Long, long article in the London Review of Books of what it was like to be Julian Assange's ghostwriter how frustrating that was.
He slowly began to realize that Assange never wanted to actually write a book, even with a ghostwriter. Assange never wanted to reveal himself. After signing a contract for millions of dollars for his autobiography, Assange decides that all biography is prostitution and people who write about their familes are weak. He loves the idea of taking a helicopter to a book festival to do a reading, but the idea of the reading his own ghost written manuscript.
Julian had promised to read the draft over the weekend and the publishers were coming to see him on Monday morning. I’d agreed to have the meeting at my house in Bungay because Julian was too easily distracted at Ellingham Hall. Jamie and Nick from Canongate arrived early. Julian and Sarah were due at 9.30 a.m. but turned up an hour late. There was endless tea. Julian eventually sat at the table and turned to Jamie. ‘How was Friday?’
‘Friday was good. The weekend was good …’
I looked at Jamie. ‘He means the reading,’ I said.
‘Oh yeah,’ Jamie said. ‘I’m amazed at what’s been achieved. It’s really good and … what did you think?’
Julian fixed him with a ****-you stare. ’I’ve read about a third of it and it’s clear to me it needs a lot of work and won’t be ready for June.’
There were other statements, preliminary remarks about schedules and timetables, while the realisation sunk in that Julian hadn’t bothered to read the manuscript. ‘You haven’t read it?’ Jamie said. ‘We all agreed to read it over the weekend. You had three whole days to read it. It takes eight hours.’
‘I had some dangerous things happening around the world,’ Julian said. ‘Matters of life and death I had to take care of. These things have to be prioritised.’
‘That’s fine,’ I said, ‘but we can’t have a discussion about a book you haven’t read.’
‘Well, I’ve read enough to know that it needs a lot of work and this June date is impossible.’
At a guess, I’d say he had read the first three pages. He’d never wanted June as a publication date and the whole project gave him the willies. That hunch was confirmed by everything he said and everything he didn’t say. Byng suddenly became furious. ‘I’m disappointed. I’m dismayed. Andy worked his arse off to get this manuscript ready and we all travelled up here to discuss it – all having read it over the weekend – and you haven’t even bothered to read it.’
‘I appreciate all the work Andy is doing,’ Julian said, ‘but I can’t rush into print with something so important. There are legal issues to do with this and my enemies are poised …’
I was neither hurt nor surprised. Julian’s default position is to assert himself under fire. He had signed up for a book he didn’t really want to publish because – as he alleged to me separately – Mark Stephens had suggested it might help cover costs. Now he was forced to take the book seriously for the first time. At some level, it was a kind of ethical disaster for him. He had jogged along with the project and even got to enjoy the process – he loved having an audience, a pupil, an analyst, and a father – but now the thing had become real and he was totally shocked. Jamie asked him point-blank if he wanted the book to happen.
‘I do want it to happen,’ Julian said, ‘but on my terms. I never agreed to this June publication date.’
Under pressure, Julian agreed that we would sit down with the book from Monday, 11 April. He said he would have read it through twice by then, once to get the style of it and a second time to make amendments. He said he would clear whatever time was necessary.
Months later, it becomes clear he has no interest in doing any work on the book.
He hadn’t found the marked manuscript and hadn’t done any of the things we agreed. We’d lost another four days. I handed him a draft of the ‘personal vision’ stuff and he said he would read it that evening. ‘No, you won’t,’ I said. ‘This book isn’t going to happen, is it?’ He looked at me with a degree of honesty, I felt, for the first time. ‘You haven’t put pen to paper once in all these months. You find the whole thing difficult and you can’t face it. You now have to tell the publishers straight, you can’t do it.’