Margaret Atwood - am I right not to go to Dubai? Amis and Jacobson have a laugh; and novels that win Oscars
Margaret Atwood, Nicholas Royle and John Dugdale in The Guardian, Saturday 21 February 2009
Dear readers, my head is spinning.
Then, a week before my planned departure, a nasty storm broke out. Geraldine Bedell claimed that her novel The Gulf Between Us had been "banned" and "censored" for containing - among other things - the whiff of a mention of a gay sheikh.
From reading the press, I got the impression that her book had been scheduled to launch at the festival, and that the launch had then been cancelled, for whiff-o'gay-sheikh reasons; and that, furthermore, it had been banned throughout the Gulf states; and that furthermore, Bedell herself had been prohibited from attending the festival, and also from travelling in Dubai. So said TheCelebrityCafe.com and other commentators.
This was a case for Anti-Censorship Woman! I nipped into the nearest phone booth, hopped into my cape and coiled my magic lasso, and swiftly cancelled my own appearance; because, as a vice-president of International PEN, I could not give my August Seal of Elderly Writer Approval to such a venue.
Well done, Anti-Censorship Woman! was the response. How stalwart!
But possibly not. Although I had read the press statement by the festival's director, Isobel Abulhoul, it had not done much to reassure me. Then I spoke with her in person. This is what I understand her to have said: Bedell's book was not poised to be launched at the festival; thus no launch had been cancelled. Penguin had asked for the launch, and Abulhoul had commented that this was a little-known writer who would not ordinarily be accorded that kind of slot. But she asked to see the manuscript. On the basis of that, she passed.
This happens every day at every festival in the world. Publishers always want to launch or feature their authors, and all festivals pick and choose. Usually, however - being experienced - they don't give the real reasons for their rejections. They don't say "It's a stinker" or "The local Christians will barbecue us". They say: "Not suitable for our purposes." They know that if they tell the truth, they'll be up to their noses in the merde.