My top five writing records…

It’s over 30 years since I started writing my first book for publication. It’s been a pretty wild ride at times.  The whole lot has been through the traditional system – and today I thought I’d share the top five ‘record events’.

Writing got me some interesting places. This is me in Tom Clancy mode on a submarine hunt, Exercise Fincastle, 1994.
Writing got me some interesting places. This is me in Tom Clancy mode on a submarine hunt, Exercise Fincastle, 1994.

1. The most money someone wanted for a license fee on any project I’ve worked on.
Not for a book, but I had to include this because it’s so crazy. The copyright owners wanted to charge $15,110.39 for use of one cartoon from a 60-year old magazine. Ouch. I could have commissioned new artwork for less than ten percent of that. The idea of using it was promptly dropped.  I’m still not sure what the extra 39 cents was for.

2. The fastest rejection.
Nine minutes, from a university press. They also told me never to bother them again. Usually a publisher rejects work through inaction – they neither know, nor care about, the hopeful author. But this was so decisive and fast that I’d obviously tripped up over a prior decision about dealing with me. The weird part? I was a total stranger. I have a shrewd idea as to what was going on. But it worries me that people I don’t know, and have never had an argument with, nonetheless feel so strongly they feel able to act as judge, jury and executioner, behind my back, and in absence of my knowing they have an issue. It’s not how western morality is meant to work, though it’s consistent with the moral void I’ve discovered every time I try to deal professionally with New Zealand academics or their wannabe hangers on.

3. The longest running contract before publication.
In 2003 I signed a contract with Penguin to write a biography of Sir Donald McLean. Before I’d finished, a biography of the same guy appeared, the existence of which was previously unknown to me or to Penguin. We agreed to put mine on hold for a while until the dust settled. It’s being published in February 2015.

4. The most books I had published in one calendar year.
Five. Four new titles and one reprint with amendments. I didn’t write them in one hit, of course – publishers stack ‘em for specific release times, and books chase each others’ tails.

5. The most danger I’ve ever been in as a result of writing.
There was the time when I was doing my aviation journalism jag, and I found myself in a C-130 Hercules, punting along at about 200 feet on a low-alt exercise with the rear door open and a Toyota Hilux bouncing on its chains beside me. But that wasn’t actually dangerous.

No, the most danger I’ve been in was in Archives New Zealand reading room, when a military historian who I’d never met before saw me, crossed the room, and stood over me with balled fists and red face, demanding to know what I was doing. He was very, very angry. I thought I was going to be hit, and I think I would have been if I’d stood up. I’ve had people back me into a corner and spit at me, in libraries, but this one wins the prize. Why did it happen? See (2).

Could be worse, of course – at least I’m not John Lennon.

 Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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8 thoughts on “My top five writing records…

  1. Wow Mathew! Yes, there’s a lot of very angry academics, or so-called out there. Maybe they’re miffed because they didn’t come up with the idea first>

    1. The problem, I think, is that in NZ academic history, military history especially, seems to attract people who are so insecure they have to validate their self-worth by their status in their field. When somebody else achieves something, it becomes a personal attack on that self-worth that has to be avenged in kind, whether they know the intruding author or not. Sigh.

      Have to say that for me the most gob-smacking writing record was that royalty fee for a single 60-year old cartoon. Gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘gouging’.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    I smiled at the cartoon cost. Whilst not as expensive, I had a similar experience with a cartoon in ‘Geoff’s Last Journeyings’. It is the story of my husband’s last months. I had thought to use it to raise funds for the Pulmonary Fibrosing Foundation. Not to be. 🙂
    Your brush with academia must have been shocking.
    Cheers Matthew

    1. Some license fees, I’m sure, are set at ‘corporate’ levels! Even $1000 seems fairly common for some image libraries. The academic adventure was pretty much par for the course in New Zealand, courtesy in part of the very small scale of the field here – I believe it’s (luckily) a bit different on your side of the Tasman.

  3. Well, you certainly write about the things you know! And Good Luck with the February publication. Any luck in finding out what that guy was so angry about?

    1. It turned out he’d submitted a book to my publishers on the subject I was being published on. They’d rejected it. But they’d continued to publish me, so to his mind I had written ‘his’ book, and when he saw me from the other side of the room he came barrelling over to have a go. I found this out from my publisher afterwards – it was such a singular experience that I rang them to see if they knew the guy.

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