A Letter to Readers from Charles Elton
Charles Elton worked as a designer and editor in publishing before becoming a literary agent. Since 1991 he has worked in television and for the past ten years has been the executive producer in drama at ITV. Among his productions are the Oscar-nominated short Syrup, The Railway Children, Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and the recent series Time of Your Life, all produced in association with WGBH Boston's Masterpiece Theater.
Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.
During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.
Mr. Toppit was published by Viking/Penguin in England last year and has been very successful and received an enormous amount of media interest, helped by being one of the Richard and Judy Summer Reads (the UK equivalent of the Oprah Book Club). It is being published in the US by Other Press and I wanted to explain why this means so much to me.
Although I only had the sketchiest notion of where Mr. Toppit was going to go when I started writing it, the one thing I was certain of was that the children’s books inside my novel would first become famous in America. I began to follow the story of a radio presenter named Laurie Clow, from her sad childhood in Los Alamos to her dysfunctional life in Modesto, California, and the trip she makes to England where she collides with Luke and his family and becomes the catalyst that changes all of their lives. What happens in America is crucial to the plot of my book, and its publication completes the strange circle that started 15 years ago as I began writing.
I really hope you like the book and thank you in advance for all your support.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this excellent debut, Elton tells the story of a complicated family stretched to its limits by sudden fame and unexpected acquaintances. When we first meet Luke Hayman and his troubled sister, Rachel, they are dealing with the emotional fallout of living their lives in the public eye as the children of Arthur Hayman, posthumously famous author of a universally beloved series of British children's books. (It was only after Arthur was struck and killed by a cement truck that the books took off.) With increasing fame and money, Luke--the obvious inspiration for Arthur's protagonist, Luke Hayseed--struggles to come to terms with his notoriety and keep together his rapidly deteriorating family. Elton skillfully weaves together postwar England and a terrifyingly modern L.A., as well as the hopes and disappointments of frustrated mothers, neglected children, and clandestine lovers. While beautifully written and graced with a unique story line, it is Elton's characters who drive the novel and give it a depth uncommon in debuts.
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