Idle Eye 155 : The Modest Proposal

Ever tried to sell yourself? Seriously, have you? You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, seeing as you’re pretty much up to speed with all things you, and it should be just a question of getting the good bits in line, right? Well, I beg to differ. This week I’ve been trying to put together a book proposal for literary publishers and agents, and it’s like pulling bloody teeth. Using a crib sheet downloaded from one of the Bloomsbury fat cats, I somehow managed to get through the early parts unscathed. But then they wheeled in the heavy artillery:

Q)  Please outline the main pedagogical feature you plan to include.

A)  Hmm…It’s a funny blog I want done as a book. That’s it. And the only pedagogical feature I can think of is that it serves as some kind of a caveat.

It gets worse:

Q)  Where do you see the main markets for the book, e.g. UK/Canada/Europe/Australasia etc? Please provide any information that would help us promote it in specific markets, e.g. international case studies/contributors/author profile/possible endorsements.

A)  Hold on, isn’t that what you do? It’s not like I go round to WC1 and say ‘I’m having issues with a recalcitrant paragraph, could you sort it for me’, is it? Or tap you for meals I had in the local café whilst attempting to sound coherent online. My remit is to write the stuff, yours is to put it out there. Surely?

But seeing as I’ve had diddly squit published in my life, maybe it’s time I learnt to play ball. The possible endorsements bit is simple, I’ll just make a call to New Zealand and be the acceptable face of the next thin-skinned grape juice they export. It’s just, well, how exactly are you supposed to know where your main markets are if it’s not out there yet? Perhaps I’ll develop the Downton Abbey effect in the Ukraine (by the way, hello Ukraine stats person. Could you let me know what my USP may or may not be in your country? I’m afraid I haven’t a clue. And good luck with Vladimir), or nag the two people I know in North Carolina indefinitely until they set up an injunction.

It’s not in the nature of creative types to do hard sell. That’s why we have agents and managers and accountants. The whole crux of this symbiosis hinges on the left brain/right brain theory, both parties doing what they do best in order to achieve a mutually beneficial end result. I could no more flog the fluff I put out than eat my own earwax, and that’s as it should be. But it works both ways. If they find me butt naked on a carpet somewhere, dribbling and babbling incoherent nonsense, I shall remind them it is my duty as an artist to push the envelope. So they don’t have to.

Idle Eye 142 : The English Straitjacket

Sometimes being English is just plain awful. The absolute pits. Yes, yes, I know we’re all terribly polite and good at pop music, being ironic and making the most of our crappy weather, but when it comes to saying what we actually mean, we are lamentably backward. How often have you apologised for someone else’s rudeness? For being in the way when you never were? Or pretended things are just fine when your internal tolerance needle has just tipped into the red?

I do it frequently. At the end of pretty much every cold-call received, over which I weakly feign surprise at that accident I never had, or the very specific amount the banks owe me for insurance I never took out, I hear myself thanking a computerised voice for its time and, on occasion, wishing it a pleasant day. Which only serves to fill mine with self-loathing and misanthropy. And, cliché though it may be, I constantly find myself drawn to queues, quite often for something I have no interest in whatsoever. Why? Why?

Because it reaffirms the quintessence of our Englishness, and that Englishness breeds deep inside us all, gnawing away at more vulgar attributes such as anger or self-confidence, until all that is left is the quivering bag of neuroses we move around inside every day. It is a curious evolutionary quirk, for if shifted over to the animal kingdom, your average Brit would be mercilessly and fatally mauled before he/she had finished blinking. Probably by something French or Polish, whose very means of survival hinges on the exact opposite.

Speaking of France, here’s another example: When I was fifteen, I was placed at a school in Toulouse for a short while. There, I came across a delightful young lady called Catherine Voisinet, who blushed when I was around and clearly wanted me to make the first move. My French was adequate enough to facilitate this, and I was not yet marred by a forthcoming volcano of acne. But did I? Of course I didn’t. I just sat around, blushing back at her in English until she got bored and started dating a Neanderthal rugby player with grazed knuckles. Who thought I was ‘un con.’  And he was probably right.

I’d love to be able to tell you that it’ll all turn out ok. That being a bit Hugh Grant isn’t such a bad thing, and that more bullish nations will sneakingly admire you for all that pent-up emotion. But I fear that would be a lie. It is and they don’t, despite what you may have been lead to believe from the inexplicable overseas success of Downton Abbey and the like. They’re just collecting ammo for the next way to shaft us rotten, based on information we willingly throw at them. Then they’ll steal our ideas, market our booze, buy up our housing stock etc… and repackage it all as their own. And we’ll probably thank them for it.