A Plea For All Unknown Successors Of P G Wodehouse
Letter to Four Communications, organizers of the Bollinger Everyman PG Wodehouse Award
Thank you for informing me that this year’s P G Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction is not open to self-published books.
This letter is a plea for this policy to be reconsidered. I would be most grateful if you could share it with any relevant colleagues. I am not making the plea on my own account. Whatever its result, I shall not submit my novel The Prisoner Of Rubato Towers. I make it for writers of comic fiction in general, especially those as yet unknown.
The present policy makes an unwarranted assumption that a self-published book is incapable of inspiring the same spontaneous laughter as P G Wodehouse. There are many reasons today why fine comic writers may feel compelled to bear the costs and risks of publishing their own work. The most obvious is lack of opportunity. The young P G W was able to flex his comic muscles in many different outlets, not only in books and magazines but also in the theatre. Nothing like them is available to his modern counterparts, in terms of number or variety. For any unknown writer, it has grown harder and harder to find publishers (or agents) who are even willing to look at unsolicited submissions.
I had a special motive for self-publishing my novel. Apart from raising English comic prose to heights not attempted, let alone achieved, since the Master, I wanted it to play a role in the overthrow of Donald Trump. It had to be published on my timetable not another publisher’s schedule, while it still might influence the American election. I have been gratified to hear from American readers that some of its material did indeed help Joe Biden to gain small majorities in key states.
Even without the special Trump factor, impatience might have driven me to publish it myself. Compared to the Master’s heyday, it now takes an interminable time to get rejected. The planet Neptune completes a good section of its orbit in the time between submission of one’s manuscript and response. As a writer of advancing years, with no guarantee of the Master’s productive longevity, I wanted to get my book out while I still had the health and strength to meet the anticipated global demand for sequels.
The present prize policy is inevitably biased towards established writers. That is not to say that they are undeserving. But it would mean much more to an unknown one. The discovery of a new P G Wodehouse would make the prize far more valuable to literature. It would also generate a much bigger media story for the benefit of its sponsor, Bollinger, to whom I am copying this letter.
I therefore urge you again to give some sort of a chance for a self-published comic novel to win this award. If the judges fear being swamped with self-published tomes, you might invite such authors to submit a short synopsis of their work and an extract or extracts of maximum length, and see if the judges want to call in any of them for a full reading.
I hope it would not be too late to do this in the current year. If not, perhaps it could be considered for the next one. I intend to write a tragic novel this year, so would not expect to submit anything myself in 2022, unless, like the death of Little Nell, it should prove irresistibly comic on completion.