Monday, March 10, 2014

The Curious Case of the Ejaculating Airman

I have a publishing-related question that I hope somebody may be able to answer.

In a nutshell, I'm interested in the possibility of republishing a small number of titles that are no longer in print but are still, I believe, in copyright. In the case of one, the author died in the 1950s and the publisher no longer exists, so how would I go about getting permission to print a new edition?

During the last few years, I've come across a small number of titles that are extremely popular and sell within hours of being listed, even when their condition is poor. Judging by the prices, the demand clearly exceeds the supply, so I wonder if a reissue would be justified.

If anyone reading this has a clue, I'd be grateful for any information. I know that it's easy enough to print e-book versions and paperbacks of out of copyright titles, but I'm baffled by the logistics of rights management.

I've noticed that publishers are wisely digitising their backlists, bringing many out of print titles back into circulation, although there are still big gaps (for example, why isn't J M Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K available in Kindle format?).

I wonder if this Percy F Westerman Boy's Own adventure will ever be republished?

The War of the Wireless Waves is a tale of plucky chaps doing battle with swarthy 'super-bandits', who are after Britain's Z and ZZ rays. What's so special about these rays, you may ask? Apparently, they can knock-out an aeroplane's engine in mid-flight, sending it plummeting to the ground.

I haven't actually read the book, but a cursory glance reveals a fast-paced story that makes Biggles look like an old hippie.

Percy Westerman clearly knows how to tell a story, but he does have a slightly disturbing obsession with having his characters ejaculate at regular intervals:

These are just a few examples of the many ejaculations that occur in this book. I realise that ejaculate used to be such a lovely word, but even if its usage is a little more specific these days, I still wonder why Westerman eschewed old favourites like exclaimed. Nobody ejaculates in Trollope, so I'm not convinced that Westerman is simply using the argot of late-Victorian England.

A Percy F Westerman revival probably isn't on the cards, but he's still worth reading - quickly - to give an insight into the Britain of 90 years ago, when Z rays and ejaculations threatened the very fabric of Empire.


Anonymous said...

Tartarus Press has had the same problem with some of their authors so they may be able to advise you.

Andymac said...

I'm fairly sure that Biggles too, or perhaps his chum Algie, ejaculated in "Biggles of the Camel Squadron" and/or "Biggles, Pioneer Air Fighter", so perhaps it was something those early aviators were prone to. Perhaps too firm a grip on the joystick affecting control?

247 Fulton said...

Sadly, I don't know the answer to your reprint query. Perhaps even more sadly, I know that Holmes and Watson were both enthusiastic ejaculators. I found the frequent use of the word very funny when I was thirteen. Of course someone has gone and counted all the ejaculations in the stories.

CulturalSnow said...

These chaps certainly had a lot of spunk.


Steerforth said...

Thank you anonymous. I've looked at their website.

Andymac - Yes, those early joysticks didn't always work properly and sometimes failed to move the flaps. It's a well-documented problem.

247 Fulton - I thought I'd grow out of my schoolboy humour, but it hasn't happened. I'll never be able to read 'Swallows and Amazons' to my son because one of the characters is called Titty.

Tim - They certainly sowed the seeds of aviation.

Peter said...

As this post seems to be degenerating into something of a Carry On Percy, can I present to you a selection of actual titles by Mr Westerman … A Lively Bit of the Front, Working Their Passage, Standish Gets His Man, Standish Looses His Man, Standish Pulls It Off, Standish Holds On and The Log of a Snob.

All perfectly innocent, of course - I don’t know what you’re thinking.

Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

To answer your question, usually it's a case of tracking down relatives and/or descendents of the deceased author – they tend to end up holding literary rights. I'd do a search of the author or obituaries of the author online in the first instance; depending on how well known said author is/was, that may get you the names of their nearest and dearest.

There is such a thing as 'orphan copyright', where a work is considered out of copyright when the author is dead and has no relatives or descendants and the publisher is out of business. But you'd really need to exhaust all possibilities before considering a work orphan.

Excellent blog, by the way. I'm another local book blogger; some of my interests intersect with yours.

Brian Busby said...

I've had some experience working on this matter in reviving a number of forgotten novels. While the reissues were done by Canadian publishers, the results (these, for example) are also sold in the UK and the US. The Sun King is correct in that the trick is to exhaust all possibilities. In the past, this has included hiring a genealogist to do an hour or two of digging (not as expensive as it sounds), query letters to people sharing the same surname (if relatively uncommon) and other tasks. There is always the possibility that someone will turn up (which hasn't happened to me or any publisher with whom I've been involved). Of course, the onus is on them to prove ownership of the work in question.

Frankly, one expected due diligence will lead to dead ends. That said, last year I managed to track down the daughter of an author. She's so happy to see her father's book reissued that she wants nothing. Not that anyone is getting rich over these projects - but then that's not the point, is it.

Hope all this helps.

(The original beginning of this comment read: "I've had some experience working on this issue…" Oh, dear.)

Bollops said...

Marcus Gipps, an editor at Gollancz, might be able to give you some advice. He recently re-published the Uncle books by Rev JP Martin:

I don't have any contact details for him, but I'm sure you could find something online.

Steerforth said...

Peter - Marvellous! I can see why these books didn't survive the 1960s.

Nick - Thanks for this. I'll start doing some research and see what I can find. I've had a look at your blog and enjoyed the post on Somerset Maugham - I must read Ashenden.

Brian - That's very interesting and has allayed some of my fears. I'd hope that most people would react like the author's daughter you mentioned, particularly if they understand that it's a labour of love.

I may begin by releasing one as an e-book and see what happens.

Bollops - Thanks for the link. Ideally, I'd just pass the details in to a sympathetic publisher and see them reprinted professionally rather than appearing as one of those hideous print-on-demand books.

Dale said...

I am quite glad to meet an ejaculated, expostulated, or even sputtered, even when it makes me envisage a whiskery old colonel with poor impulse control.

Because when you encounter a writer like D H Lawrence, whose almost exclusive verb of speech is "said", it can begin take you over. You start to neglect the story and notice all the "saids" instead, watching out for the next one till eventually you feel that teaspoon hitting you repeatedly over the head (pace Dodie Smith).

MikeP said...

And his relief appeared on the bridge right after he ejaculated, imagine that...Biggleswade used to do a fair amount of gritting, as I recall.

Got nothing to add to the very sensible advice you've already had. It's a very modern problem. In my day (he ejaculated) reprinting anything of this sort would have been the wildest fantasy.

Actually, on second thoughts, you might try and track down Chris Petit and/or Iain Sinclair. They've both been involved in republishing the likes of Gerald Kersh.

MikeP said...

Who would have thought that predictive text would turn Biggles into Biggleswade?

Anne said...

Gosh, I read all the Percy F Westerman books we had at school. And Eric Leyland. ISTR Richmal Crompton's William ejaculated a lot. He was always doing a lot of things other than saying.

Steerforth said...

Dale - That contradicts an article I read a few weeks ago, where the author (I can't remember who it was) asserted that characters should only say and never exclaim, expostulate or proclaim, as that was a sign of bad writing. I'll have to look at a novel I really admire - perhaps Stoner - and see what the author does.

Mike - His full name was Bigglesworth, so I thought that was what you meant.

As far as reprinting goes, I suppose I was hoping that there might be some little-known, Dickensian repository of deceased authors, with records of their descendents kept in card-index files.

Anne - I didn't know that Percy had some female fans, but I suppose his books were rather more exciting than the average pony story.

Brian Busby said...

I can't resist sharing this passage from Life in the Clearing (1853), the early Canadian pioneer memoir by Susanna Moodie (she of England's writing Strickland sisters). Here Mrs Moodie comes across a gathering of evangelicals:

Most of these tents exhibited some extraordinary scene of fanaticism and religious enthusiasm; the noise and confusion were deafening. Men were preaching at the very top of their voice; women were shrieking and groaning, beating their breasts and tearing their hair, while others were uttering the most frantic outcries, which they called ejaculatory prayers.

Life in the Clearing is, of course, the sequel to Roughing It in the Bush, in which Mrs Moodie writes: "How many fine young men have I seen beggared and ruined in the bush!"

MikeP said...

Talking of card indexes, you could always try the Society of Authors - they handle a lot of estates.

Unknown said...

Lord Steerforth, you forget that Mrs Steerforthwas once, like me, a book information officer and that sort of question was our bread and butter

Dale said...

I think I read that same article, and at the time thought pooh to you, or pshaw as it used to be spelt.

I'm under no illusion that the ejaculators and expostulators are indulging in Faine Wraiting, but can't we all relish the expansion of imagination and vocabulary they provided, along with the period charm and comic effect?

"Death to blandness" is on my banner.

Steerforth said...

Brian - I remember Roughing It in the Bush very well - I found a copy a couple of years ago and scanned the cover for my collection.

Mike - Thanks. That would be a good starting point. I'll give it a try.

Miss Quinton - Are you volunteering to do some research for me? I'd ask Mrs Steerforth, but she'd give me one of her Margot Leadbetter looks.

Dale - In 'serious' fiction, less is probably more, but the more popular novels are certainly enlivened by their overwritten prose. Sir Jaspers should erupt whilst Professors should expound.

Unknown said...

Dear Steerforth,

Not sure if I am repeating someone else but have you tried The WATCH File -- a database of copyright holders:

Unknown said...

Steerforth, not sure if I am repeating anyone else's advice but have you tried The WATCH File -- a database of copyright holders. Not everyone is there but many are. A joint University of Reading/Harry Ransom Center venture.

Jono said...

Try the Society of Authors - they look after many estates and even if yours isn't one, i am sure they could help.