Monday, 6 February 2012

How I became a Fighting Fantasy writer - part 3

In due course, the rejection letter arrived:

21 April, 1983

Dear Andrew


Thank you very much for sending us your manuscript. Unfortunately, Penguin Australia is not publishing books of this nature at present, although our UK company has published several very successful manuscripts like yours.

If you wish to pursue the matter further, you could send your manuscript to Penguin in England, etc.

Well, OK, I'm determined never to be a wage slave again, so I'll send it to England, though of course the postage in those days was horrendous, and return postage for the manuscript even harder to arrange, particularly for someone with no income. But off it went. In the interim, too ignorant to give up, I started working on my next Fighting Fantasy book: The Rings of Kether.

Remarkably, the letter from England was not long in coming.

3 June 1983

Dear Mr Chapman

Thank you for sending us your manuscript for ASSASSIN! Which looks very good. However, as you know, we publish the fighting fantasy games by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and we cannot take on other books in their area. Maybe you could approach Penguin Australia, etc.

Comedy? Farce? In truth I don't recall what I did next. Did I throw my hands in the air, or did I plug on with Kether?. I can't imagine that I was inspired by this interchange. But a few weeks later, another letter arrived from Penguin Australia.

29 June, 1983

Geraldine Cooke of our Penguin company in the UK thought we may be interested in your 'fantasy game manuscript'.

Could you please send me a copy of you manuscript. I'd certainly be delighted to consider it for our Australian publishing programme.

Much more encouraging, so off went the manuscript again, where it vanished into the sort of silence that I - and doubtless thousands of other writers - have become all too familiar with. The weeks passed, the months, nothing. Was it actually being read? Or was it just some oversized coaster collecting coffee rings on the editor's desk?

And then another letter, but unexpectedly, this time from England.

11 October 1983

I am writing to you again about your manuscript ASSASSIN.

If you have still got the manuscript, and have not sent it out to another publisher, I would be most interested to look at it again as our policy has slightly changed in this area. I am now trying to broaden the scope of our fighting fantasy games books. If I am able to consider your manuscript, it is possible that we could talk about other ideas.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you do not find this change of heart too extraordinary.

Your sincerely,
Geraldine Cooke

And this was followed up by another letter from Penguin Australia.

25 October 1983

I am sorry for the long delay on your Assassin manuscript. Our UK company wishes to reconsider it since they are expanding their Fighting Fantasy series, so we have sent it to them today.

PS I hope something good comes from all this delay and to-ing and fro-ing.

Blood oath, you and me both, darlin'. Unfortunately, all this delay had led to a cash crisis, ie, I had none. The torture of employment could not be avoided any longer. Worse, my only prospects were back with the Australian Public Service, and in November or December of that year I was offered a dismally junior position with the Department of Social Security. In some respects this situation was better than that offered by the Bureau of Statistics. True, the pay was less and I had to contend with the shame of failing my sacred vow, plus there were the death threats from recently released criminals demanding their dole money NOW, but on the other hand, I didn't have to move to Canberra, and there were real people to talk to rather than the automatons that populated the warrens of the ABS.

And from Penguin? Silence. Long, tortuous silence. The treasure seemed slowly to vanish at the end of the rainbow.

Then disaster. The Department of Social Security had overstaffed itself. The most recently employed staff were all to be redeployed. To my disbelief I found myself suddenly working for an organization that made the ABS look like a jolly lark: the Australian Tax Office. At the beginning of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life there is a faux short about an accountancy firm where the poor clerks toil at their mechanical adding machines, desks all neatly in rows, one man looking over the next's shoulder. That was the Adelaide office of the ATO in 1984. Worse, they had time clocks, so there would be no skiving off. This was a tight spot. As I was led to my place in the galley and chained to the desk, could my boss see the beads of sweat on my brow? Was there a hint of irony in his voice as he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Andrew, you're really going to enjoy it here, much more interesting than Social Security".

Sweet Jesus, I was in a tight spot. How was I going to get out of this one?

I think that moment had to be the nadir of my working life. Fortunately, it lasted only 4 weeks.

16 March 1984

I am writing to you about your two manuscripts and particularly in this instance THE RINGS OF KETHER.


We have now decided to set up a series of STEVE AND IAN PRESENTS.... I am writing to ask whether you would wish your manuscripts to be included in this series.


Yours sincerely
Geraldine Cooke

The next morning I rang the gang at the ATO and told them I was never coming in again.