OK, I’ve been keeping up a daily post here pretty religiously. In a day or two that productivity level is going to dip – travels, other commitments etc. Bear with me and keep coming back. In the meantime, onward …
In the Titan group of companies, Titan Distributors is where the glamour largely isn’t. Writers, artists and performers are often to be found signing books and comics at Forbidden Planet – in those days, when the conventional book trade tends to frown on genre releases, FP becomes renowned for theirs. If you are not a comics and/or science fiction fan, you may be unaware of how blurry the line between fan and professional is – a lot of pros started out as active fans, and so have deep roots in the community. The Titan group knows all the other retailers and distributors and has good links with publishers, writers and artists.
Occasionally I earn a bit of extra money by doing crowd control at signings, which are sometimes at one of the shops and in later years, also at a adjacent bar called Café München. Among those I (almost) rub shoulders with in those days are Stephen King, Anthony Daniels and Dave Prowse (C-3PO and Darth Vader respectively in Star Wars), Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Pat Mills, Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, James Herbert (got very drunk at a book launch with Gamma and have a feeling I disgraced myself) and many more. We mere underlings tend not to get introduced to the celebs but there is the odd friendly encounter. I recall having a very nice drink and a chat with Tanith Lee and Titan Books colleague Bernie Jaye, for example, I think at the signing for the Tales from the Forbidden Planet anthology. Does anybody know where Bernie is these days?
In 1983 at my suggestion we take a table at the Doctor Who 20th Anniversay Exhibition at Longleat House. I am a huge fan of the show and I’m excited about the amazing array of Who-related actors attending and the possibility of seeing old episodes (at that time there were no commercial Doctor Who videos). As it happens, we are so successful and so busy I miss most of the convention. But I do wander around the exhibition before it gets going, taking the opportunity to stand in the actual Tardis set and flick switches on the console (not many are actually flickable on that incarnation of the console). A couple of years later I get even closer to one of my idols when I am sitting inside a Dalek outside Birmingham City Hall with Patrick Troughton (the second doctor) and Bonnie Langford (worst … companion … ever … [not her fault]) perched on my “skirt”. Not many jobs would lead to such a bizarre yet wonderful situation. I so idolize Patrick that I am reluctant to exterminate him and become a shy, introspective Dalek in his presence.
It’s around that time that I knowingly meet a second trans woman (after meeting the first at London Friend) – the redoubtable Roz Kaveney, who edits the aforementioned anthology. At the time I am much too scared to talk to her, let alone come out to her. I find the idea of someone both transitioning and working in the SF field (both things I covet) impressive but also daunting. I have since both spoken and come out to Roz – we get there in the end.
Being at the warehouse is mostly not like working. My job at the moment is also in some ways not like working except there’s rather too much “not like work” just now! At Titan I like the people (mostly), the work is fun, the money is OK, we generally have a very amusing time. Or at least it starts that way. Ultimately personality clashes, our collective lack of maturity and other matters cause some problems. All a long time ago and best forgotten. Best not to bear grudges in my view. I just have the one, perfectly formed grudge which I take out and polish every now and again. It’s not Titan-related.
Although it is fun working at the warehouse, I cast a wistful eye over at the publishing company, as I harbour secret ambitions to write, or at least edit! Titan produces a monthly sales catalogue: when I first arrive this is put together by a freelance journalist called Phil Edwards, known at the time for his writing on film. After a while Phil relocates to Australia with Nick’s sister Francesca and starts dealing in movie posters – he’s still going strong today. As a result, I can’t quite remember how – I get the gig to produce the catalogue. So at least I am writing – even if it’s just product descriptions, it’s quite good fun.
Each April I put at least one April Fool’s Day listing in. The one which got the best reaction was my listing for Mary Shelley’s Bride of Frankenstein! I create a shaggy dog story that the movie of that name is actually based on an unknown Mary Shelley manuscript that Universal Studios (who made the film) came by, through a complicated set of circumstances. And that now the truth has come to light, her long-lost sequel to Frankenstein is about to tbe published. This clearly ridiculous story is swallowed hook, line and sinker by a number of American specialist book dealers and the orders start rolling in … Over the years I do a few more. My favourite title (and you have to be a genre fan to appreciate it) is for an imaginary Brian Aldiss novella called Helliconia Spring Bank Holiday. We get a few orders for this one from the USA as well.
A few times I consider sounding out Nick about work at Titan Books. But even though I am having fun writing the copy for the catalogue, I have no confidence in my own abilities. Then, in quick succession, a couple of opportunities fall into my lap. My friend Anton Brookes – later, I believe, Nirvana‘s UK publicist, but at the time working in the Titan warehouse – falls in with a bunch of people producing an independent music/fashion magazine called The Buzz. They are all much hipper, cooler and trendier than me, but fortunately comics are about to become a hot topic thanks in large part to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I get commissioned to write a comics news column for each issue. And as a consequence of that, the boys from Acme Press come calling, as I will describe a little later. It seems everybody is convinced I can write apart from me!