1 April 2012

Please welcome : Linda Proud ...

... author of the Botticelli Trilogy and 
co-founder of Godstow Press

When that first offer of publication comes, you’re so grateful that you don’t think to push for better terms, let alone a three-book deal. When it happened to me I should have held out for the three-book deal for the simple reason that I was writing a trilogy, but I hardly dared breathe in case it all disappeared. 
So the first volume, A Tabernacle for the Sun,  was published by Allison and Busby and was selected for the cover of their catalogue, was a Waterstone’s choice, got me invited to literary festivals and parties – the whole caboodle. By the time the second volume, Pallas and the Centaur was ready, however, A&B had been bought by a Spanish publisher and everyone from the CEO to the office junior had been replaced. I was stuck. No one in the world was going to be interested in the second part of a trilogy (the rights for the first remained with A&B).

I’d been in publishing all my working life, knew how the business worked and what the benefits of the new digital technology were. My husband David and I cooked up the idea of Godstow Press during a dinner with friends: the name came with the concept, always a good sign. The next day I had to go to London on the bus, so I used the journey to try and write down fifty names of people who would be interested in Pallas. By the end of the journey home again, I had one hundred. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, selling novels by subscription was commonplace, and we saw no reason not to revive this old idea. With one hundred customers, we could recoup our printing costs straight away. And so it came to pass.

From the beginning Godstow Press was never just the marketing arm of Linda Proud Inc. We always intended to publish others and our next title was a collection of sonnets by Michael Shepherd. We also bought in stock from those who had self-published and had boxes of books or CDS in their attics. But we had to love these productions, and they had to fit in with our list. Godstow Press’s identity as a niche publisher came together very quickly. We publish what might be called ‘speculative fiction’ – creative works by authors with a sense of the sacred. It tells you more at our website (link below) but in brief, Godstow authors share a Platonic and/or Jungian philosophy of the essential divinity – and unity – of all things.

Soon we were publishing a book by Sir George Trevelyan for the Wrekin Trust, were publicising books produced by The Prometheus Trust (the translations of Plato by Thomas Taylor), were promoting the music and films of Angela Voss and Jules Cashford. We were never competitive and would do anything we could to help individuals or groups walking the same path as us. We published original works by Noel Cobb, Jeremy Naydler and India Russell. We saved Lindsay Clarke’s Parzival from oblivion when it went out of print. 

We would have liked to have done much more, but for three years we were full-time carers for my mother and what spare time we had was put to earning a crust. For Godstow has never earned us anything: all profits go towards publishing the next book. This has given us unequalled intellectual and aesthetic freedom. We really do only publish the books we love, and only publish one a year if we like, or even none at all.

So we published Pallas and the Centaur and, a couple of years later, the third of the trilogy, The Rebirth of VenusWe got the rights back for A Tabernacle for the Sun and printed a new edition. Now we are about to publish my prequel novel – still in the fifteenth century, still featuring the Platonic Academy, still starring Botticelli, but not part of the trilogy. A Gift for the Magus, about Fra Filippo Lippi, will be published in the next couple of months. David thinks it’s the best of the lot and suggested we approach a mainstream publisher. I thought about it hard, but not for long. 

What are the benefits of mainstream publishing? For some reason, everyone involved annoys me – I think because the short-termism of their fervour is so obvious. In their company I quickly become tetchy and ungracious.  No, I don’t want to do a book tour of the North East in November, or the Chipping Sodbury Literary Festival, or a public reading at Abingdon Library on a Wednesday morning. Gosh, I ought to be so grateful for the offers, but they take up writing time and carry no obvious benefit.

If I publish with Godstow Press, I get to choose the cover and the typeface; I even get to choose the date of publication with an eye to the stars; best of all, I often correspond with or even meet the readers, and that’s the most precious part of all. One chap in Canada got to the end of Tabernacle and, seeing that the last thing in the book was Godstow’s telephone number, rang it. We’ve corresponded ever since and I value his opinion highly.

I don’t get paid by Godstow, but then I didn’t get paid so very much by Allison and Busby. What I do get is a new computer when I need one, a Kindle, a laptop – anything I want to make the writing life easier. And I get to sleep with my publisher. The choice didn’t take me long, and it wasn’t so very hard. Fame or contentment? – give me the latter, any time.

Linda's Dinner Guests
I was tempted, of course, to have a Platonic Symposium, but in fact I’ve indulged that fantasy a couple of times in my novels, although without challenging the laws of time and space. You could define the Platonic -Pythagorean - Hermetic wisdom as recognition of the essence or soul of Man as being divine and immortal. It has been hugely influential on English literature from Chaucer up to modern times. So I thought I’d organise a Symposium about seventy years ago, here in Oxford at Magdalene College. Unfortunately no one turned up because we couldn’t get them out of the pub. And so we must decamp to The Eagle and Child. (HH. as featured in an episode of the TV series Lewis : Life Born of Fire)

The tiny frontage on St Giles belies the size of this pub: in depth it’s as long and as narrow as a canal boat, and is divided into many snugs, all cloudy with pipe smoke. More dons than students crowd into its rooms, shuffling creatures in tweed-jackets with leather elbows. Recently Germany invaded Poland and war has been declared, but the talk tonight in the landlord’s living room is about John Milton. Oxford University Press has moved its office from London to Oxford, and one of its editors, Charles Williams, has just given a lecture on the seventeenth century poet.
Clive Lewis set it up, and said later that he wished all lectures at Oxford had that kind of wisdom to impart; he’ll get into trouble for it with the authorities soon, that he invited someone to lecture who is not a member of the University. (You have to live in this city to know how acid that simple sentence can become in certain mouths – I call it speaking in italics). But it’s done, it’s happened, Williams has lectured; Williams who is the spiritual mentor of the group known as the Inklings.
The nature and quality of the lecture has attracted some spirits of the past, notably Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the recently passed-over W B Yeats.

So, my guests for an evening of beer and sandwiches:

Charles Williams

TS Eliot, who wrote an introduction for All Hallows Eve, described Williams’s novels as "supernatural thrillers" because they explore the sacramental intersection of the physical with the spiritual while also examining the ways in which power, even spiritual power, can corrupt as well as sanctify. In many ways, Williams is the Gandalf of the group.

Owen Barfield

 Because of his career as a solicitor, Barfield contributed to philosophy as a non-academic, publishing numerous essays, books, and articles. His primary focus was on what he called the "evolution of consciousness," which is an idea which occurs frequently in his writings. His book, Poetic Diction, comes closest to outlining that which draws all these people together. He, too, was beloved of the Inklings and very influential, despite not being a member of the University. He came up with the concept of ‘mythopoeic sub-creation’ to describe how the story-teller, properly connected, tells the truth in fiction.

J.R.R. Tolkien

We all know Tolkien, and I was utterly thrilled when Lord of the Rings was voted the best loved book by the English. He was without doubt a mythopoeic sub-creator, going to the source of language and myth to spin a new tale.

C.S. Lewis

 We all know Lewis. He was converted to Christianity by a conversation he had with Tolkien and perhaps because of this his Narnia tales are allegorical rather than mythic. This annoyed Tolkien but the rest of us found them endearing.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

In A Defence of Poetry, [Shelley] attempts to prove that poets are philosophers; that they are the creators and protectors of moral and civil laws; and that if it were not for poets, scientists could not have developed either their theories or their inventions. 
Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler, eds. Gateway to the Great Books Volume 5, Critical Essays. Toronto: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1963, p.214.
Unbelievable that he was dead at 29 and barely published.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I can’t begin to describe why Coleridge is so important, except to say when you study any of the above or any major poet of the English language, you bump into him. Biographia Literaria is always being quoted by those writing about the Imagination. Coleridge really thought hard about the mind and how it works when writing poetry. Barfield was a devotee of Coleridge, as was Eliot.

W.B. Yeats

Just the name makes you come over all Celtic. I would like to meet the man who in his last work, The Vision, gave himself over to automatic writing.

T. S. Eliot

At the time of our party, Eliot would have been working on The Four Quartets and his head would be full of literary and mystical references which would thrill the company. My own favourite is Little Gidding with its sense of the past being here in the present.

Mary, Countess of Pembroke

Although Dorothy L Sayers is said to have been an Inkling, she never attended these laddish get-togethers and so my penultimate guest, the sister of Philip Sidney, must join me behind the bar and help to pull the pints. Soon, however, she is beside herself and cannot bear being ignored just because she’s a woman. Telling me to do the bar service on my own, she goes off in a huff. A little while later, a stranger enters claiming to be William Shakespeare, but I recognise that wasp-waist. Besides, Mary’s goatee beard is slightly askew. These Tudors, always cross-dressing.
Since I was a child I have loved to discuss the meaning of life and I can get very argumentative with those who think differently but it’s all good knock-about stuff. These days however there is a growing trend to insult people for thinking differently, and here I ‘fess up – I’ve invited all these poets and writers together for a purpose, which is to help me humiliate...

Richard Dawkins

Oxford’s erstwhile Professor for the Understanding of Science and author of The Selfish Gene, Dawkins is now the messiah of unbelief. In his book The God Delusion Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion. So we can imagine that he denounces every guest at my party and calls them all deluded fools. But I have shut him into this small (smoky) room with some of the greatest poets of the English language who believe the opposite, that a supernatural creator almost certainly does exist and if you want proof try writing poetry.
Dawkins will be left a gibbering wreck, whether through his inability to get a word in, or his frustration at being continually bested by someone like Williams, who is not a member of the University, who can say? 
I'll make a video of his humiliation and put it up later on YouTube.

http://lindaproud.wordpress.com (Writing Historical Fiction)
http://gooseways.wordpress.com (everyday life in an Oxford village)