Antony Sher, Novel Writing and the 'literary establishment'

13th October 2004

Years ago (around 1987) when my one-time-agent Mic Cheetham welcomed me into her garret at was was then the Anthony Sheil Literary Agency in Doughtie Street, a picture from her client Antony Sher decorated the wall. He gives such pictures to fellow actors on the first night of his performances, but no more will be coming Mic's way to honour publication day of his novels. He has just announced that he is giving up the practice.

Why? Because he feels the literary establishment closes him out. He gets meagre reviews if they come at all. Even in his autobiography he was lamenting how his agent could find no takers for his new novel.

Given that many agents lament publishers' current craving for celebrities (though interestingly I recently find this same lament in Jules Verne's first novel!), this comes as a bit of a surprise, though I have to accept Sher's judgment. Outside of the Oxford / Cambridge cabal, I don't quite understand what the 'literary establishment' is, though of course I too suspect it is there. A writer of necessity distrusts the establishment in almost any guise, and since his / her writings are often against any sense of 'establishment values' there's always a likelihood they won't be picked up by publishers who of course are part of large corporations. Though Antony Sher is a celebrity, perhaps gay / Jewish / South African celebrities press the wrong establishment buttons?

I move ever closer to the thought of starting an independent press to publish the wondrous novels the 'establishment' rejects (I was interested to see recently that Margaret Atwood has run such a press for years, even issuing some of her own work). Antony Sher is shifting to plays and screenplays. I do that too, but love fiction. Fiction comes from the heart. Shifting it into other people's hearts is the hard job.

My own independent publishing house. Hmmm. Anybody want to invest? Got any fine new novels after all, Antony?

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