And so it happens. You finish the novel you were meant to write since the day that you were born. After 18 months of being immersed in a world where fiction and reality merged, I was ready to deliver my novel, Duende, to the reading public. Set in Spain during the run-up to the Civil War, I felt as if I’d been communing with ghosts – particularly Federico Garcia Lorca who appears as a character in the book. I now wanted my story – and the story of this bleak yet vibrant period in Spanish history – to be heard.
While stuffing A3 envelopes with sample chapters, covering letters, synopses etc etc, I stumbled across a website called Night Reading (now defunct). Its members were writers like me and behind the whole initiative was a man called #Tim Hewtson who I made personal contact with and believed I could trust.
In June 2011, I won joint 1st place in the site’s monthly competition and the prize was more than I could have hoped for: the publication of my novel. I was then assigned an ‘editor’ – he was actually a proof-reader but he did a brilliant job – and in December 2011, my novel appeared for sale on Amazon and CreateSpace. When I received my hard copy through the post – (OK, I had to order this myself) – I was overwhelmed by the quality, the production, everything.
What I didn’t realise then was that this was something I could easily have done myself. That what I’d achieved was exactly the same as self-publishing, except with a go-between, Tim Hewtson, who took a slice of the money made from the sales. (When I say ‘slice’, I’m referring to a meagre sum here – not something of Harry Potter proportions!)
At the beginning, I received half-yearly sales figures and money was transferred into my PayPal account but last year, the lines of communication went dead. By this time, Tim – who’d by now assumed a variety of names (#Tim Roux, #Tim Le Roux. #Tim Hewtson Roux) – had moved to the USA and married someone called #Kathleen Mckenna/#Kathleen Hewtson/#Kathleen Mckenna Hewtson…Some people just can’t have too many alter-egos!
Despite the wide variety of names to choose from, making contact with them was impossible. Until this year, when the fact I’d received no royalties or sales figures since December 2012 was beginning to worry me. I also felt as if my control of my own book had been removed and this disturbed me most.
I found a website Tim and Kathleen were in charge of (a replica of the now defunct Night Reading) and made various posts there. Most importantly, I found a blog by Johanna Nield whose description of her own experience with the self-same ‘publisher’ was an exact replica of mine When is a Publisher not a Publisher The lack of contact. The absence of info. The failure to forward money that was owed to the author.
With the invaluable help of Johanna Nield, I spent a weekend writing several e-mails, posts to the new website for writers, posts on Facebook and Twitter…whatever I could to get a response to my requests to have control of my novel returned to me. Like Johanna, this internet publicity seemed to the trick and on Sunday evening, I got an e-mail from Tim Hewtson saying ‘I’ll return your book to you on Tuesday and get you your royalties to June.’ When I replied asking for further clarity, I got an e-mail from the ‘wife’, Kathleen, and this was when the absurdity really kicked in: ‘Lizzie, I’m sorry he can’t answer in more detail that will have to wait until tomorrow, we are rushing off to Mass, it’s Easter. Happy Easter.’
8 months without contact/explanation/apology but forgive me – Mass awaits!
I later got an e-mail asking for my postal address as they ‘no longer use electronic payments‘ – either because their bank account got arrested for fraud in which case, how did they receive money from Amazon on behalf of their various authors, or because they’ve resumed life in the 19th century. I was also warned about being ‘impolite’ which, yes, suggests they have returned to some Victorian age along with its values of theft and exploitation.
I was then banned from accessing their website Freedom of speech via Nin!
After months of silence, I suddenly receive a flurry of lengthy e-mails from Kathleen (whoever she is!) detailing her failure as a writer:
‘I wish every writer were as good as the best, I wish to God I was, but we aren’t and that’s sad for first the readers. They matter most, and then for the publishers who took a chance on us and shouldn’t have, and sad for ourselves because finding out that after all our dreams that we weren’t any good at it, is crushing. I know that feeling very well.’
I wasn’t asking for a pep-talk on my writing skills. I was simply asking for control of my book to be returned to me along with the royalties.
Again, the voice of Victorian morality reared its sanctimonious head. I was even accused of insulting their religion:
‘Catholics find references to the Easter Bunny in relation to the birth and death of our savior Jesus Christ to be as offensive as making Nazi jokes is to Jewish people.’
Erm…Absolutely no comment!
Despite having given them my postal address with mention of the possibility of carrier pigeons along the way, I haven’t received a penny, leaving me to contemplate the Christian maxim of ‘Thou shalt not steal’…And given the tenuous nature of internet ‘relationships’, it’s left me wondering if Kathleen Mckenna is actually the fictional transvestite persona of Tim Roux or even if either of these 2 characters actually exist at all.
The good thing is that Duende is now mine again to self-publish, submit to ‘traditional’ publishers or do with it what the hell I like. Or, if I take the advice of Kathleen (whoever she may be), I can try writing 50 novels in the hope that ‘one may even be ok, most won’t but optimism is a writer’s best friend and worst enemy and we live with it.’
My advice to any writers reading this echoes the words of Johanna Nield: ‘if something looks a little bit too good to be true, then it most likely is too good to be true.’ Oh, yes. And make sure you copy the reviews of your novel on Amazon as when your novel disappears, these do, too. Here’s a few choice quotes from mine that make me think maybe Duende does have a place on some people’s bookshelves after all:
‘It is one of the great love stories in literature‘ (G. Polley)
‘Lizzie Eldridge has done something remarkable in this novel. Somehow, she has woven together so many different strands, so many remarkable characters (many of them real, all realistic), so many ideas into a powerful, colorful, terrible and poignant story.’ (Paul T.)
‘If Duende is not a word that cannot be translated into English, Lizzie Eldridge does exactly that for the English-speaking world. Not only does she translate Duende in her novel but she captures all of its intense experience of pain and ecstasy.’ (Mario Gerada)
‘Exciting, nerve wracking and interesting in equal measures, this compelling love story provides a fascinating and rewarding insight into the writers, philosophers, artists, art and plays that helped to free Spain from the political and religious straightjacket, which ripped the country apart in its not-too-distant past.’ (Matthew Scurfield)
‘I found this novel engaging from the first word to the last. It surprised me to read that it is a first novel as it seems so accomplished. I look forward to more from this author.’ (Coppi)