Back in the late Sixties I finished a novel which I called ‘Cupid’s Crescent’ – Not my first novel but the first I actually thought worth persisting in sending round to publishers. It wasn’t a long novel, just a fraction shorter than the average, but it was certainly sexy and contained a few of those words that, though in common use, weren’t at that time supposed to appear in print.
During the following years the manuscript passed through the hands of several agents and practically every fiction publisher in and around London. Reactions ranged from that of a well-known publisher, since dead (though not, I understand, because of reading my book), who got very uptight and slammed the agent for sending him such a disgusting piece of work. The regular response was: Sorry, but not suitable for our list. But about half a dozen publishers were extremely enthusiastic, and although they wouldn’t take the novel, their comments gave me the heart to keep trying.
They put in their rejection letters such nicely quotable phrases as ‘entertaining and very well written’, ‘congratulations on a really original story’, ‘it’s one of those rare, really funny books .. . contains scenes of great comic merit’, and ‘a dirty book but deliciously funny’.
These same publishers, however, tempered their praise, not by picking out faults but by indicating that they were afraid of the consequences of producing my book. ‘It is the dirtiest, kinkiest, sickest, and most unpublishable one that has come my way’, said one, adding that he didn’t want to end up in prison. Another said that ‘we’d be inundated by strangled cries from the outraged reading public’. And another commented: ‘If you clean it up, you’re going to ruin the effect; if you don’t clean it up, you’re going to have to wait until the dirty market catches up with you …’
I doubt if the ‘dirty’ market is ever going to catch up with me. Why? Because in England there is the hypocritical belief that detailed sexual writing, unless dealt with in an indirect or in an ‘educational’ way, is pornographic – I use that last word only because it’s handy in the context; I don’t believe that anything is porno or obscene, and if I have to use such words I’d rather apply them to such matters as war and violence and unnecessary suffering. And if a writer not only writes about sex, but also does so in a comic manner (which I hope is the case with ‘Cupid’s Crescent’), then his case is hopeless. Sex isn’t supposed to be funny!
I guess that most English publishers are scared of sex. If a publisher likes a book, as several obviously liked mine, then why suppress it? – because suppression is the ultimate effect of their rejections. It’s an identical kind of censorship to that which is supposed to apply to political novels in the so-called Iron Curtain countries. Of course, if you cut the book off at source (that is, in manuscript form), then you can kid yourself that you’re not a censor at all, merely a publisher rejecting unsuitable material, and you can go on believing you’re living in a lovely free democracy.
Ah., says the Gay News reader, but what about such books as ‘Candy’ and ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ and those by Genet and Burroughs, and Henry Miller – they’re all available here. Well, potential customers, don’t forget that these were published with considerable success in other countries first; they were acclaimed by critics, endorsed by best-seller lists, and enjoyed by millions of readers in their own countries. Any attempt to suppress them in England would make the censors, whether at publishing company level or at Government level, look bloody silly. And don’t forget either that the publicity such books have already attracted makes them sure best-sellers here. Profitability is, for most publishers, whatever they spout about honour and integrity, the supreme factor; and whether we like it or not, in this kind of society it’s difficult to blame them.
Anyway, I finally decided to publish ‘Cupid’s Crescent’ myself: by subscription, as this is the only way I could think of to raise enough bread. For potential subscribers, let me say that I think you’ll get your money’s worth. The novel recounts the adventures of a young man who like certain unnamed people connected with pornography commissions and festivals of light, believes that Sex is a very Nasty Thing indeed, and goes to extreme lengths, murder even, to achieve his goal of ridding the world of people who actually enjoy fucking. There’s practically no ‘straight’ sex in the book, but lots of other kinds, especially gay sex – and it’s all dealt with in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous (I hope) fashion.
The novel is going to be published as a paperback, clearly printed but not a luxurious production. It’s expensive for what it is: £2.00 per copy for the first 350, which will be signed and numbered by me; and the rest, without my autograph, at £1.00 each Postage included. It’s possible they’ll become collectors’ items, but this I don’t guarantee. What I do guarantee is that, if the project doesn’t get off the ground, you’ll get your money back. Okay?
(Editorial note: Laurie is an active member of both GLF and CHE. has had many short stories published, stage plays produced. TV and radio plays on the RRC and other networks, and is the author of two collections of poetry. Cheques should be made out to Laurie or to ‘Grandma Press’ and sent to 30 Andrewes House, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8AX)
Latest posts by Laurence Collinson (see all)
- An Open Letter to the Company of Nine – CHE’s poetry Group - 21 February 1973
- Cupid’s Coming - 10 January 1973
- Is Gay Lib Still Liberated? - 14 September 1972