Strangely similar tales from a literary agent

The would-be novelist treads a road paved with rejection and disappointment, so Peter Thorndike was thrilled when the Penman Literary Agency of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, expressed interest in his science-fiction black comedy, The Alchemists. Encouraged, he paid Penman pounds 35 for a 'specially prepared reader's report'.

The 1,000-word report, by Trevor J Douglas, Penman's president, arrived two months later. It had good news. 'I have read this manuscript with much interest,' Mr Douglas wrote. 'The author is to be highly congratulated on his achievement.'

But he had reservations. There was a 'need for more attention to character detail and description', to 'interweave a little more personal description of the people involved, introducing further points about their looks, appearance, dress, mannerisms, movements, etc'.

Details, wrote Mr Douglas, were given generally in a highly capable manner, though some 'were rather too trivial for the somewhat prolonged treatment they received'. And while,on the whole, the dialogue was good, there tended 'to be a certain sameness about it in parts of the script'. The parts were not specified.

None the less, Mr Douglas thought there was a 50-50 chance of the work being published after revision. He added: '(If) there is anything further I can personally do to help, I will willingly do whatever is possible, as this is a manuscript that I, for one, would like to see in print eventually.'

Excited, Mr Thorndike bought a word-processor and spent a year revising The Alchemists, which he says was inspired by Lawrence Durrell and Anthony Burgess, 'with a dash of Italo Calvino'. But when he sent Penman the rewritten novel, he received only a note saying that, despite the revisions, it was not suitable for publication.

That was last year. Mr Thorndike, 27, took the news on the chin, and went back to the word-processor.

But then, in March this year, Helen Watling received her 'specially prepared reader's report' from Penman - she had sent the agency pounds 35 and her fourth unpublished novel, The Salamander Stone, a mystical tale about archaeology and earth energies.

She says: 'I was immediately suspicious, because it talked of the need for more attention to character detail, and the one thing I had gone into is details of all of the characters.' She felt Penman had not read the book.

She showed the report to her friend Peter Thorndike, who realised that, as the Penman Literary Agency might put it, his report and Ms Watling's had a certain sameness about them. In fact they were identical. The would-be authors were not amused.

'They're both stupid,' said Leonard G Stubbs, director of Penman. 'In works of fiction, there are certain basic weaknesses, and the same remarks apply about a specific weakness. Very rarely, two scripts have identical weaknesses, so the phrasing of the report can be the same.'

Exactly the same? 'We have a standard part for each particular item in the manuscript,' he admitted, though he insisted that every script is read. And he saw nothing wrong in raising hopeful authors' expectations - 'We don't like to discourage people.'

Mr Stubbs, who founded the agency 50 years ago, has now refunded both fees with a note saying: 'I appreciate your feelings, although I believe them to have been incorrectly based.'

The two authors have complained about Penman (motto: 'Writers help writers') to the Writers' and Authors' Yearbook, in which the agency advertises its services.

Penman receives about 500 manuscripts a year, but Mr Stubbs doesn't remember any big success. Had Penman in fact ever managed to get anything published? 'We had a book called Strange Holiday published by Fiction House of Leicester. But that was many years ago.'

Mark Le Fanu, president of the Society of Authors, said: 'This is the most bizarre incident I've had to deal with concerning a literary agency.' He wants other authors who have had dealings with Penman to contact him.

Ms Watling, landscape artist, is now at work on her fifth novel. Mr Thorndike has sent The Alchemists to Daedalus Press, and a sheaf of his poems wait at Chatto and Windus. 'You need a bit of stamina and perseverance in this business,' he says.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam