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On writing someone else’s book – Michael Davies on finishing a ‘lost’ Desmond Bagley novel

February 7, 2019

Discovered after more than 40 years, a vintage action-adventure novel by one of the world’s most successful thriller writers, involving murder, corruption and a daring hijack in the Caribbean.

How I got to ‘write’ someone else’s book

There’s a definition of the word curator on Wikipedia: “a content specialist… involved with the interpretation of heritage material”. That’s the closest I’ve been able to come to describing my role in the publication of the ‘lost’ Desmond Bagley novel Domino Island.

The manuscript was found among Bagley’s papers in an archive at a Boston university – that’s Boston Massachusetts, not Boston Lincolnshire. It had been stored there for more than 20 years, preserved for posterity thanks to Bagley’s widow Joan and a rather farsighted museum collector named Howard Gotlieb. Now HarperCollins’s talented estates publisher David Brawn had managed to persuade the trustees of the novelist’s estate to unveil it to the world.

But it was only a first draft, written on an old manual typewriter in the pre-computer days of 1972 and annotated in pencil by both the author and his publisher. Accompanying correspondence revealed Bagley’s further thoughts about how he might approach a second draft, including structural and character changes and even a fresh look at his original title, Because Salton Died. There were also anachronisms of style and taste that would need revising for a modern audience.

As a lifelong Bagley fan (I’d read all his books as a teenager), the chance to implement his plans was probably my dream job. While there was a natural apprehension about the responsibility of the work, I felt I knew his writing style well enough, and had enough guidance from his notes, to be able to carry his wishes through into a publishable draft.

I haven’t rewritten his novel; I haven’t taken liberties with his narrative or characters; but equally, it hasn’t been a straightforward copy-editing job. Instead, I’ve taken the kind of robust approach I’m absolutely certain he would have taken himself, excising superfluous bits, developing one or two flimsier strands, even making a couple of moderately significant changes to a denouement that Bagley readily admitted needed work.

The discovered manuscript was a valuable piece of “heritage material”. As a content specialist, I think I have “interpreted” it, perhaps not exactly how the master would have done it himself, but at least in a way that would have merited his nod of approval.

And that’s why we settled on ‘curated by…’ as the credit in the forthcoming hardback edition.


Domino Island

Desmond Bagley, Prepared for publication by Michael Davies

16th May 2019

Hardback

HarperCollins

9780008333010

RRP £14.99


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