The Author’s Tale, or An English Apology

GalleyCat at MediaBistro.com is a blog that covers the world of (primarily) book publishing. Having an interest in such matters, I am a regular GalleyCat reader. Today GalleyCat points us toward a lesson in apology etiquette.

The Man Booker Prize is one of those prestigious literary awards that honors the kind of book I never read. It purports to promote “the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year.” Opinions can obviously vary on that point. For instance, I have read exactly none of the past Booker Prize winners. Nor any of this year’s nominees.

These are Oprah book club books. Books that get made into tedious three hour indy films. I prefer popular literature, the classics and non-fiction. But among authors who write books that I will never read, winning the Booker Prize is a Big Deal. Even making the shortlist is probably a faint-inducing thrill.

So it was for A.N. Wilson, author of WINNIE AND WOLF. (“the story of the extraordinary relationship between Winifred Wagner and
Adolf Hitler that took place during the years 1925-40, as seen through
the eyes of the secretary at the Wagner house in Bayreuth.”
Zzzzzz … did I doze off?)

No, actually, I’m sure it is a fine book and much better written than Apology Index. Just look at this review: “This novel should carry a warning: its appeal will be greatest for
fans either of Wagner and European history, or of politics and
philosophy” —
Sunday Times.

That is one hot demographic. Obviously, authors of books like this aren’t in it for the money. Which makes the rewards of winning the Booker Prize all the more sweet. Mr. Wilson’s book made the so-called longlist of 13 titles. Actually, why don’t I let Wilson himself tell you what happened, as he wrote it up in the Telegraph:

The Man Booker shortlist has been announced and, as
always, my name wasn’t on it.

You and me both, brother.

My novel Winnie and Wolf had been on the
longlist, so the poor publishers were patiently waiting beside the
telephone on Thursday afternoon, hoping for the best.

Something
told me that they were waiting in vain, but of course you never know.

I like this guy already. Not putting on airs like other authors of books I never read. Modest chap. Proper head on his shoulders. Well grounded, he is.


At shortly before four o’clock they rang me in tremendous excitement.
It sounded as if one of the nice women in the office had either brought
along a puppy to join in the celebrations or was herself having
hysterics. “You’re through! You’re on the list!” I was told.

It
transpired that Colman Getty, the PR firm that manages the Man Booker
prize, had rung up my publisher, Hutchinson, to tell them the glad, and
surprising, news that I was on the list.

I told you this guy could write! It’s like we’re right there in the publisher’s office ourselves, waiting by the phone. Oh, the delicious anticipation! The utter carefree joy at receiving the happy news!

In our little street in north London, we rushed out to tell the
neighbours, some of whom broke out in spontaneous, and truly touching,
dances of joy. Others climbed lampposts to hang out the bunting, which
had not been used since the Jubilee Party. I sat down a little stunned
and began to ring up those who had been kind enough to ask me to tell them if I were lucky.

And then …

But in the interval of one of these calls the telephone rang once more.
“It was a mistake. Colman Getty have just rung to say that you aren’t
on the list after all.”

Ohhhh, the disappointment! The deflation of our rapture!

And then … the apology.

About an hour later, a motorbike came to the front door with a letter.

You’ve just got to love the British. Apology hand-delivered by motorbike.

“Dear
Andrew, I’ve just got back from the Man Booker press conference to hear
about the really unfortunate mistake Lois, my assistant, has made in
telling Random House that Winnie and Wolf has been shortlisted for the
prize. I am so, so sorry that this has happened… It was a genuine
mistake, and we are all deeply upset by it.” It was signed by someone
called Dotty.

Now here Mr. Wilson makes a telling point. I must agree with him when he writes:

How truly shaming of Dotty to blame Lois for the
“genuine” mistake. Dotty, described in the letter as “Chief Executive”,
should have apologised collectively rather than naming the unfortunate
Lois who, far from being Dotty’s “assistant” is actually the
unfortunate person who has full responsibility for administering the
dire Man Booker circus.

Quite so! I could not put it better myself. Seriously, I couldn’t and I
shan’t even try. Dotty, whomever she might be is indeed quite dotty.
Throwing poor Lois under the bus like that.

Imagine doing Lois’s job.
With chief executives shrieking at you down the mobile telephone, and
many an “event” to organise, you would never have time to read much.
Surely, if one were running the publicity for the Man Booker, one
author is much like another. A N Wilson. A C Grayling. A L Kennedy. A S
Byatt, Waddever.

So talented, yet so humble, our Andrew Wilson. No prima donna he, raging up and down. He could say he was humiliated and demand that the thoughtless incompetent twit responsible for this outrage be fired at once! But A. N. Wilson is not a rap star, model or professional athlete. He is an author — and an English author at that!

And, apparently, a romantic …

But then sanity returned and I realised that poor
Lois had simply made a mistake, as we all do from time to time. As the
day wore on, I found myself thinking about her, and composing
Betjemanic poems about her in my head. Lois, my dream girl, tapped into
her BlackBerry, Lois the tomboy with hazel-green eyes, “Is that A N. Or
A L, Or Another? Lois is here with a lovely surprise.”

It
was lousy of Dotty to blame Lois. The Man Booker prize isn’t
everything. But who knows whether the story won’t have a romantic
ending. Perhaps Lois and I will laugh about it all one evening as we
sip our Sea Breezes in some secluded little Soho bar and muse upon the
strange, but in a way rather hilarious, circumstances that brought us
together?

I think I’m going to cry. And I think that if Mr. Wilson is this much of a gentleman and can tell this good of a story in a newspaper editorial (whilst also meting out a well-deserved, yet understated evisceration to “Dotty”), I really should read his book. After all, it’s not on the Booker Prize shortlist, so my perfect record of having read none of the Booker winners will remain intact.

Winnie and Wolf, by A.N. Wilson. Check it out!