John Cowper Powys fans pop up in all kinds of places. The head of non-fiction at Bloomsbury turns out be a fan. As does Adam Curtis, maker of cult documentary films for the BBC such as the brilliant Century of the Self. Most of all though – as I discovered from exchanges with potential agents and publishers – he’s mostly unheard of, even among the most dedicated of bookworms: “I feel like I really should know him, but I don’t”. Some would mention people they knew were into Powys, mostly with a note of curiosity, as if it was a love of Chinese algebra or competitive dog grooming.
I also learnt how tetchy I am. I thought I’d take rejection from big publishers quite well. The Powys name was never a money-maker or likely to appeal to a large mainstream audience. And anyway it’s all for the best that he isn’t exposed to that kind of bald attention. So I thought I’d be philosophical when Powysland was turned down. Instead I was scratchy and vengeful. “There’s not going to be a large enough audience, the sums don’t add up”, they said. “Too enthusiastic” as well as “Not enthusiastic enough”. They needed to stick to books that better suited them, I whinged to myself – Funny Things That Cats Do, or biographies of the latest You Tube sensation.
It was a passing moment; they’re businesses; they know what they’re doing. But I’m very grateful for publishers like Sundial who know there’s an audience for John Cowper Powys, maybe only a small one in terms of those who know him, but also so many other readers who will find him a revelation.