Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why bother with Patrick White?

Sometime ago, a British newspaper did it with one of Naipaul's books. Now, an Australian newspaper has pulled the trick off with an Australian Nobel prize winning novelist, Patrick White. The results are similar. Intrigued? Read on:

HE is the nation's most lauded novelist, our only Nobel prize-winning writer, twice a winner of the Miles Franklin award and three times the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medallist. Yet without his name on the cover, Patrick White's work is apparently of little value to Australia's publishing industry.
Inquirer submitted, under a pseudonym, chapter three of White's The Eye of the Storm to 12 publishers and agents. This novel clinched his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, with the judges describing it as one of his most accomplished works.

Not one reader recognised its literary genius, and 10 wrote polite and vaguely encouraging rejection letters. The highest praise was "clever". A low point was a referral to a "how to" book on writing fiction.

Pan Macmillan referred the author to writers' workshops; Mark Latham's agent, Mary Cunnane, recommended the author improve by reading Penguin Books' The Art of Writing, for hints on character and form. Text Publishing, which prides itself on finding and publishing Australian literature, sent back a form rejection letter and HarperCollins flicked it back unread.

For the experiment, the title of the manuscript was tweaked to become The Eye of the Cyclone, and an anagram was used for the author's name, Wraith Picket. And the age chosen for the 33-year-old father of one was the number of years that have passed since White wrote the novel.

Cunnane is a respected agent of 30 years' experience. She wrote: "Alas, the sample chapter, while (written) with energy and feeling, does not give evidence that the work is yet of a publishable quality.

"I suggest you get a copy of David Lodge's The Art of Fiction (Penguin) and absorb its lessons about exposition, dialogue, point of view, voice and characterisation."

Nicholas Hudson, of Hudson Publishing, found the work perplexing. "What I read left me puzzled. I found it hard to get involved with the characters, so it was not character-driven, nor in the ideas, so it was not idea-driven. It seemed like a plot-driven novel whose plot got lost through an aspiration to be a literary novel. It was very clever, but I was not compelled to read on," he wrote.

Read the full article here.

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