In the very week Spell of Empire was due to be published by Orbit books – with two wonderful maps supplied by my supremely talented wife Rosemary – the world of publishing was rocked by an unexpected and (for them) catastrophic event.
The strange and sudden death of Robert Maxwell.
What this meant – in practice – was that the bean-counters moved in on Orbit (and many other parts of the Maxwell empire) with a destructive vengeance. Staff were picked more or less at random, given their cards, and put out on the street.
With no thought as to whether those who were left constituted a viable organisation.
Ironically my father noted that the Orbit offices were in the building where he used to work – in the (for him) appropriately named New Fetter Lane. And for him – for a while at least – there was a distinct possibility that his pension would be swallowed up in the chaos. (He was a Mirror group pensioner. In the end it turned out that the fund was very well protected…)
So it looked, for a good, long while, as though our joyous ‘fantasy romp’ would never see the light of day.
Luckily, we were wrong.
We had dedicated the book to ‘Rosemary and Deb, spice of our lives, for valiantly coping with melancholy Danes and mad Frenchmen’. And we couldn’t resist adding one name to the acknowledgements: ‘…and not forgetting Robert Maxwell, last seen circling some sharks.’
There was another final moment of hilarity.
A couple of days before publication we got a desperate phone call from Orbit. ‘Those maps,’ they said. ‘We don’t seem to have paid for them. Can you tell us who did them, and how much they want?’
It isn’t often you get to name your own price for a piece of work, and I’m sorry to say that Rosemary was far too principled to milk the opportunity. But she did get a good deal…!
Response to the book was warm, and it definitely hit its target market – to the extent that Mike and I often talked about writing a sequel. That never happened, for good and sufficient reason. During our work on the draft I’d noticed that Mike would sometimes fall asleep almost in the middle of a sentence – which made active collaboration pretty tricky. It was among the first signs of the serious illness that would take him from us in 2018, and which ultimately closed down his own work as a fiction writer. He continued to write articles on music for some of the country’s most prestigious magazines, but his increasing ill health made it impossible for him to consider longer work.
And the world of publishing was changing, too. Small and medium-sized houses were being swallowed up by the big boys – and big boys weren’t interested in middle-market authors like us. They wanted best-sellers from big names – and as a newly married man with a large house to look after, I quickly realised that much as I loved fiction, I couldn’t make a living at it.
Luckily I had other choices.
Looking at rights sales, the book did well thanks to its European background, with editions in several European languages. One day I even became a lira millionaire (not a high bar to reach…) The story is still available as an e-book for those looking for a (very) easy read – but it was my last foray into fiction.
At least for the moment. Watch, as they say, this space…