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The Long Good Lunch

Posted on 2008.03.30 at 23:44

So the call comes at last that I should meet with my agent and my editor in London for lunch.

The publisher’s lunch is rightly famous, to the extent that the name graces a trade magazine for the industry, and Douglas Adams incorporated a homage to it in Life, the Universe and Everything (1). In a world gone mad for time-and-motion studies, efficiency, value and the remorseless cheapening of life’s experiences, the publishing industry yet retains its dignity and its luncheons.

So, after a whirlwind tour of the Pan Macmillan offices, the three of us decamp to a one of those little, low-ceilinged places, too traditionally appointed for a wine bar, too much space to be a pub (2), that only seem to exist in London. The food is good, the drink copious, astonishingly copious. There is some kind of etiquette here, and as far as I can make out it can be summed up as “it is now impossible to refuse any offer of alcohol.” I half expect us to make it to absinthe before the end of the night. It remains a distinct possibility (4). We crouch (5) about the small table like criminals planning the next bank job (6), and as we eat they treat me to scattered anecdotes about the world of publishing, mostly consisting of who threw wine on whom, why she can’t stand him, and that time that such-and-so was discovered resting in the office the following morning, having not entirely made it home.

There are some sorties on business, within this. The first one hundred pages of edits are passed ceremoniously to me by Peter, each one liberally filigreed with busy pencil (7), which is a milestone in the process. Oh the contracts are signed, the wheels are in motion, but only with receiving that plain envelope of annotated text did the clasping of hands, the joint venture, become tangibly real.

In particular, and aside from the aforegoing, there were three important pieces of business that remained sufficiently insoluble in alcohol to get resolved:

There is the matter of the book cover. I’m not entirely sure what input is usual here, and what happens when the author and the publisher pull in opposite directions (11) but we all three came to the table with the same idea. There must be a human figure, chiefly. I’d already had some problem with test readers getting a little thrown by whether the characters were insect or human, and although I’d attended to this in pre-agent rewrites, it was something I was keen to sort out – so stick a man on the cover, rather than a moth, and the reader is thinking the right thoughts. As we’d all turned up independently with the same kind of thoughts, the decision to put one of the Wasp-kinden front and centre came quickly thereafter. The second book, Dragonfly Falling, which I note is already showing for Amazonian pre-order despite the fact that I’m still working through the edits for that one, will have a different kinden as the poster child (12), and so on.

Secondly, the name for the series was still up in the air. The working title was “Insect Tribes” which I wasn’t happy with, and the others were even less happy with. We brainstormed (13) this back and forth for some time and, some time later and quite spontaneously, Simon came up with “Shadows of the Apt”, which fits the long-term plotting very well (14).

Lastly, the thorny issue of names. We batted about a number of options before resting on Adrian Tchaikovsky for the simple reason that it was easy on the reader’s eye and memory.

Surely I jest? Not a jot of it.

To digress briefly, there is a kind of mouthwash I essayed once, which tasted, oh, godawful foul, some kind of bastard mint-acid savour that raked the inside of the mouth and made you gag if you were unlucky enough to swallow any. The true horror, however, was that this flavour was just that, a flavour. Someone had carefully added that misbegotten taste to disguise how ghastly the stuff actually was. The horror, the horror!

So, then, Adrian Tchaikovsky was eventually picked from a number of options because it was still considerably easier than the original. I should state, I am of Polish roots, a fact I’m very proud of, however... I do have to spell my name multiple times every day at work, on the basis that this country is populated almost entirely by Franks who are incapable of pronouncing a perfectly civilised moniker that might happen, say, to kick off with a combination of vowels and consonants not ordinarily to be found this side of Gdansk. I had already given up, long before ever writing Empire, on being known by my own name as a writer. The thought of some poor reader approaching the counter at Waterstones and asking, “D’you have the new book by Cz... by Cz... oh, do you have the latest David Eddings or something?” was painful to me. So my Russian namesake was the least of a number of evils, as Pyotr Ilyich had already done the hard work (15).

However, as the possibility of the Polish rights being sold seems extremely viable, there is an epilogue to this tale of Frankish ignorance, for in Poland, one would strongly assume, I may finally see my name in print in its unadulterated form.


(1)   “Missing, presumed fed”

(2)   The pub came later, and it was also one of those quitessentially Londinian (3) institutions, a tiny, cramped warren of beams and plaster and Ireland, the sort of place that has been bought up, dolled up and killed off by pub chains anywhere else.

(3)   There is presumably an adjective, but I have no idea what it might be.

(4)   Only once, only once, to date, at the Oxford residence of some extreme libertines it has been my fortune to become embroiled with. I remember that it tasted green, and very little else of the evening.

(5)   Subsequently “lounge”, and later “slump”.

(6)   Which would make the editor the guv’ner, my agent the Lock-Stock-style East-End rogue, and me some manner of hired muscle, I suppose.

(7)   I remain grateful for the sheer level of detail in that edit – whilst the agentle (8) edits had sorted out the bigger picture stuff such as plot and structure, the editorial (9) notes were at a sentence-and-word level, or dealing with paragraphs where the flashing fire of ideas in my mind had not entirely made it to the paper (10). Also, I was dismayed to see just how many words in the English language I was apparently quite unable to spell.

(8)   See (3) above.

(9)   On sounder footing with that one.

(10)                       An odd side-effect of writing a book set in a secondary world that you’ve created in some detail – it’s easy at times to forget that the reader hasn’t had the thorough grounding in its history, geography and mythology as the writer.

(11)                       Well, one can make an educated guess as to who gets the last word.

(12)                       No prizes for guessing which.

(13)                       The sort of storm with a great deal of precipitation, naturally.

(14)                       Well, in brief you’ll recall that ‘Aptitude’ refers to the ability to understand and use the new technology, that the Apt races are on the up, and the old Inapt races are fading. The ancient world, with its magic, superstition, darkness and fear, is very much the shadow of the new world of progress and light, and like any shadow, you just can’t shake it off.

(15)                       It’s the same name, of course, but the Slavic languages are simply not intended to be represented in the Roman alphabet. Poland, being a mostly Catholic country, did its best with the Romans’ meagre stock of letters to represent the vastly rich variety of different sounds in their repertoire. Russia, being originally Orthodox, got on quite well with the Greek-derived Cyrillic, but when Tchaikovsky came to Western notice, the name got put through the mangle a second time and ended up with an almost entirely different cast of Roman letters.



sh_laine at 2008-03-31 07:59 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, your agent is in London? I didn't know that. I'm trying to decide whether to query US agents or UK agents from Finland. I've been thinking about sending my queries to US agents since I write in American English. I think. My English is a mix of different influences. Do you have an opinion? I would appreciate it.

theinsectman at 2008-03-31 14:46 (UTC) (Link)
To be honest I'd cast as broad a net as you can. Most agents will be equipped to sell overseas, whether directly or by affiliated agencies. Given the volume of submissions agencies receive, and the small number that they can actually take up, I would try every reputable agency you can find.
sh_laine at 2008-03-31 21:51 (UTC) (Link)
Good to know, thanks for the advice.
dresne at 2008-04-08 09:02 (UTC) (Link)

The Angles are all wrong!

Highly amusing as always (I've been to one of those London restaurants myself) but why are you suffering from the delusion that England is populated by Franks? The Franks settled Over There, in the hexagonal-shaped country across the water, and the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and Danes all piled into England, pushing the natives westward and compelling them to become Welsh or Cornish. The Normans who organised a palace coup later on were not really Franks. We have a boardgame which makes it all clear, sometime when you have about four hours spare.

Furthermore, the Roman alphabet is really only good for writing down Latin, which is why the English spelling system is so arcane; only six letters to represent about seventeen different vowels.
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