and so we are working like mad mad mad on our April book. Which is, I have to say, a bit of a stunner in a couple of ways: that we managed to acquire the title and of course the book itself.
My parents and my own reading tastes only match up sometimes—it would be fun to try and quantify how much/little but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get them onto LibraryThing or Goodreads. Back when I was in high school my mother suggested I try Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. Sadly for me I put it aside (with other recommendations, woe is me) for years. After all, if my mother liked it surely it wouldn’t be a brain-mangling metafiction set in a world I sort of knew (Scotland) and its mirror underside? It wouldn’t be a modern classic that had been anticipated by those in the know for 20-30 years? Urgh. Should have read it.
A few years later in uni when I got around to it I went straight to the university library and read through what I could find in quick order: I think 1982, Janine, Something Leather, and a fabulous collection, Unlikely Stories, Mostly. Later on I was able to catch up on most of what I’d missed and tended to try and read his books when they came out, including Poor Things, A History Maker, another great collection, Ten Tales Tall & True, and a doorstopper, The Book of Prefaces.
In 2003 when The Ends of Our Tethers came out, Canongate UK was in the midst of rearranging its US set up. I queried on US rights but they eventually decided to distribute their own titles here so there was no Gray title on our 2003 or 4 list. Dum de dum. A few years pass. [Insert montage of Small Beer titles, LCRW covers, chocolate bar wrappers, convention badges, tear-stained spreadsheets, etc.]
Then in 2007 Bloomsbury published Old Men In Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers. My copy was given to me by Kelly—signed by the man himself, amazing—and the copy I’ve been working from, so it may not be quite as pristine as it once was (cough, chocolate stains, cough).
I contacted Gray’s agent in November 2007 and in August 2008, on a trip to Scotland, Kelly and I visited Gray in his beautiful, art-stuffed flat in Glasgow. Things went well and contracts were generated and signed. Yay! Small Beer Press would publish the US edition of Old Men in Love. Inconceivable! Yet, apparently coming more true every day.
After the contracts we were soon in discussions with his agents about how we would put the book out. If you’ve ever seen one of Gray’s books—which he designs and illustrates—you’ll understand why this wasn’t a simple thing. We’ll put a section up on here and Scribd to show it off, it’s a strong style that works really well on the printed page. But oh the files, oi! Also, the UK paperback was being worked on so we would have corrections to include for our edition (not that many, really, but fascinating to see—we have them as scans of handwritten pages) although we could not use the UK paperback files as they are black ink and ours will be printed in blue and black. There was also one small section that Bloomsbury’s lawyers had decided might be actionable so Gray had taken it out but marked where it went with asterisks. On doing a little research it seemed prudent to follow Bloomsbury’s example (they have more lawyers, I suspect, than us) so we will have to leave it that way in our edition, oh well. (British politics in the 1970s was ugly, no surprise.) For the curious, the author reports that his Bulgarian publisher is putting out a translation that will include this part of the original text.
There won’t be an ebook of Old Men in Love, or at least not yet. Gray is taking a cautious approach to the format but we’re still talking with him as we think that DRM-free PDFs would work for this book (whereas html-based formats won’t) as they would hold his design and give something of the feel of the paper book.
Gray did some hilarious things in Old Men In Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers including adding his own piece of criticism at the end of the book (and another as a letter within) taking apart the construction of the novel and criticizing it as a fix-up of his own plays and some other work from the 1970s. As with his earlier novel Poor Things, there is a preface (maybe to be included in future editions of The Book of Prefaces?) by another writer, Lady Sara Sim-Jaeger, a distant cousin of the eponymous John Tunnock who, on receiving Tunnock’s diary and papers after his death commissions Gray to make something of them. The resulting novel brings together Tunnock’s diary from 2001-2007 (there’s a smidgeon of politics in there) and his memoir of being brought up by his two maiden aunts in Glasgow. Tunnock, a retired school teacher, is working on a book titled Who Paid for All This? which goes through various forms until eventually Tunnock decides it is to be made up of three strands: Periclean Athens, Medician Florence, and 19th century Bath, England.
All of these stories come together in Gray’s final edition into a sometimes hilarious, sometimes dark novel that will be beautifully printed in blue and black ink as the author intended it. What fun it all is! At the moment early copies have wung (surely the past tense of to wing isn’t winged?) their way to the trade reviewers and a few others: for everyone else, check it out in April. There’s nothing quite like it (not true, see Gray’s other novels!) and as ever we can’t wait to see what people think of it.