This is a blog I probably should not write. And most assuredly shouldn’t publish if I do write it.
Because frankly, I’m in the mother and father of a bolshie mood. Grumbletonian doesn’t come close.
But I think I’m going to do it anyway. And probably lose friends and de-influence people in the process. Or something.
The thing is, you see, I am completely and utterly fed up.
Yes, this is about advertising. The advertising of books.
I’ve got so that I loathe and despise it. Because it’s got so infernally fatuous, so whiningly shallow, so full of charlatanism it could pass for one of those miracle-competitions in 7th century Canterbury.
There I was last night, fossicking about on the internet, and I come across a thing which says, “Like Downton Abbey? Then you’ll love Dinglehoppers on Moonbeams… (Or whatever the title of this thing was.)
(I think that may not have been the title, but you see, I do have a problem with names–I’ve had it for decades–I can’t always remember them, so I substitute one of my own invention. There was a shop on South Street in St. Andrews when I was at uni there. It had a name. It was Mrs + an ordinary surname. Only I could never remember the surname. So I always referred to it as Mrs Smith-Taylor-Brown’s. It may have been one of those. I can’t recall…I’m digressing. Sorry.)
I am not ashamed to say I like Downton Abbey. I like it fine. I also liked Julian Fellowes’ novel, Snobs. I liked that very much–found it most insightful. And I find Downton Abbey a perfectly enjoyable way to seque into the coming week on a Sunday evening.
Do I like it as much as A Tale of Two Cities? No. I do not. As much as War and Peace? No. As much as Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia? Not Pygmalion-likely. And not as much as Hapgood, either.
But this inference that if I liked Downton Abbey, I’m going to lurve this other thing is just plain drivel…and a bit, I don’t know, crawling.
Does this other thing have Jim Carter as Carson, the butler, that pillar of human granite with a voice like roughed-up dark velvet? No. It does not. (Well, I don’t imagine it does.)
Does it feature Hugh Bonneville walking his grounds with his yellow lab? Doubtful.
Does it showcase Julian Fellowes’ pointed, perfect wit, silkily delivered by the sublime Dame Maggie Smith? Unlikely.
In fact, there is no way this thing about Peachblossoms or Thingymebobs is going to measure up, is there?
Julian Fellowes is at the top of his game. He’s unrivalled and unrival-able at what he does. And he’s pulled out all the stops for Downton. And he’s got an award-winning cast that can deliver the goods right on the money. Every time.
So…there I was, faced with this dubious claim of similarity with a work of great telly-drama…
Hence, I decided to have an eyeball-full of Thingymebobs…I wanted to see what’s being peddled as “like” Downton Abbey.
(Yes, yes, I do have a problem with morbid curiosity too…)
I’ll just say it now, it’s nothing like. Not anything. Not in any way, shape or character. It’s got that claustrophobic, suffocated, semi-hysterical tone one finds in Victorian melodrama. The overwrought prose is as dense as poured-in-place concrete, or, to borrow a apt phrase from Edgar Allen Poe, “turgid pretension”. And not a Maggie Smith nor a Jim Carter in sight…
So it’s an entirely bogus comparison. It may even be–dare I say it or is this heresy–a lie.
A big fat whopping lie designed to cozen the consumer into thinking they’re acquiring the literary equivalent of a large box of Fortnum and Mason’s rose creams. (Yum!) But they’re not, are they?
So why say it? Why make a comparison by which one can only look shabby and foolish?
Moreover, why can’t an author or a publisher or advertiser just say what the thing is? Tell me what it really, genuinely is? Why must they tell these absolute clankers? Because it’s not just dishonest, it also smacks of desperation.
And why do people have to measure themselves by some other author anyway? I don’t get that. Not only that, I don’t like it.
Why can’t they be happy to be themselves? To write well and beautifully, but in their own individual style and voice? Yes, if there are flaws (and there will be), do the work that corrects them. But stop claiming to be someone you’re not.
Stop comparing altogether.
Because I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to buy a book just because it’s been compared to something that’s popular. (I’m stoopid, but I’m not that stoopid.)
Authors, enjoy who you are. Find the strengths within and use those. Learn the weaknesses and master those.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me you’re on a par with Jane Austen or Julian Fellowes, the Brontes or Charles Dickens or Tom Stoppard. I know I’m not. And I’m fairly certain I don’t know anybody who is.
That’s not an insult, it’s a statement of fact. I also don’t know anyone on par with Dorothy Dunnett or Mary Renault or Patrick O’Brian either.
I mean, frankly, it’s all a bit like marketing a Wimpy burger as 100% sirloin from an organically-fed herd of Angus cattle, isn’t it? Which, by the by, is against the law, and Trading Standards would be down on you like a ton of bricks if you tried it.
And these comparisons are not for the author to say. They’re for the literary critics of this world to judge and say. They’re the ones who’ve studied these works ad nauseam. And they actually do know their stuff, bless ’em.
(And whatever happened to that hallowing virtue of modesty anyway?)
So, what I want to say is if you want to market your book successfully, tell me what the book is. The real thing.
Is it a simple love story set against a backdrop of Restoration England? If the writing’s good, if the detail work is interesting, the characters engaging, why would I not enjoy that?
Is it a tale of conflicting Scottish clan loyalty set against the early years of James VI’s reign? Sounds good! I’ll read that one. And why would I not? It doesn’t need to be compared to Dorothy Dunnett. Dorothy was a one-off and a brilliant one. (And I adored her!) But that’s just the point. She was a one-off!
We all are. And that’s a good thing. Not a weakness. It’s a strength.
And one more thing I’d like to say and this concept goes all the way back to Aristotle.
If one lies, if one tells porkies in order to sell one’s work, not only will I not believe you, I will become–as countless people have done and are even now doing–more and more cynical towards all forms of advertising and doubt every single superlative, every phrase of high-sounding praise. Even, unfortunately, when they are the truth.
Think about it.
Righto. Rant done.
And since the Olympics are now finished there’s an outside chance that I shall get some real work done today…