Sunday 10 August 2008

Publication: No Immunity to Disappointment

I've become a real fan of Radio 4's wonderful obituaries programme, Last Word. The obituary page has always been a good place to discover undiscovered writers - it is where many a journalist has a chance to show off writing style that is otherwise blunted by dry and dusty news reporting.

Ground-breaking writers like Gay Talese (inventor of New Journalism) cut their teeth on obituaries.

Anyway. I've been away on holiday and the news of Pauline Baines' death on 1 August finally reached me via the Last Word programme (listen to the programme 8 August 2008, the item is in the last quarter of the broadcast).

Like everyone else, I had assumed that Pauline Baynes, who illustrated the books of both Tolkien' and C.S. Lewis, had long ago passed away.

Authors and illustrators alike will enjoy this blog tribute from her friend Brian Sibley (author of Shadowlands: the True Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidson) which is full of wonderful anecdote about Baynes and the exclusive circle to which she was privy:
"Met C S Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes." That's how Pauline's diary recorded one of the two meetings she had with the author who's work she so memorably embellished. It tells you exactly how she viewed her contribution to books that, for millions, of us were seminal childhood reading.
Brian Sibley was also interviewed for the Last Word piece and captures the importance of Baynes to the C.S. Lewis canon:
He (C.S. Lewis) often said that The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe had begun as pictures in his mind ... an image of a faun with an umbrella in a snowy wood, carrying a pile of parcels. Which is why when I look at The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe now, I see that image that CS Lewis must have seen in his head, but of course what I'm actually seeing is the interpretation of it by Pauline Baynes.
However, in this business we're in, producing iconic work does not guarantee immunity from rejection. Her friend, novelist Charlotte Cory, recalls:
She laughed a lot about the fact that every day in the post she got letters from aspiring young illustrators asking her for help when she also got letters rejecting her work from publishers.
Repeat after me ... it's not the arriving, it's the travelling that counts ...

Having said that, author Tom Bullough's story in yesterday's FT Weekend was heartbreaking to the extreme.

I wrote a piece last March about the author who got the agent, got the publisher, got the first book of the trilogy out ... then got dumped. Well, Tom Bullough, got the book deal (The Claude Glass is the story of a friendship between two children from very different backgrounds) then got on the shortlist for the Wales Book of the Year Award, was announced as the winner, was about to step onto the stage ... when the compere suddenly said it was all a mistake.
I set off towards the stage, a TV camera following me. I got to the foot of the stage, but there seemed to be some sort of strange hesitancy. I think I even said something like, “Do you want me to come up there or what?” Thomas then said he’d made a mistake. I hadn’t won.

I must have frozen for a couple of seconds. I’d gone from euphoria to absolute heartbreak.
Tom fears that he will be remembered for the awards fiasco and not for the book which he spent four years writing. This must have been soul destroying. I am sure all of us who continue to live with rejection sympathise with Tom - this book, good enough to be published, quality enough to enter the shortlist of three, deserves better.


  1. Wow! Just when you think you couldn't be rejected any further.

  2. How awful for the poor guy! He should have just brazened it out and claimed the prize!

  3. If it were me, I would just be too polite to do anything brazen ... and too devastated. I hope he's writing another book now.


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