Dear authors: Long, long ago, before there were podcasts…

Dorothy Sayers wrote a short story, “An Arrow O’er The House,” in which an aspiring murder mystery novelist, Mr. Humphrey Podd, has become frustrated by publishers’ rejections of his books.

He decides he needs a vigorous method of promotion even before he submits his manuscript to a publisher.

It was 1940. Thus, podcasts were not available to the enterprising Humphrey Podd.

Here is the beginning of the story:

“The fact is, Miss Robbins,” said Mr. Humphrey Podd, “that we don’t go the right way about it. We are too meek, too humdrum. We write — that is, I write — a story that is a hair-raiser, a flesh-creeper, a blood-curdler, calculated to make stony-eyed gorgons howl in their haunted slumbers. And what do we do with it?”

Miss Robbins, withdrawing from the typewriter the final sheet of The Time Will Come! by Humphrey Podd, fastened it to the rest of the chapter with a paper clip and gazed timidly at her employer.

“We send it to a publisher,” she hazarded.

“Yes,” repeated Mr. Podd, bitterly, “we send it to a publisher. How? Tied up in brown paper, with a servile covering note, begging to submit it for his consideration. Does he consider it? Does he even read it? No! He keeps it in a dusty basket for six months and then sends it back with hypocritical thanks and compliments.”

Miss Robbins glanced involuntarily towards a drawer, in which, as she too well knew, lay entombed the still-born corpses of Murder Marriage, The Deadly Elephant, and The Needle of Nemesis, battered with travel and melancholy with neglect. Tears came into her eyes, for, though Heaven had denied her brains, she was as devoted to her work as any typist can be, and cherished, moreover, a secret and passionate attachment to Mr. Podd.

“Do you think a personal call–?” she began.

“That’s no good,” said Mr. Podd. “The beasts are never in. Or if they are, they are always in conference with somebody of importance, ha ha! No. What we want to do is take a leaf out of the advertiser’s book–create a demand–rouse expectation. The ‘Watch This Space’ stunt, and all that sort of thing. We must plan a campaign.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Podd?”

“We must be up to date, dynamic, soul-shattering,” pursued the author. He swept back the lock of fair hair which was trained to tumble into his eyes at impressive moments, and assumed the air of a Napoleon. “Whom shall we select as our objective? Not Sloop–he is too well-fed. Nothing could make that swill-fatted carcase quiver. Nor Gribble and Tape, because they are both dead and you cannot hope to stagger a cone-headed Board of Directors. Horace Pincock is vulnerable, but I would rather starve in a garret than become a Horace Pincock author.” (Not that there was any chance of Mr. Podd’s starving, for he had an ample allowance from his widowed mother, but the expression sounded well.) “Nor Mutters and Stalk–I’ve met Algernon Mutters and he reminded me of a lop-eared rabbit. John Paragon is out of the question–his own advertising is pitiable, and he wouldn’t appreciate us. I think we will concentrate on Milton Ramp. For a publisher he is intelligent and go-ahead, and my friends tell me he is highly strung. Go and get me a broad pen, a bottle of scarlet ink, and some of that revolting bright green paper you buy from the sixpenny bazaar.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Podd,” breathed Miss Robbins.

The campaign against Mr. Milton Ramp opened that day with an emerald missive marked “Private and Confidential.” Inside the paper bore only the words: THE TIME WILL COME! executed in scarlet letters an inch high. Miss Robbins posted this at the West Central Post Office.

“They must all be posted from different places,” said Mr. Podd, “for fear of discovery.”

The second message (posted in Shaftesbury Avenue) had no wording; it consisted merely of an immense scarlet arrow with a venomous-looking barb. The third (posted in Fleet Street) showed the arrow again, together with the mysterious caption: “Time has an arrow–see Eddington–its mark is ruin and desolation.” The fourth drove home this ambiguous remark with a quotation from Mr. Podd’s latest work: “Ruin may seem far distant but–THE TIME WILL COME!” At this point the week-end intervened and Mr. Podd rested on his oars.

Podd’s campaign did not end well for anybody.

Gee, you know? A podcast is easier and far less lethal. Probably.

This entry was posted in Mysteries of Life, The Facts of Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.