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Australian publishers don't like the cut of Nobel-winner's jib

Australia’s only Nobel Prize-winning author must be rolling in his grave this week — not a single major publisher or literary agent would release his stuff today, it seems. Earlier this summer, The Australian sent out the third chapter of Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm, the “novel that clinched his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, with the judges describing it as one of his most accomplished works.”

They anagrammatically changed White’s name to Wraith Picket, the title to The Eye of the Cyclone, and the names of the characters. And, in spite of White’s shining credentials — “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 Medalist” and, according to Wikipedia, “is widely regarded as one of the greatest English-language novelists of the 20th century” — 10 out of the 12 places they submitted it to, including big boys Pan Macmillan and HarperCollins, independents ABC Books, Text, and Scribe, and three top agents, thought it was crap, and the other two didn’t bother to reply.

The highest praise offered was Nicholas Hudson of Nicholas Hudson Publishing’s calling it “clever,” but he also found the book puzzling. “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 … I was not compelled to read on,” he says. When the hoax was revealed, it turns out that Hudson’s rejection letter was him being polite. “I thought it was pretentious fart-arsery. I don’t like White,” Hudson said.

Australian Literary Management’s veteran literary agent Lyn Tranter was less than pleased with the ruse, calling it “piss-weak.” “I am looking at one thing and one thing only — can I sell it? And the answer is no, I can’t sell The Eye of the Storm,” she said. “As a literary agent my job is to secure the interest of the public,” she says.

Other people looking out for their public include agent Mary Cunnane (“Alas, the sample chapter, while reply [sic] 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 and absorb its lessons about exposition, dialogue, point of view, voice and characterisation”), Cameron Creswell Agency (who said his list was too long and that new authors are only taken if “we believe very strongly in their writing”), and Pan MacMillan (“If you are after critical analysis, it may be a good idea to join a writers’ centre. There are centres in each state and these communities provide access to proofreaders, mentor programs and inside information about the publishing industry”).

Related links:
Read about this in The Australian here…
And here…
And here…