By John Fullerton
Many years ago I sat down and wrote a black comedy.
It was set in Cuba, a country I confess I don’t know at all – though I wish I did.
The novel featured a pimp as anti-hero. He catches the clap himself and ends up in prison, but finds redemption of a kind by writing what becomes a hugely successful weekly newspaper column on astrology. His newfound income allows him to buy food and other essentials for his fellow inmates. In short, it’s a light-hearted riff on communism and capitalism.
Still, my agent at the time thought it sufficiently amusing to offer it to publishers, but he advised me against putting my own name on it, saying no-one would believe I’d written it. So I picked a pseudonym: J. W. Diaz.
I assumed – wrongly, of course – that everyone would know there isn’t a W in Spanish and it would signal that the name was indeed a nom de plume. (J.W. also happen to be the first two initials of the name of my late maternal grandfather, who’d been a banker and not in the least Cuban.)
My agent sold the slim volume to a small but well regarded and comme il faut publisher in London. The publisher declared J.W Diaz to be a new voice in Caribbean literature.
Of course publishers do say all manner of things, mostly nonsense, on their book covers to solicit the reader’s interest. I was flattered – but also horrified.
I asked the agent why he hadn’t told the publisher who the author was in reality, and again I asked him to do so as a matter of some urgency once the contract was signed.
Still, he didn’t take my advice. Which surprised me, as he was a great deal more experienced than I in the business of books.
The publishers poked fun at the agent, suggesting at a Christmas party that he must be the real author of the novel, which was entitled ‘Clap’. They hadn’t been able to track down this mysterious new voice. He denied it, but I suspect he enjoyed the speculation, and he still didn’t reveal the name of this particular Caribbean literary genius.
The publishers were furious, though it was probably hurt pride and loss of face more than anything else. They even wrote me a threatening letter. I recall writing back saying that I was innocent of any deliberate deception.
I ‘fired’ both publisher and agent. I didn’t write any more fiction for many years. Somehow, the affair put me off the whole business, but I shouldn’t have let it get to me. I had fun writing it, after all, and that’s what matters.