Friday, September 22, 2006

Don't Ask me Again!

There should be some sort of law on the artistic statute books that forbids authors and film makers from producing sequels to their successful works. If there isn’t, it’s going to be one of the first things I do when I come to power. Peter Mayle wrote a hugely entertaining and popular book, “ A Year In Provence,” some time ago and it enthused him and his publishers to follow-up with more in the same vein. From thereon it escalated until there was a whole library (or bibliotheque) of books by others describing, in hilarious detail, the travails of the British in attempting to civilise the French by moving in with them. Almost to a man or woman, these ungrateful frogs failed to recognise the benefits that the British had brought to their Empire, and the books consist primarily of anecdotes concerning this obtuseness. Peter Mayle has a lot to answer for, I feel.

Fortunately statistics prove that, for once, the British suffer defeat – apparently two thirds of those that come to settle in France pack it in and return quietly to their Saxon shores, probably to write a book about their experiences.

And, in general, sequels prove to be disappointing, as music hall artists used to find when asked to follow Marie Lloyd or Chevalier – the audience were not in the mood for them.

Even Jerome K. Jerome came a bit unstuck when asked to follow his wonderful “Three Men in a Boat.” His agent would undoubtedly have had the bright idea:

“Hi there, Jerome. You don’t mind me calling you by your first name, Mr. Jerome? Or would you prefer Klapka? No, I wouldn’t either. Well, I know that Three Men in a Boat didn’t come out the way we ordered – remember it was supposed to be a travel book about the Thames? Your turning it into a book of jokes really upset us for a while until we saw the sales figures. Now we’ve talked it over and how about writing one on, say, a bicycle tour of Germany….?”

So J.K.J. did, and the result was “Three Men on a Bummel,” and if you don’t understand the title, neither did a great many of the public. It’s a funny book – but not a patch on its predecessor.

Conan Doyle wisely elected to rub out Sherlock Holmes by having Professor Moriarty kick him into the Reichenbach Falls. But in this case, it was the public that forced him to resuscitate him. Doyle would have been content to have let him stay dead, I feel. And he was never quite the same man afterwards.

Margaret Mitchell not only succeeded in resisting the temptation to write GWTW II but also the temptation to write anything else at all, thus preserving her reputation intact, a policy that many could follow to advantage.

So when you have written your best-seller and your agent or publisher is hounding you to do a sequel, I feel it is best to demur politely. Well, that’s what I shall do.

Our reputation’s bound to suffer.


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