By DAVID ELIADES
This is a cautionary tale about a funny story. It should be a warning to all authors that this could happen to them. In many ways I hope it does!
In the late 1960s, Robert Forrest-Webb, an old friend, and I co-wrote a humorous novel about the Cold War.
It had the unassuming title of ‘And To My Nephew Albert I Leave The Island What I Won Off Fatty Hagan In A Poker Game’ and we presented it to the reputable firm of publishers Hodder and Stoughton for publication.
I am pleased to say that they jumped at the chance. But there was a condition. “We can’t use a nineteen-word title AND get an author with five names on the same cover,’ the publisher warned. I looked daggers at my co-author with his double-barrelled name. The publisher smiled at us. “But I’ve got a solution: We’ll rename you both as David Forrest."
The book was subsequently published and was surprising well received. It became the Book of the Month Club choice, Le Monde, then regarded as the intellectual newspaper of Europe, serialised it for a month, and two different divisions of Walt Disney (Film and Television) took options on it for a period lasting some eight years. The film division wanted it as a vehicle for Tom Hanks, then an up-and-coming star. But they moved the story location from a Russian-American-occupied island in the Scillies to New York, thereby weakening the story’s Cold War theme. It never got made. However, the book did get to the top of the US best-seller lists – just under ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ and ‘The Godfather’.
Last August, while browsing the internet, I clicked on our ‘Albert’ book, and was delighted to see some excellent reviews of it. I was a little puzzled, so I checked out the dates the reviews had been written. The answer was April, May, June and July of 2013.
I muttered to myself “That can’t be right. The book was last published in 1977 – that’s 36 years previously!’ So I dug deeper.
Finally I found the answer: the book had been pirated as an eBook for the past 18 months by an Italian publisher and the reviews I had just read were based on the Internet version they had published. Since this copy of the book had been marketed by both the Italian publisher and Amazon together I called and wrote to Amazon that their version was being illegally published – and demanded it should be taken off the market, which they duly did, but not before I was able to buy a copy of my own book as a souvenir!
I briefed a lawyer in Rome who was already acting for David Forrest on an associated issue and also contacted the Italian publisher. The publisher emailed me copies of the original correspondence he had sent to various other publishers in attempts to acquire the rights. He also sent me one or two of the replies, one of which said I had not been in contact with the company for over 30 years. Which was true!
All things turned out well in the end, when I wrote to my original publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, and sent them the reviews published on the Internet by discussion groups debating the eBook version of our ‘Albert’ book.
The result was that Hodder and Stoughton immediately bought up the world rights of three of the four books we produced. Our Cold War book hit the internet on April 10th, just as the Cold War situation was building up again in the real world.
The second novel I wrote with Robert, “The Great Dinosaur Robbery”, was bought by Walt Disney Pictures, and turned into the film “One Of Our Dinosaurs is Missing”, starring Peter Ustinov.
Our third novel, 'After Me, the Deluge', won first prize as the most humorous book of the year at the 1973 International Humorous Literature Festival held in Bordighera, Italy. The following year, it was turned into a lavish stage musical in Rome and is still running there 39 years later, and has been seen by 15 million people. It’s title there is ‘Aggiungi un Posto a Tavola’, which means ‘Add another chair to the Table’.
The show has also played in Madrid (12 years), and in every Latin American country from Argentina (13 years in Buenos Aires) to Mexico City (eight years) under the title ‘El Diluvio Que Viene (The Deluge that is coming). It has also been staged in London, Vienna and in Hungary and Poland. The book has a Catholic theme.
All three David Forrest novels are being republished as eBook editions in 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton.