Welcome to the
Frederick Nolan website
(a sort of autobiography in the making)
Along came an Angel
The boom in westerns got even bigger in the 1970s and for the first time in a very long time, American publishers began looking seriously at the work of the Piccadilly cowboys, myself among them. As a result I was commissioned by Pinnacle Books in New York and Sphere in London to write a new series, this time featuring a hero who had more in common with James Bond than Wyatt Earp. His name was Frank Angel and he was different for another reason: his name was that of a real Presidential investigator, Frank Warner Angel (1845-1906) , who was a troubleshooter for the Attorney-General of the United States. He was sent to New Mexico in 1878 by the Department of Justice to investigate the murder of English rancher and businessman John H. Tunstall and a gaggle of politicians, one of whom was the Governor of New Mexico, Samuel B. Axtell. No prizes, then, for guessing where the idea came from. The first book in the series--Find Angel--was published in 1974 and was followed by another eight titles over the next three years.
Below you can see them in their original American livery,
and further down the page,
take a look at the first two in their spiffing new digital dress:
They weren't, they aren't Great Literature, of course. No Piccadilly cowboy ever expected to be compared with the great American western writers who were around then -- Jack Schaefer, Ernest Haycox, Dorothy M. Johnson, Elmore Leonard, Luke Short, Alan LeMay, Paul Horgan, Will Henry, Wayne D. Overholser and half a hundred others. But we tried as hard as we could to emulate them, in the process even sometimes going so far as to create what the French call hommage to some of our heroes.
And now, the best part of half a century after their original appearance, the first two 'Angels' (and there are more to come) are cutting a fresh trail:
Both are published by Piccadilly Publishing,
as also is the first of the 'Sudden' series
SUDDEN STRIKES BACK
which on publication
jumped to #1 in Amazon's "100 Best Westerns" list!
(To purchase digital copies,
please check the 'Mirabile Dictu' page)
Back in the day, as they say now, I was having more than a little fun. After a two-year stint in Switzerland in charge of European sales for Bantam and Corgi Books, I left Corgi to become a part of the "new" marketing revolution at Penguin (Alan Aldridge, "marketing," and all that). A year or two later I joined the mighty bestseller-machine known as William Collins & Sons, (where I participated in the launch of the first of the posthumous Ernest Hemingway novels, Islands in the Stream) then moved on to become marketing, publicity and advertising director for seven imprints--four hardcover, three paperback-- at Lord Sidney Bernstein's up-and-coming Granada Publishing where, working with Sonny Mehta, I launched Paladin Books with the since much-copied headline "Open your mind."
In 1970 I crossed the Atlantic for the first time to work in New York for Ballantine Books, run then by its founder, Ian Ballantine, who I once described--I think accurately--as "infuriating, brilliant, unpredictable, impish, dogmatic, stubborn and irrepressible." What wonderful years those were! And what a privilege--and an education--to meet, to work with-- and for -- some of the best-selling writers of that time, among them Joseph Heller, Jacqueline Susann, John O'Hara, James A. Michener, Norman Mailer, James Jones, Leon Uris, Germaine Greer, Henri Charriere ('Papillon'), Alistair MacLean, Calder Willingham, Robert B. Parker, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), and Len Deighton, to name(drop) but a few.
There was never going to be any way I could ever repay those wonderful publishers for all they had taught me, so as a sort of hommage, I featured many of the people who had been my colleagues in all those publishing houses in the plots of the Sudden and Angel series. A careful reader can, if he or she wishes, make the insider-joke connection between the names of Collins and Cullane, Blantine and Ballantine, the town of Daranga and its anagram publishing house, or a frontier outpost called Fort Allen Lane. But by the time all they found their way into print, however, I was off, as John Milton put it, to fresh woods and pastures new--or anyway, different ones.
Around this time, as well as--simultaneously--turning out Westerns and working flat out in London and New York publishing, I got the chance to have one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bring-it-on adventures in publishing that were possible then. A friend of mine, Michael Meller, put together an idea and an offer that I, anyway, couldn't refuse--that together we should create a tell-all "insider" newsletter that would demolish all the old publishing shibboleths (real numbers, real names, the truth about how many copies a book sold, the size of the advance paid for a potential besteller, what was happening in New York and London, Paris and Frankfurt, and so on) an off-the-wall, irreverent Private Eye for the publishing business that (for reasons I cannot now remember) we called The Gee Report. Its launch was carefully synchronised to coincide with a postal strike that meant none of the the book trade publications would reach their readers. This is the first page of the very first issue, dated 12 March 1971 (I was still working at Granada at the time!)
Elegant it may not have been, but The Gee Report worked. In fact, there were a number of publishers (one of which was my employer) who would cheerfully have hanged us both on the nearest lamp post had they known who we were. Fortunately, we'd concealed our identities pretty well, and it was quite a while before we revealed them. By the time we did, The Gee Report had become the most-read-must-read book trade journal in the business, and when in 1974 we inaugurated the UK's first reliable bestseller list, we actually began to make a little money. We kept the whole thing going for five years, by which time both of us had been overtaken by life--Michael in a new incarnation as a literary agent and I, to my own amazement, as what I had always, always wanted to be -- a bestselling author.
The secret of how to become a bestselling author.
You get a call from a publisher. Or your agent meets one at a party who's heard about you, and invites him to have you you submit some ideas. You do, and he likes them. A contract is signed and you set to work. What you write doesn't matter, only how good it is. If it's good enough, you're in with a chance at bestseller-dom. That's all there is to it -- or should say, that all there was to it back in that long-ago day. The times they are a-changed.
In my case, the publisher who called was Weidenfeld & Nicolson's editorial chief, Robin Denniston, formerly of Hodder & Stoughton, where he had taken that imprint into the big leagues. He was trying to do the same thing now with W&N, and told me he was thinking about a new line of crime stories and thrillers that would go head-to-head with Collins's Crime Club series and was I interested in writing some? Was I? What did I have to do? He asked me to submit six or eight ideas and I said I would. I remember one of my ideas was a bonkbuster set in the run-up to and staging of the Monte Carlo rally but that never got off the synopsis page. What Robin liked was my proposition that I would write a series of thrillers, one à la Frederick (Day of the Jackal) Forsyth, one in the Alistair (Where Eagles Dare) MacLean style, one Ed (87th Precinct) McBain-type set in 1880s New York, and a fourth àiming in the direction of Mario (The Godfather) Puzo. From all of which you will see that I was not suffering from any lack of either ambition or self-confidence!
Without ado, Mr. Denniston offered me a contract which stipulated the creation and delivery of eight full length novels (inside one calendar year, if you please!) with an advance payment, if I remember it correctly, of four hundred pounds (call it $1000) per book (with the then-usual one-third down payment, second one-third payment on acceptance and a third on publication (publishers know more ways of not paying you upfront than any other business in the world). And I set to work on a Jackalesque thriller set at the end of World War Two which posited the propostion that the automobile accident in which US General George S. Patton died in 1945 was in fact a political assassination. To ensure it was treated as fiction, not history, I renamed the central figure General Campion (campione is Italian for 'pattern,' geddit?). And the result was
It got some really good reviews, which was nice, but by the time it came out I was too busy to notice --
because over the course of the next four months or so, I delivered (on time) these three beauties ...
By and large, however, nothing fantastic happened. A bundle of rather fine reviews, good sales and a rosy glow (although my
Godfather-ish Kill Petrosino! became the only one of my novels that never made it into paperback) but other than that, the earth didn't move much. Well, you know the old adage-- if you're looking for applause, you'll find it in the dictionary (between 'agony' and 'atrophy'). So instead, I asked Robin Denniston to let me off the contractual hook. While it was true I had four more books to write under the terms of my contract, he could not but admit that the first four (two of which had been sold to William Morrow in New York, as well as paperback rights on both sides of the Atlantic, and a couple of nicely chunky European deals) had more than paid off the advance (I nearly said "pittance") he'd paid me. You see, I had an idea for a really "big" book, like The Oshawa Project based on true facts and set at the end of World War Two, but I needed to do a lot of research and take a good deal longer than six weeks in writing it. On condition that he would get first look at the new project when it was completed, Robin agreed to terminate the contract. At which point I went to New York, and while there, visited another acquaintance, literary agent Arthur Pine, who was a big admirer of The Gee Report, to which he contributed regular releases on his to-die-for properties.
An Artie Pine story (and it's true).