Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Should Publishers Take Risks?
One of the famous stories about the novelist, Malcolm Lowry, whose centenary it is this year is about the loss of the manuscript of his first novel, Ultramarine, when it was stolen from the open Bentley of Chatto editor, Ian Parsons, while he nipped into the office for a minute on his way to Scotland. The story ended happily when a carbon Lowry had thrown away, but which a friend had fished out of the bin, enabled him to rewrite (which he generally did endlessly anyway). But reading Parsons' account in Gordon Bowker's fascinating collection of Lowry reminiscences, Malcolm Lowry Remembered (1985) I was struck by Chatto's endorsement of their reader's report which said that it showed more potential than achievement and for that reason they should do him. "I don't think we shall make a penny, and I think he'll get very mixed reviews...He will never, I think, do four-square circulating-library books, but his talent is one to be encouraged." Would such a memo circulate in Chatto/Random House today?