In the year 2000, Quartet Books published a book entitled Hug O’War. It was conceived and compiled by Janna Spark, a leading child psychologist and educator internationally recognised as an authority on children with learning and behavioural problems. The book comprised a unique collection of well-known children’s poems, hand-written by forty-eight celebrities, each of whom had also contributed a short autobiographical memoir. Janna then submitted the written results to a graphological analysis, which highlighted the personality traits to account for the way the participants had succeeded in their chosen careers. The book was dedicated to the children of Kosovo, for whose benefit it was being published.
I was glad to be the publisher, and flattered to be included as one of the participants in an enterprise that was also a good cause. It touched the hearts of many who had been following the tragic news from that phase of the Balkan conflict with distress and despair, feeling powerless to help. Television regularly bore witness to sufferings of so many innocent children, ravaged by war and close to starvation.
Hug O’War was a prelude to a warm relationship between the author and her publisher that grew and deepened with the years, and ultimately survived a set-back along the way as Quartet underwent a difficult period when it could not entirely fulfil its commitments. This was a dark time for me personally as I struggled against the odds to keep the imprint alive. In the nature of the crisis, it was necessary to put its full extent under wraps, and Janna was not to know the whole scale of our problems. There followed a period of hibernation when many a valued relationship, including the one with Janna, had to be put on hold, so to speak, pending the passing of the storm and a return to calmer seas. Inevitably and unavoidably there were feelings of betrayal.
Thankfully this hiatus in our understanding was ended in 2008 when a phone call from Janna informed me she had written a novel and would like me to read it. The return to normality of our former warm relationship was something I welcomed. It is said that the positive side of a tiff hinges on its resolution. In the case of Janna the reconciliation has served to strengthen our ties.
As it was a first attempt at a novel, I was ready to give it a critical eye, but as I began to read it, I felt pleasantly surprised. Her story line created a Bernard Madoff type of character before anybody knew that such chicanery existed at the heart of financial institutions, or that it was soon to wreak havoc in many thousands of lives. It was called GOOSE and its themes were money and ethics, with need turning to greed and the results of compromised principles. In the dramatic twists of the plot, predator and victim intertwined and became interchangeable. It was a cautionary morality tale about what might happen where the temptation exists to search out really easy ways of making a lot of money.
The nightmare imagined by Janna came true in the events that have since beset our society, and I am left wondering what inspired her to predict them with such uncanny foresight. Did a premonition exist, or did it spring from a deep insight into the financial machinations and where their consequences would head for? Whatever it was, it struck a target. The lead female character is so plausibly and cleverly conceived that I am sure any bankable Hollywood actress, like Sienna Miller, would love to have the chance to create her on screen.
GOOSE deserves more recognition than it has so far received. First-time novelists are today finding it more difficult than ever to break into a mould that will enable them to test out their work on the public. The media today is celebrity geared, and as a result it is extremely hard for a newcomer to penetrate the ranks and find a place to stand where they can get even a glimmer of publicity. Talent is being sacrificed to accommodate a celebrity cult that dominates the popular imagination and is to some degree threatening to undermine the more permanent features of our cultural way of life.
Be that as it may, Janna has nevertheless shown that she has a bright future as a novelist and needs to be in touch with the readership she deserves. She has a great ability with words, and a clear understanding of human nature alongside a capacity for perseverance. Ultimately this will lead her on to scale greater heights.
So, to all those out there who love reading real books, read GOOSE and be in the forefront of those who take pleasure in discovering a fledgeling talent that holds every promise of taking off in new, exciting directions and winning a crescendo of accolades from an ever-growing circle of admirers.