Thursday, 10 March 2011

Wider Reading | A Rejection Letter to Oxford Street

Dear Mr London (a relative of Jack's? Ha ha ha.),

It is with regret that we inform you that your street 'Oxford Street' has not been accepted for publication with us. We do, of course, receive a great many streets more than we can reasonably deal with and so a number of perfectly interesting streets simply do not get through the initial stages.

Our reader has offered you some more detailed feedback below. We wish you all the very best in publishing your streets in the future.

For future reference - most publishers hire their own artists to design book covers. Few authors are called upon to submit their own crude sketches of a million ducked heads gazing inwards from buses and from the fourth floors of megastores.

Hi, Mr London! Just a few thoughts on 'Oxford Street'. Overall, I think it's good - ambitious in its ideas, even if it's a little confused! That said, I found it petered out towards the end and it didn't hold my interest. I really didn't feel any inclination to continue reading after the frst few blocks. Some of the main problems with the Street are listed below.

1) It's too grim. This was a major turn-off for me. 'An extended headache of a street'? 'As if someone diverted traffic, hatred and rain through the middle of a busy shopping mall'? It simply isn't appealing to the reader. And while some of the details are involving - the great cranes, for example, which 'chitter and jerk about the edges of the street, bringing down the smaller buildings on the outskirts, only daring to get close to the great megastores when they were already wounded' - they're also a little strange. The part where the protagonist, walking in the centre of a crowd of several hundred sorrowful faces, catches from somewhere uncertain the distinctive whiff of marijuana? Not a fan.

2) Unsympathetic characters. I simply wasn't rooting for anyone in the street. The reader needs somebody they can identify with. You have plenty of characters (too many, perhaps - I lost track of who was who very quickly and before long it was just one weary face after another) but their individual personalities get swamped by a strange sort of unthinking anger. You had the charity worker trying to get signatures whose tone went from obsequious to hateful in an instant, sneering at the white dreadlocked student who walked past him without a word, "Yeah, Rasta, right, blud?". You had the homeless man selling Big Issues who howled each night in exactly the same monotone, in front of John Lewis, "Won't somebody please acknowledge me?". You had cyclists shrieking "Fuck's sake!" as they flew through the pedestrian mob without stopping or swerving to avoid hitting anyone. You had the street's protagonist even being shocked by his own sneering reply to a Christian on the corner who told him not to waste his time, "Don't worry; I won't." It was depressing, and it didn't encourage me to continue reading.

3) The ending. Your street starts well, in medias res, with the Christian imagery of the Circus (perhaps there's hope to be found in that, yes?) but it deteriorates towards the final act, just sort of petering out into drugs and sex and bookshops and people wearing black-framed glasses. Do you need Soho?

4) You don't need more than one HMV. Cut one.

5) The multicultural aspect is great, but does everyone have to be regarding everyone else with suspicion and hostility?

6) Direction. Your street moves, but it moves slowly, and sometimes it seems to be fighting itself. And it's obvious, too, where you've ended up padding it out and getting distracted by repeating the same theme of consumer excess over and over again. It's monotonous, and it's actually a little on-the-nose.

Still, I think there's potential here. Why not start again with the foundations of it and go in a completely different direction? Keep the shops and the bustle, but make it a little more wholesome and upmarket - less troubling. Bright, smiling and classical. Keep the hatred and pointlessness of it all well concealed. 'Regent's Street', you could call it.

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