If you google Helen Cannam’s novels (I do it just in the interests of research, you know…), you sometimes come across one called ‘Amelia’, lost in the further reaches of the internet. It looks genuine enough – it has a publication date listed, a publisher, a genuine ISBN (the unique number each published edition of a book has to have) and a convincing looking summary of a story. You will find it’s currently out of stock, which might be annoying if you thought it sounded like something you’d want to read.
But if you were to wait for it to come into stock again, you’d have a very very long wait. You see, this novel is a phantom. It doesn’t exist, and it never has. All that ever actually took shape was a brief paragraph sent off to my then publisher as a possible outline for the next novel, in the hope that they’d commission it and come up with an advance. I sent them a few others as well, and they accepted one of those instead – ‘The Last Ballad’, soon to be followed by its sequel ‘Stranger in the Land’. The only thing these books had in common with the outline for ‘Amelia’ was a Weardale setting.
It was when notices appeared in the press of the publication of ‘The Last Ballad’ that I realised ‘Amelia’ had not gone away with that discarded paragraph. In one local newspaper, Amelia had a ‘review’ (shows how little some reviewers read a book before commenting!), outlining the story as in my synopsis. I pointed the problem out to my publisher and then forgot about it. Until the internet became a part of my life.
I think I can see how it might have happened. Just around the time I submitted that synopsis, my publisher, Macdonald, became submerged in turmoil. It was owned by Robert Maxwell, who disappeared over the side of his yacht, leaving debts and scandal behind him. I guess that in all the muddle, while the publisher was being taken over by Little,Brown (part of the Time Warner corporation), someone got their bits of paper mixed up and sent the wrong details to the press. And somehow from there it never quite went away. And so there it is, a book that never was, offered for sale to the unwary buyer. Just as well it’s out of stock!
There’s one other slight twist to this story. Occasionally internet descriptions of ‘The Last Ballad’ look remarkably like my synopsis for ‘Amelia’. And to add further confusion, a book called ‘Isabella’ also gets a mention. That’s not currently available either. Nor ever will be. The only Isabella in any of my books is the heroine of ‘Candle in the Dark’.
So far there’s no story of mine featuring an Amelia. Perhaps I should consider writing it one day, and give that phantom novel an actual existence. On the other hand, I guess there was a good reason why my publisher didn’t like the look of it much.
I would love to know if any other writers have experience of this phenomenon.