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.