Counting the Cost of Martin's Money ; He's Rich Already; He's Signed Himself an Agent; and He Writes Good Boo Ks. No Wonder, Says Nicholas Lezard, That Everybody Hates Him Publishing Is All about Money Now. Our Image of Tweedy, Decent Publishers Is as Useful as an Image of, Say, a Britain Still in Charge of an Empire
Lezard, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)
This guy Martin Amis, you have to hand it to him: he has a gift for publicity. It was a gift he held fairly early on. First, he had the foresight to be born to Kingsley, then a seething young lecturer in Swansea, Wales. Then came a part in the mo vies (as the kid in A High Wind in Jamaica), followed by literary editorship of the New Statesman, the envy-stoking success of The Rachel Papers at the age of 12 or something, the regular fuss whenever his latest novel either fails to appear, or appears, on theBooker shortlist, his divorce, and now this . . .
It is all-compelling stuff for those who like to imagine an uncannily neat fit between the stuff of writers' lives and their fictions. Just as whenever Jeffrey Archer lands in the soup, pundits announce that we are witnessing the enactment of an as yet unpublished Archer novel, so journalists have been keen to point out the Amisian elements of Amis's demand that the advance for his next novel, The Information, be half a million Big Ones. The poker- playing bluff of the request, the large stakes, even themischievous suggestion that what might lie underneath it all may be a case of mistaken identity (it was alleged in Private Eye, some months ago, that the executive chairman of HarperCollins, Eddie Bell, announced that it had to have Amis on its list, atwhatever price; it then signed up Martin's dad for pounds 300,000, which really does seem a bit steep. But if you fix Kingsley's price thereabouts, half a million for Martin doesn't seem so unreasonable).
Moreover, The Information is all about literary jealousy - about a man driven mad by the fact that a friend of his earns Amisian amounts of cash from his novels. Amis himself is accused of being in a jealous pet about the riches of his peers Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. There is even - and this is the hundreds and thousands on the cake - all that media gossip about his teeth, how the new lady in his life, Isobel Fonseca, reportedly "made" him cough up 20 grand for a tooth job, or gum rethink, or whatever he'd call it, and it is this concern for his mouth that has driven his asking price so high. (Amis's characters often worry a lot about their teeth.) In short, everyone has been able to flick through their copies of Money (by Martin Amis, 1984), and extract an appropriate quote.
And it has drawn other authors, most notably A S Byatt saddled up on a very tall horse and saying, loftily, that she always earns out her advances and doesn't see how young Amis will be able to do the same; only manners, you feel, and a fondness for the high tone, stopped her short of calling him an arrogant little squirt.
The most damaging charge against him is that he is stealing crusts from struggling young writers. Martin Amis's 500 grand, the argument goes, deprives my favourite imaginary novelist, poor Julian Sensitive (whose first novel, My Trousers Rolled, sold about five copies) of even the pitiful amount he will earn for his desperately uninteresting second novel. And if Amis isn't to blame, then it is all the fault of his new agent, Andrew Wylie, often called "the shark" and "the jackal". Boo! Foul! It is interesting to talk to agents about this. One, Cat Ledger, was very good at helping me place this all in context. "Anything that makes books sexy has to be good for the business," she says. "My heart leapt," she says, when news of l'affaire Amis hit the stands.
"There's this fallacy that publishing is a genteel business, but it's not, and it hasn't been for a while. Martin Amis's" - and here she speaks with the cool, detached assessment of a banker - "is not a particularly unreasonable request." She does qualify this by saying that it is possible, perhaps, that Amis is not fully in touch with the real world - but this is a writer's prerogative - "and it is an agent's role to smooth their way through it". As for all this talk about feral agents savaging the chances of struggling writers, it is rubbish: agents, she points out, are only as powerful as the clients they represent. …