Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ah Morrissey...

With Morrissey's autobiography high in the bestseller lists, I can't help looking back wistfully to 1987 when I was working as an editor at Bloomsbury. Keen to make my mark, I would fire off letters to all sorts of people, expressing my (genuine) interest in commissioning them to write a book. One such person was Morrissey. I have a copy of the letter I wrote to him -- it's too embarrassing in its plangent sincerity to reproduce here. I described the book I had in mind for him to write: 'Nothing so linear as an autobiography', something which would draw on his 'influences and obsessions'.
     Almost by return of post I received an A4 envelope emblazoned with animal-welfare stickers:

Inside was a large photocopy of the arm-wrestling scene from The Family Way, a 1966 British film starring Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett (with an original score by Paul McCartney):
On the back was a wonderful note from Morrissey, written in his beautiful handwriting and with a drawing at the end.
The book he mentions was a signed copy of Terence Stamp's memoir, which we had just published.
Even better, he professed himself keen on the idea I'd proposed and wanted to meet up. Here's where it all goes a bit blurry, 26 years on. I know I went to meet him somewhere -- I think it was in a very smart Chelsea hotel, but I didn't actually get to meet him. Did he cancel at the last minute or just stand me up? -- I don't recall. Nothing ever came of the book, anyway, and the world has had to wait until 2013 for Morrissey to bring forth 480 pages of his life.
     This whole business of trying to coax famous people into writing books turned out to be a vale of tears, culminating in the utter humiliation of attending a recording of French and Saunders' show (with their agent) and seeing them do a sketch based on the meeting I'd had with them a couple of days earlier, when I'd tried to persuade them that doing a Christmas stocking filler book wouldn't be too onerous (let's not even mention the huge amount of money that was on offer). My fairly straight explanation that a 64-page book with lots of pictures in it wouldn't take too long to write was turned into a toe-curlingly twee speech about how the book would fit into a matchbox and take three seconds to put together (I'm paraphrasing). It was a very weird sketch, possibly born out of a need to fill thirty minutes of the show with material, some of which was put together at the last minute. Perhaps, if you're a fan, you'll remember it. I'll never forget it! Needless to say, I didn't get to publish their book either.
     I treasure my letter from Morrissey and have been showing it to my daughter's friends only this week, as they are now second-generation Morrissey fans. They were nice enough to make excited noises.