Francis Beckett

I wake up today rather pleased that my new book is to be published by Iain Dale's firm, Biteback Publishing.  His courage in publishing a book about Wayne Rooney that Random House, which commissioned it, ran from in fear when threatened by Rooney's lawyers, makes him something like a champion of free speech.


My book, BTW, is What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us - How the Children of the Sixties Lived the Dream and Failed the Future, and it, too, was commissioned by another publisher, Constable and Robinson; and they, too, ran away from it, in rather strange circumstances which I may write about soon - but for the moment, let's concentrate on the Rooney book.It's called Rooney's Gold, it's just out, and Iain Dale tells us today in his blog:

"It's a biography of the England star by investigative journalist John Sweeney. The book was intended for publication by Random House in 2007, but they took fright over libel issues relating to Rooney's agent Paul Stretford. Since then, however, Stretford, has been discredited in court and banned from being an agent for nine months. Late last year I met Sweeney's agent, Caroline Michel, who gave me the manuscript to read. It's certainly not a conventional football biography as it concentrates on the people surrounding Rooney rather than a match by match record of his career. But I found it hugely entertaining and informative and so decided to take it on. Clearly there was a lot which needed to be changed as this was 2009/10 rather than 2006, when the book was originally written....

"And then Schillings, Rooney's lawyers, got involved. We had several letters demanding to see a copy of the manuscript. We refused....  Days before the book went to print Schillings were continuing to demand sight of the manuscript.... So we had a choice. Publish and be damned or shelve the whole book and put it down to experience. Believe me, it's not nice getting letters from Schillings, laced with threats. Random House, a big company bowed down and caved in. We decided to proceed, and the book came out on 27 May.

"But between the book going to print and it being published Schillings tried another tack. They wrote to Waterstone's and W H Smith threatening them that if they sold the book they would be liable for damages if they carried through with their threat to injunct us and sue for damages.

"Let's put it this way. If you publish a book like this and it isn't sold in either Waterstone's or W H Smith it is difficult to get good sales. Even today, you can't just rely on Amazon. So Schillings knew that this threat would hit us where it hurts. In our pockets.

"Waterstone's contacted us and asked for an indemnity - so if it came to legal action, we'd indemnify them. For a small company like us, we had to really think hard as to whether we could do this, but we had no choice. If we wanted the book out there we had to do it.

"W H Smith asked for the same and we gave them an indemnity too. Unfortunately, their courage deserted them and in the end they caved in and are refusing to stock the book. Shame on them...."

Yes, shame on them. As Dale says:

"Think about what this means for the wider publishing community. If publishers accede to threats like this it effectively means that no one can write a celebrity biography any longer unless it is a complete hagiography. Our libel laws are allowing the likes of Schillings to threaten, bully and intimidate authors and publishers into abandoning perfectly legitimate books for fear of their whole company's existence coming under threat. This cannot be right and any reform of the libel laws must surely encompass this aspect of the law..."