October 4, 2002
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last year there was a literary tempest in a teapot when British novelist Fay Weldon wrote a book called The Bulgari Connection after taking a hefty product placement fee from that famed Italian jewelry firm. She was widely condemned for turning her novel into a commercial. Well, multiply that indiscretion by a hundred and you get Adam Lury and Simon Gibson, the two advertising consultants turned authors have just launched Narration Ltd., a fiction-writing company which promises to produce a popular novel on the theme of your choice. Their first effort was a novel commissioned by a think tank about an anti-globalization activist who causes chaos on the internet. Adam and Simon, thanks for coming on the show.
ADAM LURY: And you, thanks.
SIMON GIBSON: Thank you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So first off, describe your first project --Need to Know. The client was the Foreign Policy Center which is the think tank patronized by Prime Minister Tony Blair. What were the sorts of issues that you were asked to bring forth in the novel and to dramatize.
ADAM LURY: Well one of the things we were talking about in, in the book is the notion of open government -- that on the one hand most people think that open government is, is a good thing; that you know we need freedom of information. But that may not always be the case in all circumstances, and so the book explores where in, in certain circumstances secrecy is a good idea in diplomacy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Simon, do you happen to have the book with you?
SIMON GIBSON:Embarrassingly I'm afraid I do have a copy of the book with me. [LAUGHS] Okay. Right. Something like this: "Maybe Jao's [sp?] instincts as a journalist were failing him. Whatever the reason, Jao had made a big mistake. Otherwise he would have agreed to travel with a WHO team to their first field clinic about 3 hours by jeep from Quito. It would have been an interesting drive, because about 2 hours into their trip, the WHO team took a wrong turn, got off their route, tried to retrace their steps and drove straight into a mine field. The lead jeep was blown into the air, ripped and tossed and spat out. The driver lost both legs. Welcome to Angola."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you have mayhem-- you have - do you have murder and sex as well? [LAUGHTER]
SIMON GIBSON: No, I - we didn't - couldn't quite squeeze that in on this particular version, no. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you wouldn't-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ADAM LURY:We don't have murder, but we do have sexual intrigue. There are, you know, male and female characters and there is a, you know, a sexual tension between some of them; yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Is The Need to Know a book that paints a portrait of a character who wants to cause havoc in pursuit of the anti-globalization movement? I mean it does put anti-globalization in a pretty negative light doesn't it?
ADAM LURY: I don't think so, no. I mean I think we were very keen to make sure that if you were a committed anti-globalization activist, you could still feel that the character had integrity, had purpose, and what I'm hoping and certainly the feedback that we've had from a number of readers is that it's made a whole number of people say well just a minute --rather than actually just taking for granted, when the government issue a particular statement -- well of course they would say that, wouldn't they -- you know they're just protecting a vested interest -- maybe I'm beginning to understand some of the complexities that they're having to deal with.
SIMON GIBSON: I was just going to add that also the hero of the book is the anti-globalization protester -- he - just like in Paradise Lost - he gets the best lines. He is a very powerful force in the book, so I, I don't think it could be leveled that we've sort of just done anti-globalization down; that's certainly not the intent. The intent is to explore it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now you've said you don't intend to be a propaganda tool, and you've also been quoted as saying that you'd be willing to re-write if the customer wasn't satisfied. So how much control does the client have?
ADAM LURY: Well I think the client has fundamentally complete control because she or he is paying for the venture. I think there's a big difference between propaganda -- which is not even a debate really -- it's just a kind of one-sided story -- and a fictional world, if you like, where having different characters allows you to present different points of view in different ways.
SIMON GIBSON: Yeah, and at the moment much too much emphasis is placed on giving out the facts. A far better and more persuasive way of talking to people is through an imaginative construct --through a narrative -- which allows them to make up their minds as they work through a story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And that's exactly what critics like the writer J.G. Ballard seemed to hate about what you're doing -- this, this is a quote from him. "I'm all for the old style of public information stuff that told you how to stop your granny falling down the stairs, but when it gets to the point where you pick up what you think is going to be a successor to Anna Karenina [sp?] and it has some sort of message about the dangers of sexual entanglement issued by a branch of the Nanny State, that I think is sinister."
ADAM LURY: It's a wonderful piece of emotional ranting-- [LAUGHTER] I mean you - it's, it's kind of the literary establishment at its very best. They, they can't bear the fact that stories might be used for a straightforward purpose. We're not talking about high art here.
SIMON GIBSON: And one of the key points I think is that when the books are published, there is a logo on the front cover. Now I think today's reader can understand that a book is produced by somebody with a particular point. You might argue that's even better and much more up front than some of the more traditional polemic fiction. If you look at John Le Carre's book The Constant Gardener which takes an extraordinarily vicious approach to the multi-national pharmaceutical industry -- it's a totally one-sided view of the issue--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But it is his own!
SIMON GIBSON: -- absolutely!--
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Are you, you're certainly not arguing that books shouldn't be polemical and the full range of expression, however one-sided, shouldn't be present in books?
ADAM LURY: Absolutely not, no. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
SIMON GIBSON: Absolutely not. But it's - that's in-- in a sense that's exactly my point which is that if you are going to compete with people like John Le Carre for people's hearts and minds which is what you're doing if you're a major pharmaceutical company and you receive an attack like this -- then I don't think you're going to effectively compete with him by responding with a whole series of kind of information fact sheets. Why not use the tools that John Le Carre has used?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can I ask you, is the pharmaceutical industry one of your prospective clients?
ADAM LURY: Not currently, no.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But-- you wouldn't mind. [LAUGHTER]
SIMON GIBSON: We're talking to both business and governmental organizations, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
SIMON GIBSON: Thank you, Brooke.
ADAM LURY: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Adam Lury and Simon Gibson have launched Narration Ltd, a fiction-writing company which promises to produce a novel on an issue of your choice.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, in-person promotion at your local bar and a hero of broadcast journalism in the former Yugoslavia.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from NPR.