Angling: Tickling fancy of book worms

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER YEAR squandered, another shoal of resolutions washed up on the rocks of good intentions. Looking back in my diary, I realise that I achieved precisely none of the vows made this time last year. Never mind the important ones like catching a 20lb carp, going to Martha's Vineyard to write about striped bass fishing or building stage two of the pond extension (the bit with the bridge and waterfall). I didn't even achieve the feeble ones, like replacing the broken ring on my spinning rod (still held on with sticky tape); clearing my desk drawers of tackle (those treble hooks are still catching me unawares) or mending the leak in my waders.

So much work, so little time to go fishing. But 1999 will be different. This will be the year of the books.

I've written books before. I ghost-wrote triple world angling champion Bob Nudd's autobiography. I was co-author on a book on tax avoidance, another on the scams of the European Community. Elliott-philes may even have discovered a thin volume of fishing written for entrants to the Duke of Edinburgh's awards. More common are Catchmore Bass and Catchmore Sharks, part of a series churned out years ago for, I recall, about pounds 500. I buy up every copy of the latter, firstly because it's a distinct embarrassment and because it features the laughing sharks. These were my pitiable attempts to draw the deadly white pointer, the savage mako, the toothy porbeagle. Unfortunately, they all came out with huge grins on their faces.

In writing these and editing a few others, I have learnt one simple lesson: it's not worth the effort. Non-fiction books require masses of research, gulp up months, even years, and pay you diddley squat. Who in their right mind would work all year for something that paid less than pounds 5,000?

Then why, you may reasonably ask, am I planning to complete not one but two books this year? Bit embarrassing, this. Last year, the sales and marketing director of a publishing company wrote to me, saying she had kept an article I wrote a few years earlier because it still amused her. She was convinced I could write a book on eels similar to the spectacularly successful book Cod. I demurred. She pleaded. I rethought the concept, tapped out a few words. And now I have almost completed the first chapter of The Slime Brothers, an underwater murder mystery.

The other project has nothing to do with vanity. You might call it laziness publishing. After 13 years of hacking out this column, I've accumulated a fine heap of words. I haven't traced them all, but there are more than 600 columns beginning with two produced for dummy editions of this paper and never printed.

Now that's my idea of writing a book. All I have to do is to sort all these columns into vague chapter headings, write an introduction of a few hundred words, and hey presto! Instant book. Why, I could even do a de luxe edition with a few photos. I've also got the unexpurgated versions: the columns containing those tasteless jokes, awful puns and bad-taste remarks expunged by soulless sub-editors.

I've just started the sorting process and, do you know, some of those early columns were rather good? Far funnier than the awful dross you have to put up with these days. There was the story about why sailors had sex with skate; the man who suffocated in a fish costume; the disease that makes you smell of rotting fish (my old Volvo caught it).

There were even yarns that enjoyed far greater publicity than this sorry slot: the man who tied a successful fly from his wife's pubic hair; the angler who had fished for the same fish on the same lake for 12 years; the revelation that the coelacanth, thought to have been playing fossil for 350 million years, was in real danger of extinction because of demand for a specimen from museums.

My biggest problem is: what to leave out? That's the hard bit. With close to 500,000 words to read, it could take a year. Which brings us back to where we started. Happy New Year.