When a Best-seller Becomes a Disaster - Kathleen Jones on becoming a publishing pariah.
I have known what it was like to be on the front pages of newspapers, or the subject of a double-page spread inside the Independent. Television interviews, radio shows – my 15 minutes of fame. It was fantastic being chauffeur driven across London, with a huge bouquet of lilies and roses on my lap, to a champagne reception. The reviews were glowing and I’ll never forget the experience of walking into WH Smith and seeing my book, in hardback, at number 8 in the best-seller lists. The six figure sums of money being bandied about were head-turning. ‘You’ll never have to worry about money again in your life,’ my agent said. I should have known!
|The doomed hardback|
And then I met John Smith, the agent who ‘discovered’ Catherine and who directed her career for most of her life. He had, at one point, been commissioned to write Catherine’s biography himself, but it had never been published and I was intrigued. He told me that Catherine had given him a series of taped interviews that were very frank, but when he put the completed manuscript in front of her she had reacted with horror and agreement was reached that it would never be published. He had kept the tapes and - a few weeks later - returning from a research trip, I found them in a big jiffy bag, just inside the outer door where the postman had left them.
|Catherine Cookson's birth certificate, which names her father|
|Catherine Cookson's father with his first wife?|
|Catherine Cookson pic-nicking on Alston Moor. Copyright Neil Ferber|
|The suppressed paperback|
The biography has languished in cardboard boxes, but I have recently had the courage to return to it and experienced a flush of anger. Why should I let these people get away with it? I was telling the truth, straight from the horse’s mouth (apologies Catherine!), so why should it be suppressed? Now, I have begun to re-write the biography, deleting and ‘writing round’ material that was previously quoted. I have used more of the tapes to illustrate points, because I have an undisputed legal right to the words they contain. We have a saying in the north, which Catherine Cookson knew perfectly well and which became one of her mantras: ‘Don’t let the b****s keep you down’! No way. Watch this space!
If you'd like to hear more about my bitter experience, I've been talking about it on the Royal Literary Fund website.
Kathleen Jones has a website at www.kathleenjones.co.uk
She blogs regularly on 'A Writer's Life'
and can be found wasting time on Facebook
She tweets incognito on Twitter as @kathyferber
Her most recent book is a travel journal written on a journey to the islands on Haida Gwaii in British Columbia - Travelling to the Edge of the World
Amazon Kindle edition £3.99
Book Depository paperback (colour illustrations) £9.84