'Eventually I completed Licence Renewed and then the somewhat cumbersome editing began. Just as I had to satisfy all three with a synopsis so the editing had to be done three ways. Glidrose had their say, followed by the London publishers and then New York. It was a mightily strange way of going about editing a book but Peter Janson-Smith - Glidrose's man in charge of the process - made it as easy as could possibly be allowed. By the time we got to the final book, some fourteen years later, I owed him a great debt of gratitude because he did the hard work of haggling with editors. For instance, my editor at Hodder was Richard Cohen and Richard really approached editing just as he approached his chosen sport - fencing with sabre. After we had done all the fine print editing I recall that Richard suddenly decided he really wanted a completely different book. Richard Cohen was a bit of a control freak at the time and I had been involved in his strange techniques before. He was, in fact, a wonderful editor if you could keep him within the book as it was written, but he caused many problems if you allowed him to run amuck and go down roads you had already rejected. On this occasion, with the first Bond, he didn't get what would have been a total rewrite, thanks to Peter Janson-Smith.Peter's editing technique was not always interpreted correctly. I was amazed to read recently, in Kingsley Amis's letters, that Kingsley was convinced I was absolutely no good at producing a thriller of drama and tension. In fact he had commented to Philip Larkin that Peter Janson-Smith had thrown the manuscript of Licence Renewed back at me because it was so bad. This, of course, never happened except in the sense that I would take every manuscript back to do the necessary work to make a better book and comply with those changes I had accepted from the editor.'
Several points come into my mind about this passage.
Firstly, I find it an odd criticism of Amis' that Gardner had to rework - I think that was and is pretty standard. Novels go through several edits, usually, sometimes more radically than other times. The writer often has to work a lot to get it right. And if one were being brutal, one could point out that Amis' one attempt at a Bond novel could have benefited with a lot more editing, and that much of it is seriously lacking in drama and tension. But I won't do that.
Amis did totally redraft some of his books, though, and abandoned a couple - there's no shame in that.
That said, it goes without saying that Richard Cohen would not see things the same way as Gardner did! I suspect brilliant editors are often control freaks, for obvious reasons: their job is to nitpick. And just because the author has rejected a path does not mean it is not still worth pursuing, or that the editor should keep 'within the book as it was written'. I have read several novels by well-known thriller-writers published by big houses that had not been edited properly, and did need complete rewriting. Gardner's Golgotha, in my view, is an interesting idea that could have been a huge best-seller, but it's a complete mess of a book. To put another complexion on Cohen's work: in an article on Jeffrey Archer in The Independent in 2001, Will Self observed:
'In the early 1980s my mother was a fiction reader for Century Hutchinson, at that time Archer's publisher. According to her, it was widely understood throughout the publishing house that the manuscripts Archer submitted were so illiterate that his then editor, Richard Cohen, should by all rights have had their eventual, finished form attributed to him.'
If true, one hates to think what they must have read like before! But my point is: an editor can make or break a book. They're not just wonderful when they say things you like: they can be wonderful for pointing out that large chunks of your book make no sense, or that you used that plot twist in nine of your previous books. For instance.
I don't think I'm being too provocative to say that some of Gardner's novels could have done with very radical editing. I've read Cohen's own book, By The Sword, which is a history of fencing published in 2002: it's brilliant. He's a much better prose stylist than Gardner ever was, by that evidence, although naturally it's a very different beast from a novel, and a thriller, and a Bond novel at that. (Sebastian Faulks gave it a very favourable review, incidentally.) I've also had an email correspondence with Cohen about an article I wrote, and he gave very sharp but very valuable feedback.
Later in Gardner's article, he stated:'The only thing that I remain in any way bitter about is the canard - invented by Glidrose who had supported me since the first book - that the public were not ready for the changes I had made. This is a gross distortion of the facts and was said many times as I know from the tapes of BBC radio shows plugging the first Benson book.'
It seems to me that Gardner was missing the point here. Glidrose may well have backed all the changes he wanted to make at the time - but when they were plugging Benson years later, they said the public hadn't been ready for it. Okay, that might well have injured his ego, taking him down to promote the new chap, but I fail to see how it was a canard, really. The first few Gardner novels sold well, and then they didn't. One plausible reason is that the public were indeed not ready for the changes he made. And that is rather more polite than saying that they were repetitive, poorly plotted, badly written and not terribly exciting, for example. But I doubt anyone would call it a canard if Barbara Broccoli were to say the public weren't ready for the changes they made with Timothy Dalton as Bond (in fact, I seem to remember that several people at EON have said just that). But there are no 'facts' distorted here: I don't think Glidrose invented anything. They hypothesized as to why the books weren't a massive success - which they weren't. (That said, I'd have to check the tapes Gardner referred to). But what we have seen with Charles Higson's work already seems to show that Gardner's idea of success was somewhat wide of the mark; Sebastian Faulks may be about to put that in even greater relief.