GILLIAN GREENWOOD

Gillian Greenwood was the editor for Robin Clark, a small paperback imprint I had bought, specialising in literary reprints. She took over the editorship of the Literary Review from Anne Smith, presiding over the journal during the most turbulent part of its history. In 1984, however, she decided to join the team for Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show, fulfilling a wish she had always expressed to make a career in television. The opportunity came and she could not pass it by. I was thrilled at the prospect of her finding the niche she was seeking. I had grown very fond of her and admired her courage and tenacity under fire. During the inflated controversy over God Cried (see below), she stood resolute and fought her corner, refusing to be intimidated when the onslaught was at its most vituperative.

She wrote of her time with me, calling the piece:

Bumpy Rides and Gentle Days by Gillian Greenwood

I first met Naim Attallah in the early 1980s through the late Patrick Cosgrave, a right-wing journalist and former contributor to the magazine Books and Bookmen (where I had been assistant editor – my first proper job – until its sudden bankruptcy). Patrick presented me to Naim as a contender to run a small paperback imprint of Quartet Books, Robin Clark. I knew something about books, but little about publishing. None the less Naim decided to give me a go. People have implied that Naim’s employment policies were based on the social status of the applicants. That wasn’t so in my case, and I like to think it was my ability that he recognized as well as Patrick’s recommendation.

… Twenty-odd years later I have a recurring dream that I am recalled to the Literary Review. It is always a pleasant dream and is indicative of the magical time I and all those other young (mainly) women had in Naim’s employ. I spent three years editing the Literary Review and they were exciting and very happy times, even with the occasional bumpy ride, and I will always be deeply grateful to Naim for the extraordinary opportunity he gave me.

At first our offices were in the Goodge Street rabbit warren, later in a beautiful building in Beak Street. The Literary Review office had been Naim’s at one point and he had left behind a magnificent chair and desk which I sat on and behind, much to the amusement of my contributors, many of whom liked to visit regularly. In the case of the male contributors this was probably in part because, particularly in the Goodge Street days when we shared premises with Quartet, it must have been like visiting some exotic girls’ finishing school. Naim liked young women – that is self-evident– but my recollection is that most of them were clever and efficient. Many of them were also well connected, but their presence wasn’t because of some desire on Naim’s part to be connected to the British upper classes but a canny understanding of how publicity and the establishment can be worked when cash is short. And cash was short since the whole publishing enterprise was underwritten and, certainly in the case of the magazine, heavily subsidized by Naim. We were very fortunate in having Bridget Heathcoat-Amory as our business manager. She ran a tight, if unprofitable, financial ship, her contacts were spectacular, and her party skills (I have a memory of lethal White Lady cocktails) devastating. Between us (and Kathy O’Shaughnessy, the deputy editor) we managed to persuade all sorts of wonderful establishment novelists, writers and journalists to write for the Literary Review for almost nothing.

The bumpiest moment of my relationship with both the magazine and Naim was over a review by Roald Dahl of a book about the plight of the Palestinians, God Cried. It was a Quartet publication. Naim had been introduced to Roald Dahl and they had discovered a mutual sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Naim phoned me to suggest that Dahl should review the book. It was unusual for Naim to involve himself with commissioning, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Roald Dahl was a coup for the magazine. When the piece came in we were aware it was provocative and there was much debate about publication. We consulted our lawyer and mentor, Michael Rubinstein, who assured me that in his opinion the piece was anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic. I was reassured. We published. All hell broke loose. Dahl, it turned out, had been accused of anti-Semitism by Christopher Hitchens. Editorials were written. Lobbies were mounted. Naim found it challenging and exciting. I found it confusing and stressful, but together we faced it out.

…. But this moment of high political drama was not the norm. It was a gentle life of reading and commissioning and trips to the printers, interspersed with magnificent parties, hot tickets in a journalistic pool, presided over by Naim, who stood beaming over the social scene like some Anthony Powell creation. Life in the London of the 1980s would simply have been much duller without him. Above all else, it was fantastic fun, and how rare it is to be able to say that these days about a job. It was a privilege to be a part of it. I left after three years because, although I loved literature and the magazine, I wanted to make films. But I still dream.

Comments are closed.