The Independent this week reveals that our old friends Aultbea Publishing Ltd. are about to publish a book by one of the world's youngest authors. (Thanks to Nicholas Clee for the Indie link.)
Christopher Beale, aged six and a bit, has written a 1,500-word, five-chapter 'novel', entitled This and Last Season's Excursions. Publication date is 25 November.
Aultbea specialises in publishing the work of young authors, and the 'owner' of the company, Charles Faulkner, has a history of obtaining masses of publicity for them. If past performance is any guide, therefore, the next week or so should see a spate of national newspaper interviews and items on television news about young Christopher Beale. Watch out for them.
The Aultbea operation has been discussed here, at wearisome length, on several occasions. If you have the strength and patience to consider the matter, useful summaries were posted here on 30 June 2005 and on 18 July 2006.
Briefly, Aultbea is a very small publishing company. According to several reports that have reached me, some of them in the form of comments on my post of 18 July, it is common practice for Aultbea to shower praise on a submitted manuscript, and to suggest to the author that fame and fortune are shortly to be his -- provided, of course, that he coughs up £10,000 or so to finance the operation.
Now in principle there is nothing untoward about asking an author to contribute to the cost of publication (see 18 July for further comment); quite a number of firms have historically done this in an ethical way. And I do not wish to seem vindictive towards Aultbea.
Nevertheless, I note that the Aultbea web site is quite remarkably uninformative about any number of aspects of the company's modus operandi. And, if I were a newspaper editor or reporter, faced with an Aultbea press release about the Christopher Beale book, I really think I would want answers to a number of questions before giving it space.
For my own part, just based on the data already published here, I would be interested to know the following:
Who handles sales and distribution for Aultbea?
What were the Bookscan sales figures for Emma Marie Urquhart's Dragon Tamers? (The book was famous for 15 minutes.)
How many of the stated 50,000 print run for that book remain?
Why did Aultbea 'pull out' of the reported Hollywood film deal for Dragon Tamers?
Why are none of Emma Marie Urquhart's books now listed on the Aultbea web site (though some of them are still on Amazon.co.uk)?
What happened to the other 'multimedia deal' for Dragon Tamers that was 'in late stages of negotiation' in June 2005?
It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent and diligent reporter should be able to formulate a dozen similar questions for himself. For one thing, if you Google "aultbea publishing", then the first hits you get, after two from the firm itself, are GOB posts which suggest that such questioning might be fruitful.
It will be very interesting to see, over the next week or two, whether any media representatives are prepared to trot out the old familiar flim-flam, or whether, on this occasion, they are just a little bit more sceptical, and less ready to reprint Mr Faulkner's press release verbatim.