end."
"I think we all are," said her agent with unwarranted honesty.  "But I've already sold the film and television rights."

No comments: