All those who have become familiar with my tastes as a reader will know that I struggle with long fantasies. In that respect, it has been an arduous year. Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix, although (for an adult reader) by far the most enjoyable Potter title yet, was still an extraordinarily long book, and I had to read it in a weekend. Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, a different sort of fantasy, is also a long, long read. And Garth Nix's Lirael, in the American paperback edition I was reading before attending the launch dinner at L'Escargot in Greek Street, topped 700 pages.
In the six years that ACHUKA has been online, we have seen the buzz move from one publisher to another. The buzz is difficult to define. It is to some extent capricious. Marketing gurus would have us think that it is all to do with sales. And certainly sans sales, sans buzz. But there are perfectly successful companies that feel, well, rather flat.
Is it just me, or do others find Hodder's promotion of its excellent list a little lacking in razzmatazz? They are very efficient at sending out review copies but seem too content to let the quality of their product do the talking. They haven't latched on to the notion that children's literature is now well-and-truly part of an entertainment industry that feeds on puff and (I'm afraid so) spin. Of course, I stand to be corrected. It's possible that there have been dozens of Hodder promotions and events that ACHUKA hasn't been made aware of, though if that were the case it would, in itself, support my point.
[See comments and also August 16th entry.]
If the buzz is not, currently, with Hodder, it most certainly is with HarperCollins. In today's edition of Publishing News, Jane Friedman, President and CEO, commenting on record operating profits is quoted: "If I had to single out one division, it would have to be Children''s - who had a terrific year with a fantastic programme of books including Sabriel by Garth Nix..."
I never quite saw eye-to-eye with Philip Pullman's enthusiastic covernote: "Sabriel is a winner, a fantasy that reads like realism." To me, it read very much like fantasy and not at all like realism. And the relationship between Sabriel and the damnably annoying Touchstone didn't work for me. But it demonstrably worked for other readers. And Lirael is working much better for me. (No, I still haven't got to the end.) It includes a cricket match, which is a touch of realsim that goes down well. And the banter between Lirael and the (talking) Disreputable Dog is a lot more amusing than the exchanges between Sabriel and Touchstone.
Nix in person is unassuming. He had to be positively cajoled into giving an afterdinner speech. My interest in a writer grows in inverse proportion to their fluency as a public speaker. Impromptu public speaking is not Garth Nix's forte. I am the more interested in what he has to say on the page as a result.
Halfway through the meal he had taken a between-courses stroll to intoduce himself. At my end of the table a somewhat gross and grisly converation about plastic surgery and facial tumours (a subject that fascinated a bookseller, who claimed to have discovered a rather significant error - not connected with surgery - in one of the books longlisted for The Guardian award, a librarian and someone from HarperCollins) had to be temporarily shut down while Nix sympathised with ACHUKA's recent telephone line troubles. He is. this proved, a regular reader of the blog.
[Garth Nix has an official publisher's website
as well as a more personal one
Sitting on the last train home, (the dreaded 00:005 from Victoria, which last night entailed a bus from Lewes for the last part of the journey) I plugged in my new birthday toy, an Atrac3Plus CDPlayer (really got for the Berlingo, but useful too on long train journeys) which can condense up to 30 audio CDs onto one CD-R, put it on shuffle play, and continued with Lirael. After a while, I switched books to the signed proof copy of Mister Monday, gvien out at the dinner. This is the first book in The Keys To The Kingdom series and will be launched in January 2004, when Nix is due to return to the UK.
I have only read the Prologue. It is a stunning piece of writing. If it sets the tone for the whole series, HarperCollins' buzz is set to go buzzerk.