lifting the veil - will you take a peek?

Perhaps you've heard of a book called Cliffhanger by T.J. Middleton? No? Well, you can read more about it on - then come right back!

Cliffhanger is published today, and it’s great fun – I did homage to the spirit of the book by reading it on or near the best coastal cliff I could find, which was Coverack headland in Cornwall, where I was on holiday last week. (I didn't go so far as to try and push my wife off a cliff, though!)

Now, perhaps you've heard of another, very similar ebook, Cliffhanger: the Other Text? No? Well, let me tell you more... or you could read about it on the Guardian.

We're very pleased to announce an exciting new addition to our special edition ebooks programme - Cliffhanger: the Other Text by T.J. Middleton is the first complete, unedited version of the book that is also published in hardback today.

As with all previous special editions, Cliffhanger: the Other Text is release DRM-free - that is, without the 'wrapper' that ties the ebook file to a specific device; this is a deliberate choice on the part of the author and Picador.

Cliffhanger: the Other Text is our most experimental special edition so far, revealing an alternative ending, a missing love scene, and other small changes not yet changed... character names, details of plot, and so on. To give us a broader understanding of why it's an exciting accompaniment to the print book, we asked the key people involved in its creation to give us their perspective on the idea.

First, the author T.J. Middleton (aka Tim Binding):

Two and a half years ago, with nothing better to do, I wrote the opening chapter of something that I thought was entirely frivolous. Once written I read it a couple of times, tightened it up a whiff, and put it away. It was time to go back to Tim Binding. But the bastard wouldn’t leave me alone. I kept thinking about it. Cliffhanger, eh? It was more interesting than I thought, and it made me smile too. A month later I wrote the next chapter, a week after that another. The third chapter took me three times longer to write than the first. This was not good. It was taking me away from Tim Binding. Time to put it away again. Four months it lay in the dark. When I pulled it out again it was blue in the face from the screaming. So I relented. I pushed Tim Binding aside and let Cliffhanger take over. What you find here is the first complete version. It has a number of differences – not the opening, that never changed, but the ending and some important bits in the middle. But it’s still Cliffhanger, just Cliffhanger with a different drop over the edge.

Another key person involved in the creation of both the printed Cliffhanger and the ebook ur-text is Nicholas Blake, Editorial Manager for Picador and digital:

Like most good things in publishing, the idea for Cliffhanger: The Other Text came about during a long lunch. The author and I were talking about the difference between working with Tim Binding, whose books I’ve copy-edited since Island Madness, and T.J. (not T. J.) Middleton, and I was suggesting that much as I admired Tim Binding, T.J. was a better writer, because Tim had given himself, or been awarded, a licence to experiment. I’ve been to Tim’s house while working on my favourite of his earlier books, On Ilkley Moor, and it’s an attractive country residence where he leads the attractive life of a respectable country gentleman; T.J. I imagined as an Indiana Jones figure with a leather hat and battered Remington portable, sitting in the corner of the bar seeing everything and saying nothing, a contemporary Strider in Bree. I had the right storyboard: when Tim delivered the preface to the special edition, he’d written ‘Two and a half years ago, with nothing better to do, I wrote the opening chapter of something that I thought was entirely frivolous. Once written I read it a couple of times, tightened it up a whiff, and put it away. It was time to go back to Tim Binding. But the bastard wouldn’t leave me alone.’ Tim, or perhaps T.J. (we were at the pudding stage), began talking about the experience of editing Cliffhanger (the edition we were going to print), and about some of the material that had to be changed or cast away – characters’ names, a lesbian sex scene, the ending itself – and we wondered whether, in a born-digital text, these sloughed-off palimpsests acquired an existence of their own, beyond the shadows of an HFS hard drive; in a library run by Veet Voojagig, perhaps. Then, just before the coffee, came the creative idea, and this is why authors are better at lunches than editors: why not publish the original ur-text as a book of its own? A moment’s thought revealed the idea was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

My role as editorial manager in the process was straightforward. The printed edition was well underway, so the first step was for Tim to ease T.J. aside and deliver a file. In fact it wasn’t an absolute ur-text; both Tim and T.J. revise constantly as they write, and the delivered edited files contain lacunae, overwrites, and suppressed drafts, so Cliffhanger: The Other Text is a carefully selected blend of several early drafts. (Selected by Tim? By T.J.? I didn’t ask.) There was of course no editing involved (and by that time his editor had become an agent anyway), and no copy-editing; I tidied the formatting, watermarked the pages to prevent confusion and sent it to be typeset. The text design and the cover image are the same as Cliffhanger the printed text, except for the added subtitle, so there was no extra work there; the proofs were produced and read, and a few of the corrections for Cliffhanger 1 were carried across to Cliffhanger 2 at the author’s request; the design department attended to both editions with their usual care, and the final files were delivered. Metadata was created and the job was sent to the conversion house to begin the process of becoming an ebook.

The special editions ebook programme, just to remind you, now includes Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, Sid Smith's China Dreams, and Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold (this is an ambitious 'bloglishing' project - you can read more about that here and here, and visit the 'bloglished' site).

[This post has been cross-posted to the Picador blog - link]