- The relationship between writers and their paymasters has always been uneasy, as the veteran author's move demonstrates
- The Guardian, Thursday 29 October 2009
Divorces everywhere. First Peter and Jordan, now John Le Carré and Hodder.
Why should the fact that a novelist changes the merchandiser of his books be of more headline interest than, say, Martin Amis changing his dentist? Who cares? When the book trade was a cottage industry we did; it's questionable if we do any more. You can remember the title but can you recall, from the top of your head, who published Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall? (Answer below.)
Why do authors stay loyal to publishers? Gratitude is one reason. After 20-odd rejections it was Faber that finally plucked William Golding's grubby Lord of the Flies from the slush pile. Grateful comradeship with his editor, Charles Monteith, kept Golding at Faber for the whole of his long career.
Editors often mean more to an author than publishers. David Lodge seems to have remained attached to Secker because he got on so well with John Blackwell (a brilliant worker on manuscripts, and one of the heroic drinkers of his day). Look at the dedication to AS Byatt's latest novel – it is to her editor, Jenny Uglow. A dedication to "Chatto and Windus"? Absurd.
Nonetheless, for some authors, loyalty brings with it the nagging sense of being "owned". It breeds resentment. Thackeray suggested publishers' carpets should always be red, because – like the butchers in Smithfield market – they traded in authors' blood and brains.
Most authors, at the start of their careers, get snubbed or – in a few cases, robbed – by publishers. They can develop a deep-seated hatred of the publishing breed – "brigands" all of them, as Dickens (the least publisher-loyal of writers) called them.
Resentment is the most radioactive of emotions. Gratitude, like Golding's, usually has a much shorter half life. And then, of course, there are agents, those serpents in the literary garden (Le Carré has dumped that partner as well). It was the so-called "jackal", Andrew Wylie, who enticed Amis away from his long-standing literary agent, Pat Kavanagh. It resulted in a broken friendship with Kavanagh's husband, Julian Barnes, and a letter which, as Amis recalls, had a lot of fs in it. As in f-words.
So why has Le Carré divorced Hodder? More money? Prettier dustjackets? Artistic restlessness? Most likely, it's something else. Who, to answer the question above, is Mantel's publisher? Fourth Estate. Well, no, it isn't. Fourth Estate is these days part of the HarperCollins Anglo- American megacombine. Hodder? A division of the Anglo-French giant Hachette. Where publishers are concerned, there's no identifiable editorial friend to be loyal to any more. So why be loyal?