Two New Lives for Perfect Skin

Perfect Skin was the novel that broke me in America. When I say ‘broke’ I don’t mean it put me on tour for months and bought me my second Lear jet, but it got me a start there. It gave me a toehold. A crumbly toehold, as it turned out, but that was no fault of the publisher or the book.

My agent there put it out to a few publishers and I had things to do in the UK, so I decided to make a round-the-world trip of it and come home via New York. She was going to line up meetings. We both had the plural in mind when she started, though what I turned up to was singular. One meeting.

On the way in my agent was all about expectation management: ‘He just said he was interested to meet you … I don’t know if he’ll have read the book … He’s been out of town so he may not have started it yet …’

The meeting was in the Flatiron Building so I told myself that, if it was awful, at least I’d have got to see inside a New York icon.

This job has taught me to brace myself for awful, or at least underwhelming, and what happened was a rare instance of the opposite of both. As we signed in I kept telling myself ‘one guy, half-interested, lots of talk about how hard it is these days’. But no. We were lead into a triangular office at the pointy end of the building with a view right up into the haze of Broadway. Eight people came in. All of them seemed to have the word ‘publisher’ in their job titles. Following an orgy of photocopying – and going with the mistaken belief that this was hotly contested property – every one of them had read the book in the preceding three days. And each of them had personal, insightful, flattering things to say about it.

I had come to pitch to them and it turned out they seemed to be pitching to me. They wanted to talk about the book, they wanted to talk about me. They had googled me and rounded up reviews. ‘After January,’ one of the senior players said. ‘Tell us about After January. I see it’s set in Caloundra.’ He said ‘Caloundra’ perfectly and carefully, almost as though he’d been practising. ‘Tell us about Caloundra.’

So I kept my face as straight as I could and I said ‘Caloundra’s kind of Brisbane’s equivalent of the Hamptons.’ If you know Caloundra, you’ll know how much I liked saying that. And, fans of Revenge, please feel free to imagine Emily VanCamp turning up to an adjacent King’s Beach unit to defeat her nemesis Madeleine Stowe, after Madeleine framed Emily’s father years ago for leaving his bin out for too long or not cleaning the communal barbecue after use.

I left the meeting feeling dangerously optimistic. I bought a picture of the Flatiron Building from a street vendor and told myself it was about having got as far as having a meeting there, and that buying it wouldn’t jinx the deal. An offer came through a few days later.

They lined the book up for the end of summer the following year. As the time grew closer, they started making plans. It would come out in September, I would do some Canadian writers’ festivals at the start of October and then head to New York. By the start of September, my publicist was seeing some draft reviews and they were looking good.

On September 10, 2001, the book was published. No one needs reminding of what happened the following day. Almost all the reviews were spiked and, when book reviews found their way back into the media weeks later, it was the next month’s books they were talking about. In the circumstances, that really didn’t seem like much to complain about. My mother called me on September 12 to make sure I was making the trip anyway, however crazy the world looked that day, and to tell me any one of us changing our plans was a victory for the terrorists. (My mother was 6 in England during the Blitz and had subsequently faced terrorism in Northern Ireland in the early 70s – our family position re attitude to armed aggression was established long ago.)

So I did the festivals in Canada and flew on to New York, where the southern tip of Manhattan was still smouldering as we circled before landing. Needless to say, there were no bookstore events for me to do. The city was a long way from normal.

So the book didn’t have quite the life in America that we’d once hoped for. Meanwhile it had a reasonable life in Australia, it had its moments in the UK and the Italian edition went on to be made into a movie, Solo un Padre, which shifted the action from Brisbane’s inner western suburbs in summer to Turin in winter. It peaked at #4 at the Italian box office, at a time when Twilight was #1. Here’s the trailer.

The book may not have had an easy time in America, but it didn’t completely vanish. It found some readers, and one of them was Will Entrekin who had this to say about it just over a year ago. If you take a look at his review, you’ll see it finishes with the line ‘It doesn’t appear to be available for Kindle, sadly.’

A year later, he’s the person who’s changing that. His company, Exciting Press, is Perfect Skin’s new publisher in North America and Europe and, as of today, Perfect Skin is available there for Kindle and Nook.

And from the start of net month it’ll also be back in Australia, both as an ebook and print-on-demand pbook through Allen & Unwin’s House of Books. So will Monica Bloom, which Exciting Press has also recently released outside Australia.

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12 Responses to Two New Lives for Perfect Skin

  1. Lynda says:

    Wow, what sort of timing was that? I hope the kindle release in the US is a huge success.

    “for leaving his bin out for too long or not cleaning the communal barbecue after use”…… that’s GOLD!

  2. Amy says:

    I adore everything you’ve written (no lie) and can’t say enough about it – you’ve even commented on one of my reviews! Now that I know the rest of the Perfect Skin story, I will be even more vehement that my reader-friends get their hands on it.

  3. nickearls says:

    Thanks both of you. I do appreciate it. If you (or anyone else) happen to be Amazon customers and would be happy to share your thoughts on the book in an Amazon review, it’d be a big help. People are more inclined to take a closer look at a book if they know it’s come through a few readings in good shape. Vehemence put to work in my favour is welcome in any arena though.

  4. Cally Jackson says:

    Very exciting to have this book re-released. I’ll be honest and say this one somehow escaped my attention when it was first published but I’ll definitely be remedying that soon. When I go its Kindle page though, it says that pricing information isn’t available. Does that mean it’s not available for Australian Kindles?

    • nickearls says:

      That’s right. Not yet. Fortunately that’ll change very soon. The new Australian edition will be out on 4 June through Allen & Unwin and via a range of channels, Kindle and many local retailers included.

  5. Lynda says:

    Just posted a review for you on Amazon, hope it helps

    • nickearls says:

      It certainly can’t hurt. Thank you. It’s great to have something like that up there on day one.

  6. Kate says:

    This was the first book of yours that I read. I liked you for calling the baby “The Bean” and for having your character run along ‘my’ walking track. I didn’t know who the Go Betweens were then, but now that I do I’m convinced the bridge is named after them and no one, especially not my dad, can convince me otherwise. Our relationship was a little on the rocks over the cat incident. It was unexpected, based on what I knew about you (the preceding 200-odd pages). I’m pleased I had the opportunity to hear you explain the origin of that particular tale a bit later on.

    To this day, I have moments of contemplating my wok and whether it could, in fact, be used to produce cake. Yet to try.

    I’m glad Perfect Skin will have a second life. As for Sept 11, it could have been worse. At least your publication wasn’t called “Souljacker” like the Eels album scheduled for release that day.

    Ps. I’m reviving my blog – that’s an overstatement. It was never really alive to begin with. Book reviews. It may be purely for my own entertainment, but so many people still ask me about ‘good books,’ I figure I might as well see if I can learn about some others in the process. So far there are no reviews and I have written about a poem.

  7. jamtur01 says:

    Any idea if Solo Un Padre will get a subtitled English release?

    • nickearls says:

      I know the subtitling’s been done, since I have a copy, but I guess the release is the hard part. Not a lot of subtitled films make it onto our screens any more. I talked to the Italian Film Festival in Australia, since I thought an Italian adaptation of an Australian novel would be an unusual opportunity, and they were going to contact the producers/distributors. Nothing appears to have come of that though. The DVD’s available online but, realistically, that’s not an option a lot of people are going to pick.

  8. Lynda says:

    I picked it! Bought the subtitled DVD on eBay this week, just waiting for it to arrive from Italy :

    • nickearls says:

      I hope you like it. I tried to look at it simply as an Italian movie, rather than going through it forensically to work out what was mine and what wasn’t – it’s not always easy watching something adapted from your own novel. It reminds me of when I was 5 or 6 and fascinated by Doctor Who, but had to watch it peeping out from behind the seat in case of daleks. There were no daleks in Solo un Padre fortunately. Most of the time I was just going with the film and then, all of a sudden, some small thing struck me as really familiar and I remembered I’d written it in the first place.

      I don’t know what you’ll be watching it on, but we had to slightly reprogram our DVD player. Apparently they’re all multi-region capable but set to work only in one. My sister found out how to do it online.

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