RCW Sept 27 1996
I should have answered your letter long before now, but I had that well-known writer’s disease, displacement activity or cowardice or procrastination. The name of the disease varies according to the doctor you go to. Dr Caroline Kington, who normally attends me, calls it ”Why don’t you just ring Gill up for God’s sake and talk to her?” syndrome but I don’t think it will ever catch on under that name. She tends to favour the ‘displacement syndrome’ prognosis – ie if she finds me making bread, she says :”So what should you be doing?” Or if I am playing the piano, she stands at the door and says, “I think it is high time you finished off that radio script”. Logically, this means that if she now comes in and finds me writing this, she’ll say: “Shouldn’t you be baking bread or practising the piano?” But it never works that way round. It’s a mystery.
Well, to get to Prejudice at once, my idea is to cash in on the late Jane Austen craze at once and call it “The World Atlas of Prejudice.” You just wait and see how their greedy little eyes will gleam at Penguin.
Penguin: It’s a great idea, Gill. But how do we know this guy Kington is going to deliver?
Gill: You don’t. You have to take him on trust.
Penguin: We’ve already tried that. As a result he has been running around with £10,000 of ours for ten years.
Penguin: You should know, baby. You’ve been handling Kington longer than anyone has been working at Penguin. Incidentally, why did he never do the book?
Gill: Why does smoke go upwards? Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius? Why haven’t they invented self-adhesive postage stamps? Why is the place you start an airline flight called a terminal? Where is…
Penguin: Yeah. OK. I get the picture.
Gill: I have a corpulent dossier of faxes and letters from Mr Kington explaining why he can and cannot do this and other undertakings. They make merry reading. In fact, I think they would make quite a nice slim volume…”
Penguin: Am I to understand that you are suggesting we publish a book of Mr Kington’s excuses?
Gill: Good heavens, there’s more to it than excuses! There’s gossip and libel and recipes and songs and old Wiltshire sayings…!
Penguin: Nuts to you, sister.
Gill: Incidentally may I inquire why you are talking like a low budget Damon Runyon character?
Penguin: Certainly. I am a new American employee here at Penguin. Or am I the new owner? Something like that, anyway.
Etc etc etc.
I am not sure if you have actually mentioned motorway verse to them. That would be my preferred option. Good heavens, did I really write “That would be my preferred option”? That’s the kind of pseudo-business English I can’t stand. What I meant was, that it what I would like to do. I would really enjoy getting down to that.
( I had a call from a businessman today who found my machine on and left a message starting ”I am sorry if I called at an inappropriate moment”. In the old days we would have said “Sorry you weren’t in…)
If you think they would be interested, I would certainly produce, lickety split, some more verse and the desired introduction. The other idea swanning round in my mind (have I mentioned this to you?) is a book collection of interviews along the line of stuff I did for Radio 4 under the titles “The Miles Kington Interview”. This was a series of scripted interviews with famous dead people from Nostradamus to the Empress Josephine, from Oscar Wilde to the Mona Lisa. On the original radio recordings the subject were played by some remarkably distinguished people – Miranda Richardson as Mona Lisa, Robert Stephens as Nostradamus, Simon Callow as Oscar Wilde, Bill Paterson as John Brown, Jane Lapotaire as Empress Josephine etc – but I think the scripts themselves would stand up very well on the page.
You said they wanted an answer soonest, and I suppose the answer is that if they are not interested in either idea, (and both ideas are half-written already, don’t forget) then I shall have to get down to repaying the money in instalments as you suggest which will be painful but possible, and would mean my having to give up buying second-hand 78s till the next century. Failing which, we could have lunch together.