Sam Jordison keeps a low profile, but he’s something of a renaissance man. A highly regarded journalist and literary book publisher, he also turns his hand to writing. From writing about Crap Towns, to contributing to an adult spoof version of the famous I-Spy series, he is also an H. G. Wells aficionado. We forcibly stopped his bicycle to ask him about his latest book, Enemies of the People. And no, we don’t have any links to Amazon, which is relevant later on.
As one of the founders of Galley Beggar Press in Norwich, he has had amazing success bringing new voices to the British literary world. We door-stepped Sam in-between his three jobs. And no, we couldn’t resist mentioning that half-formed girl.
Q: Hi Sam. We’re here to talk about your latest book, Enemies of the People. Why did you write it?
Sam: I think, like many people, I felt angry and hopeless in the face of world events. I felt things weren’t making sense, that the truth wasn’t being told and that my voice wasn’t being heard. At all. I’d spent a lot of time feeling like I was screaming into the void… And so when the chance came along to write this book, I jumped on it. It was an opportunity to try to make sense of what’s been happening (if ‘sense’ is the right word…), to try to work out where all the crazy came from… Also to right a few wrongs. To try to help other people understand that – for instance – the extreme free market economics we’ve all been subjected to isn’t necessarily the natural way of things. That in fact it’s largely based on crazy economic theories from people like Milton Friedman who had no good evidence for changing the world in the way they did – and who did not have good motives… I’m going off on one already, aren’t I? But that’s the other thing about writing this book. It was cathartic. It helped me release some tensions – and my hope is that does a similar job for its readers.
Q: Of those enemies you have highlighted, who is the most dangerous one?
Sam: Oh my. Where to start? I guess it depends on how you define danger. Chairman Mao is in there, for instance, and Hitler and you don’t need me to spell out the kind of evils they rained down on the world. But there are also people who are dangerous even though they’re less overtly threatening. People who approach you with a smile, but still kick you in the balls. The chapter that probably made me feel most like I was crawling through a sewer when I wrote it was actually Boris Johnson. He was someone I’ve been charmed by in the past. I’ve laughed at his jokes. But as I came to understand the extent of his lies about the EU (and how long he’s been inventing nonsense about bendy bananas and similar), and also to understand the viciousness in his character, I really began to feel queasy. If you want to have an unpleasant five minutes, Google Boris Johnson’s Guppy tape (link below) and listen to the UK Foreign Secretary help his friend arrange to get someone beaten up. It’s personal and it’s horrible.
Q: As someone who makes a living out of the written word, is Jeff Bezos the saviour of reading and newspapers or an enemy of the people?
Sam: I should preface this by saying The Washington Post has been doing some tremendous work since Bezos took over. He’s also – unlike many of the people in the book – a fantastically intelligent man who has done some brilliant and creative things. But that makes it all the sadder that he has been such a scourge for writers, publishers, and ultimately readers. He seems to enjoy crushing competitors for sport – and has undoubtedly made things much worse for the book industry worldwide, as well as building up dangerous monopolistic powers and undermining the social fabric of our world by failing to pay a fair share of taxes and failing to treat workers with basic respect. I wish he had used his considerable powers for good rather than not… But, alas…
Q: Are you a writer who does a bit of publishing or a publisher who does a bit of writing, and is that actually a choice or can someone do both, like T. S. Eliot?
Sam: What am I?! I sometimes feel like I’m straddling three failing industries. I’m a writer/journalist, a publisher and also I teach in a Higher Education sector, which is looking increasingly precarious post-Brexit… But I also feel tremendously lucky. I’ve been able to follow my passions in three different and tremendously fulfilling ways. So, to come back to the question, I think comparing myself to TS Eliot would be obscene… But I do at least think you can both be a publisher and a writer. It’s not either/or and the different jobs are complementary. I hope I’m a better publisher because I understand the (often painful!) process of bringing a book to completion and the compromises you have to make on the way. I also kind of hope that exposure to the geniuses I’ve worked with at Galley Beggar Press might one day rub off on my own writing. I guess, ultimately, I’ll be remembered as someone who associated with writers like Alex Pheby and Preti Taneja… But who knows? Maybe future historians will stumble across my tirades against Jeff Bezos as a result of my illustrious friends, and have a few extra laughs…
Q: Although we’re talking about Sam the writer today, you first came to my attention as the publisher of Eimear McBride’s incredible debut, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. How did it feel to have one of your first books win all those prizes?
Sam: It felt great! Hahaha! It was tremendously fortunate for us that one of our first books did so well. It felt like justice was being done. Eimear’s book was amazing, after all. But still. It was wonderful to have our belief validated and to have all the work pay off. My co-director Elly (who worked especially hard) and I threw everything into bringing it to publication. We sweated bullets over that book, we sank a lot of our own money into it and we loved it. So seeing it shine like that was a very special thing. Obviously, at the time, we were also caught up in the nitty gritty of riding a wave that had grown suddenly huge. But still, it was marvellous – and it’s helped us go on to publish many other superb books. I’ll always be glad.
Sam Jordison was talking about Enemies of the People, available from all the usual.