5 Questions with Jamie Byng

15 September 2015

1. What are you looking forward to most at Wigtown this year? 

Spending time in a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years, enjoying what I know is a unique festival and meeting people I’ve never met as well as reconnecting with old friends.


2. Apart from the obvious being the books, in what ways does a book festival differ from other festivals you’ve attended? What makes it special?

Book festivals are like religious gatherings but without all the dogma and bullshit baggage that organised religions tend to accrue like rust.  There is a genuine sense of interconnectedness that is created by the sharing of ideas and stories.  We are story-telling animals, we need stories to survive and the more stories you hear, the better equipped you are to deal with the unpredictable madness that is life.  Book festivals feed your head in a different way from other festivals but as with all arts festivals can lead to out of body experiences.


3. Who would be your dream author to publish? 

That is a great question but impossible to answer as I could list at least a hundred writers that I think would have been a dream and who I certainly would have felt honoured and privileged to publish and work with.  But as this response is a bit of a cop out, I will single out Charles Dickens as one of these writers who I believe would have been an amazing person to work with throughout his long and extraordinary career.  And also Robert Louis Stevenson, who would have been a dream in certain respects but a nightmare in others, especially when it came to keeping in touch pre-internet!  And his tragic, early death would have broken my heart.


4. You’ve come across a lot of written works in your career. If you could change one thing about a novel that somebody else has written, what would it be and why? (this can be anything at all, from a character to a plot or setting, to just a general reason why you would like to change something).

Another excellent and tricky question to answer.  I certainly would have liked Tom Buchanan to have been murdered in The Great Gatsby but I don’t think it would have made this extraordinary book better.  I think it is a perfect novel.


5. Do you have a favourite memory or funny story that stands out from your career in publishing? 

A fair number cannot be told for reasons of privacy but mischievously presenting to The Queen a copy of Damien Hirst’s limited edition of Snowblind, Robert Sabbag’s classic biography of legendary cocaine smuggler Zachary Swan, is one that is etched sharply in the mind.  I was trying to play the Queen and she completely outplayed me.  The book now resides in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace!  The unabridged version of this story takes at least ten minutes to tell.


Tickets are still available to Jamie Byng's '21 Years at Canongate' at 6pm on Friday 25th September. To book, please call the box office on 01988 403222. Tickets £6.