Success Story with Clifford Thurlow

Success Story with Clifford Thurlow - writing advice from a published author


Finding The First Line

Clifford Thurlow, author of Runaway and Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me

Clifford Thurlow is the author of more than twenty books.

My first book to have some success was titled Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me. It tells the stories of two men: the great surrealist painter Salvador Dali and his long-time friend and muse, the Colombian dancer Carlos Lozano.

The friendship was decidedly odd and required a style that befitted the two men, a mixture of Daliesque surrealism and South American magical realism. I had done my research on Dali and had twenty hours of taped interviews with Carlos. He had since retired from the stage to open an art gallery in Cadaqués, the Spanish fishing village where Dali had a house.

I read through my notebooks and immediately had a block. I went for long walks in the park and endlessly played Vivaldi’s Cessate Omai Cessate for inspiration. The block lasted two days.

On the third, I woke with a line in my head. I didn’t need to write it down. It was like a mantra. I ate some muesli and took the ritual mug of coffee to my office. I opened the file and wrote this opening.

Dali dear…

They drank champagne the day you died.

I had found the first line, the feeling, the essence of  the book. Why not Dear Dali, as in a letter? I don’t know the answer. Dali dear felt right. The reader is then treated to a mystery: who are "they" and why would they drink champagne the day one of the greatest artists of all time died. The riddle is slowly answered in an elegiac language that people – as I would discover – would either love or hate.

The title was a working title that stuck. The book was about Salvador Dali’s sexual inclinations (he didn’t like sex and was famously a voyeur), surrealism (a movement as much about politics as dreams and the irrational juxtaposition of images), and the Me represented Carlos Lozano’s magical viewpoint of the maestro.

The book took eight months to write. It came out in the UK in 2000 with masses of reviews – mostly negative! The English, I learned (and I do not include other English-speaking nations) do not like Dali. They see eccentricity as a uniquely English trait and a Spanish eccentric is by definition a hoaxer, a conman.

A year later, the book was published in Spain by RBA Libros. Translator Claudio Molinari captured the ambience, the "taste" of my story, and Spanish reviewers were so positive, Sexo, Surrealismo, Daly y Yo  spent seventeen weeks in the best-seller lists.  

What I realized was that the initial failure was not due to the quality of the work, or a misjudgment of style. Books either have their time and their niche or they don’t. Writers must stick to their gut feeling. Write from the heart, not with an eye on the market.

Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me: A biography of Salvador Dali, by Clifford Thurlow

Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me sank without trace until a decade later when a new publisher, YellowBay, took on the rights. They printed a paperback and produced an audible version read by radio performer Pete Nottage in a way that captures in spoken English the feeling I had set out to create. Like a waning olive tree sprouting new roots, the book came back to life and started selling on Amazon on various platforms. There have even been some positive reviews.

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