Nowadays, when a precocious young author gets a six-figure advance for a debut novel, industry-watchers barely suppress a collective yawn. Six years ago, however, when Oxford student Richard Mason sold The Drowning People at the age of nineteen, such an event was still cause for a media frenzy. Introducing a Telegraph interview with Mason, whose second novel Us is coming out in the UK, Cassandra Jardine recalls that:
In interviews, the Old Etonian in his first year at Oxford came across as a cocky young man with a foppish, Hugh Grant air. A star debater, sportsman, polyglot and academic, he described himself (though he now denies it) as an “obsessive achiever”. He said he expected to get a first, row for Oxford and party with debutantes by night. As for writing, he claimed to dash off 5,000 words a day. In short, he seemed the kind of precocious, privileged brat whom others long to see fall flat on his face.
You said it, sister. And in fact the fame and glory did not bring Mason happiness; rather, he says, it was a ‘nightmare’:
I was the centre of attention and all the energy had to come from me. On a publicity tour in Rome, I remember staying in a lovely hotel, being driven around in a sleek car. People were grabbing me and I had to smile, when all I wanted was to be alone. It’s quite strange being envied when you are not having a good time. I rang my mum from my hotel bedroom in tears. Since then, I’ve often thought of the Aristotelian injunction: ‘Be careful what you ask of the Gods, lest they grant it’.
Not feeling very sympathetic? I doubt the authors quoted in literary agent Simon Trewin’s article on the horrors of contemporary book publishing are either. According to Trewin, signing your first contract, far from being a joyous milestone, is likely to herald a journey by whose end the author will feel ‘like she has caught a nasty STD, discovered her partner in bed with her sister and seen her employer go bust on pay day.’