Past Caring

I first worked in a book publishing company in 1982 after I left university. My job early on at Robert Hale was to read the slush pile, which was what everyone used to call the daily arrival of physical manuscript submissions from authors and agents. It was a very disciplined process: Rupert, the post manager, would bring in the huge pile into my tiny little office about 1030 and I had to go through them all by 1230 and produce notes on each one in time for Mr Hale, the MD, to decide on each before he went to lunch. My notes would either suggest rejecting, further reading by me that afternoon, or sending out to one of our external readers. Past Caring came in direct from its author, Robert Goddard, and I remember suggesting a second read that afternoon, which I did. It was obviously very good: well written, with a tight plot based on an historical theme, which Robert went on to assume as rather a leitmotiv of his career. We published it in hardback:

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I think Mr Hale, or perhaps his Rights Director Betty Weston, sold the paperback rights to Transworld and Corgi, and before we knew it, Robert had signed up to them for his next three novels and we never saw him again. It was perhaps a sensible decision for him, as Hale as a small family firm didn’t have the commercial clout of Transworld, but I recall we were all a little sad to see our discovery disappear so quickly. Robert went on to have a stellar career which he absolutely deserves, as he’s a great writer. Robert Hale, such a quietly dignified and idiosyncratic publishing house, continued doing things in its own stubborn way up until last year, when Mr Hale decided to call it a day. I don’t think anyone who’s worked in that world will ever quite be past caring of the delights of those small publishing houses.