I’ve had lots of good things happen to my book recently. Actually, they’ve been happening since Christmas, which is how long I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for. But today it was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award, and it has pleased my head clean off. They say the book “cleverly combines intrigue with comic, astute observation which made me laugh throughout.”
It was Viv Groskop who told me to enter, after she saw a tweet from them saying they’d like more comic novels. It was also Viv who put me in touch with Colin Midson, the book PR supremo who got me my Guardian review. Viv is basically a fairy godmother to everyone who knows her, and implausibly lovely. She’s also, as her funny book “I Laughed, I Cried” inadvertently reveals, superhuman. Let’s just say that if the Ukraine were friends with her, there’s no way it would be in its current position.
Anyway, my book started selling much better at Christmas. In fact, its Christmas present to me was to get into Amazon’s top ten bestsellers for humorous fiction. It’s been in and out ever since, and last month it sold its ten thousandth copy. With that milestone out of the way, I risked putting the price up, which seems to have increased sales slightly. Last week, for the first time, the book brought in a liveable weekly wage. That has finally made me stop feeling embarrassed about having self-published. (The nice reviews and messages have also had a huge effect. Should I admit that I re-read them when I’m feeling low?)
The result of all this is that I’ve been feeling confident enough to start a sequel to Perpetual Astonishment. I’ve got it planned out and have written three chapters.
I’m very grateful for all of this.
Sort of all right, thank you. Well, I’ll let you make your own mind up:
Lately I’ve been finding it a bit more difficult to maintain my habitual pessimism (about the book, at least). Sales started to increase in late April, after I changed my description and categories on Amazon. When it started to tail off in September, I put the Kindle price right down, and that helped a lot. But the most important thing is that I’ve had some really kind Amazon reviews and emails about it – all from generous people going out of their way to make me feel better. I’m very grateful to them.
Here are my press reviews:
“Not many books make me laugh out loud, but The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax is one of them” – Stylist magazine
“You can’t help being tickled” – The Guardian
“Shevlin was rightly picked up by the literary agency that represents the likes of David Nicholls” – Metro magazine
What I’m getting at is that you might like it. If you’d like to buy it, click one of these links:
About a week ago, I did my first interview. It’s with Lee Strayer, who runs Atomic 27, a company that produces audiobooks, videos, ebooks and real books. Lee used to work in radio, and as well as running the company he’s now narrating audiobooks – the first of which is Prison Planet by Billie Sue Mosiman. Anyway, he’s starting a weekly podcast to promote the whole thing and he asked me to be in the first episode. Lee has one of those pleasing American voices that make you feel that everything’s going to be all right (except when he’s reading Prison Planet). Voices like that have always reminded me of the sound of biting into a crisp apple, which is odd, I know, but there it is.
I’m becoming increasingly like Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire (in that I rely on the kindness of strangers – I’m not living with my sister after being forced to flee Auriol, Mississippi for having sex with a student and destroying my family’s plantation). Lee is one of those strangers and he’s really remarkably kind. As well as the interview, he’s offered to help me with an audiobook version of Perpetual Astonishment. I liked him massively and have put him in my mental file of “People I’d like to do a huge favour for, if it ever becomes remotely possible”.
Lee lives in rural Indiana, which he tells me people in the US call “flyover country” or, more intriguingly, “Buttfuck, Egypt”. If anyone can explain this more satisfactorily than Wikipedia (i.e. even remotely satisfactorily) then please let me know. I’ve heard Americans in films say “Buttfuck” as an alternative to “the Boondocks” when they’re talking about little rustic places. That’s a bit weird when you come to think of it, but it’s the Egypt bit that’s really odd. Do they mean it’s so far away from anywhere that it might as well be in Egypt? If so, why? Surely there are more remote places than Egypt – Sudan, for example, or the Sandwich Islands. I was trying to think of the British equivalent and realised that we don’t really have one. We just have to say “somewhere in the countryside miles away from anywhere”. In this, as in much else, the Americans are both more inexplicable and much more efficient than us.
But I’ve strayed a bit from my original topic, which was the interview. Being interviewed shouldn’t be interesting, because you’re the one who’s meant to be talking, and you already know all the stuff you’re talking about. But it’s actually fascinating. It made me realise that I don’t really know my opinion on anything until I’ve heard myself say it. We talked about the strange way in which I wrote the book, about the ups and downs (and downs and downs and ups) since I self-published it, and about how writing it compares with my corporate work and live comedy. Afterwards we had a long conversation about this new world we find ourselves in, where Amazon and Audible make it possible for writers and narrators to make a living by reaching readers directly, and how that encourages people to work together.
Lee has diligently edited down the excruciatingly long pauses I leave between words, and the result is on Atomic 27’s website now.
This appeared today on Amazon:
Really funny and pacy. Some of the writing is reminiscent of P G Wodehouse. Very witty and accurate descriptions of London mixed with complete fantasy.
There’s very little I like more than hearing that people like my book, especially when they have no reason to be nice about it. This reviewer is anonymous, but I’m pretty sure she’s not my mum. (Why do I think this is a woman? I don’t know. The soubriquet is ‘SR “Solipsist”‘, which doesn’t give much away, except for a good vocabulary. Then again, women have, on average, larger vocabularies than men, and they read more.) Anyway, thank you very much, SR. Your review is concise yet specific: a model of its kind. And I apologise if I’ve mistaken your gender.
P.S. Thanks too to S Beaton, whose Amazon review I’ve also just noticed. I’m very glad that TPAOJF has made it to Japan.
Today I’m overjoyed by this review by the beautifully named Alfred Hickling in the Guardian:
Anyone suspicious that the publishing industry may be run by a small group of corporate-minded killjoys will applaud the DIY-ethic of Shevlin, who has published this quirky comic novel himself. The perpetually astonished hero finds himself in a conspiracy involving murder and the theft of cabinet-level documents, having done no more than give directions to a large man wearing a balaclava on the Holloway Road (mental note: men in balaclavas are either thugs or terrorists, unless they have very poor circulation in their ears). Shevlin’s offbeat brand of urban absurdism should appeal to anyone susceptible to Nicola Barker’s whimsy, though the penchant for made-up onomatopoeic verbs can become a bit trying: “scooshed”, “tocked” and “prunked” in a paragraph about parking a car. But you can’t help being tickled by Shevlin’s view of Covent Garden as a place “thick with mildly diverting notions which now had their own branded carrier bags”; or the Holloway Road afflicted by “the North London disease that turns any unwary building into a chicken shop”.
It should appear in the paper this Saturday, or possibly the next (i.e. the 13th)…
The Broadway Bookshop on Broadway Market in Hackney today became the first bookshop to stock copies of the Perpetual Astonishment. I took them a copy a couple of weeks ago, and when I went back on Saturday they said that their manager had really liked it. So, now they have two copies on the shelves. Coincidentally, I got my first order today from Bertram, one of the two biggest book wholesalers. (This might be for Foyles, who asked me for a reading copy a week or so ago.)
Used by thousands of bookshops across the country and carrying millions of titles, Bertram placed an order for one copy. And because my account with Nielsen is set up wrongly, I had to fulfil the order myself, which meant it cost me money. But if I get another order, Lightning Source will take care of it all.
Now I just need to summon up the courage to ask another nice local bookshop if they’ll stock the book.
Well, I’ve now read the Metro review. Here it is:
Self-publishing has its successes, as EL James’s racy ebook series, initially posted on a fansite, proved. Yet there are reasons why editors and publishers exist, as demonstrated by Christopher Shevlin’s debut novel.
That’s not to say that The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax isn’t a good book – it is and Shevlin was rightly picked up by the literary agency that represents the likes of David Nicholls. However, it could have been great: the comic hero is caught up in a murder plot that unravels into a political thriller, which is by turns absurd and engaging.
Although the plotting can be confusing, the perceptive one-liners reveal an author unafraid to laugh at the concept. At one point, Fairfax muses that reading a secret file makes him feel like he’s in a film, although only ‘the sort that would be on TV on a Wednesday morning’. Yet the same page has ‘she thought Kathy new what she was doing’ – the book is full of errors. Also, Fairfax’s bumbling astonishment at everything gets wearing – surely something an editor would have ironed out.
Copies of Perpetual Astonishment that don’t say “Full release edition” on the technical page (is that what it’s called? The bit with all the copyright notices on it) contain the mistakes listed below, which I corrected on 24 July. I hope they don’t spoil your enjoyment of the book. If they do, let me know and I’ll replace it. If you spot any other problems, or want to give me feedback, please contact me.
Today I rewrote this post about my book to sound more confident and adduce some evidence in favour of the proposition that the book might be good. I’d almost forgotten how diffident and apologetic I felt about this whole self-publishing thing a couple of months ago, before some people started liking the book.
I still get twinges. A couple of days ago I found that there is now one review of the book on Amazon.com (they’re kept separate from the UK reviews). It’s a four-star review, but there’s something about it (the words, principally) that suggests that the book really isn’t that person’s sort of thing at all.