Don’t tell my wife, but I’m in love with another woman. She can’t compete with her. She’s brilliant, she writes like a dream, she talks piffle quite amusingly, and she’s been dead for five decades.
Dorothy L. Sayers came to me through the eyes first, when Ian Carmichael played Lord Peter Wimsey in several shows that aired on PBS back in the day (it was around the same time they introduced America to “Monty Python” and “Doctor Who,” for which they should be blessed).
I was fascinated by Lord Peter. By his gentlemanly manners, by his ability to talk to everyone from royalty to dustmen, by his clothes and his command of his life. He had everything I wanted: money, beautiful surroundings, a knowledge of the finer things in life and a charming accent. To the son of a grey-collar steel worker, Lord Peter’s Piccadilly flat might as well have been as unattainable as Middle Earth.
Eventually, I moved into reading the novels and short stories, and discovered something unique about Sayers. Her books were packed with knowledge. About plays and poems. About popular culture. About languages and manners and mores. About everything.
Fast-forward to the mid-1990s. The Internet had arrived at the newspaper I worked at. I was reading “Gaudy Night,” her Oxford novel. Oxford novels seemed to be a rite of passage for many writers who went there (and she was one of the first women allowed to take a degree there). Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.” Edmund Crispin’s “The Moving Toyshop.” Max Beerbohm’s delightful “Zuleika Dobson.” It’s like they’d have to get it out of their system.
Anyway, my curiosity (and ignorance) led me to write down 10 phrases I didn’t understand. I can’t remember them now, but they were words like “sub-fusc,” “No one can bathe in the same river twice,” “mother of the Gracchi” and “Mrs. Gamp.” At work, I plugged them into Yahoo’s search engine (Google and Wikipedia didn’t exist at that time), and scored four hits out of 10.
An idea wiggled its way into life. I was learning to build a website. I needed content. Maybe I could build a page around these 10 items. And then, once that was done, maybe . . .
(At that point, I couldn’t say “do the rest of the book.” That would scare the idea off.)
Of course, once I was finished annotating “Gaudy Night,” it was time to do another book. And another.
By the time I turned to “Whose Body?”, Amazon was busy rewriting the self-publishing landscape by offering an easy and cheap way to publish your own books. With “Whose Body?” in the public domain in the world outside Britain and the EU, another seed of an idea sprouted.
Maybe I can publish it myself?
Thus, after a mountain of writing and rewriting, and formatting and hunting for artwork and rewriting and editing some more, “The Complete, Annotated Whose Body?” was published in 2010. And the rest, as they say, is publishing history.
* Information and ordering instructions for “The Complete, Annotated Whose Body?” can be found here.
* The Wimsey Annotations, my longtime work-in-progress, starts here.