I have always assumed that it would not be easy for our national newspapers to be intimidated by an author whose behaviour can be seen to be at best erratic, who defies logic in what he says and whose rhetoric is transparently far worse than his bite. In this I am referring to Denis Lehane, who had a horrific and previously unknown story to tell and whose book, Unperson, has been published by Quartet with a foreword by the distinguished war correspondent Philip Knightley.
In early December 2008 I received a letter from Mr. Lehane along with a huge manuscript. Its text was rambling and repetitive and the book was not publishable in that original form, but its story was horrendous and deserved publication. This could only come about, however, with rigorous editing of elements that needed to be carefully balanced and the modification of intemperate language likely to cause offence, which could only detract from the seriousness of the narration as whole. Viscount Monckton, whose name was cited on Lehane’s letter for testimonial purposes, agreed to edit the book, on condition that he secured from Lehane an agreement in writing giving him full authority to edit the book in conjunction with myself as publisher.
Mr. Lehane was granted the usual rights to approve the edited text for publication in line with accepted practices, but with any ultimate decisions vested in both Monckton and myself. To all of this Lehane readily agreed. At one point he raised the issue of using pseudonyms for those he referred to, but it was a proposal I argued against, for the book is a non-fiction account of what happened and I felt there should be no cover for the people responsible for inflicting such an ordeal on him. Lehane relented on this point too.
Viscount Monckton was the ideal editor. He knew the author well and had in fact been instrumental in freeing him from his long and painful incarceration. The editing went very smoothly and Monckton delivered a completed manuscript by the beginning of January. Throughout the editing period he had coordinated all his decisions with the author. The libel lawyer then suggested various amendments and the author agreed to them as well. The book was ready to go to press.
At this point, for no apparent reason, Lehane turned on Monckton, his former benefactor, who had given him refuge in his own home for two months after he was freed, claiming that the manuscript was no longer the one he had written. Henceforth, he threatened, both Monckton and myself were to communicate with him only through his lawyers.
A saga ensued, during which I held firmly to my resolve that, in my capacity as publisher, Quartet would stick to the terms of the contract and subsequent agreements, and publish the book as edited. Lehane, enraged, promptly engaged in a battle of letters, writing to everyone he could think of who might be in a position of influence, and putting every newspaper in the land on notice that he would take whatever legal action he deemed necessary if they so much as mentioned the book or gave it any prominence in their pages.
The astonishing thing is that the ploy he conjured has so far worked. No single newspaper has as yet reviewed this important book, with the exception of The Times Literary Supplement. This brings me back to my original query. How has the press in Britain become so craven and fearful as to be cowed by an author who started off begging his publisher to publish his story, insisting that he wanted no financial gain for himself, but only to expose those in the security services who had tortured him in both the UK and the USA for failing to be recruited as a spy?
We used to have a press that was noted for its investigative tradition. Now, seemingly, it has become too scared to tackle a subject where human liberty is sacrificed to condone those elements in government willing to abuse the power they hold from an invisible position in an unaccountable cause.
Where Unperson is concerned, I challenge the author either to carry out his threats or else belt up. Blowing off a lot of hot air is not a worthy occupation for a journalist who has distinguished himself in that profession in the past. He should be grateful that he managed to find a publisher who had the courage to expose the story, even at the risk of alienating the establishment and those involved in perpetrating the inhumane actions he records as having been carried out against him.
As for the press, if they obstinately maintain their silence despite having a good and true story at their fingertips, then it is up to the public to take issue with this silence and seek out the book for themselves, either in bookshops or through the Quartet website.