Saturday, February 24, 2007

Peter Owen: 'Yoko Ono was rubbish'

Peter Owen - the man and his avant garde publishing company (est 1951) - is one of the debutants of the blogosphere - and his/(their?) site is worth a visit (click here). It burst into life only last month and I think I may get addicted.

In the past few days or so, for instance, there has been much excitement about an interview with Peter Owen himself due to be published in the Daily Telegraph. Apprehension might have been more appropriate given that Mr Owen's griller was Duncan Fallowell no less, a man practised in the art of teasing out all manner of secrets and hitherto unsaid detail.

On February 19 the blog announces: "There will be an interview published in Saturday's Telegraph to mark his [Peter Owen's] 80th birthday and we need a recent photo except that the most recent one we have is Peter sitting with Jane Bowles in Tangier circa 1967."

Then on the 23rd there's an amusing launch party report. Attendees include such "eminent folk as Christopher Priest, Bidisha and Duncan Fallowell who teased us mercilessly about what he had written in an interview with Peter."

As well he might. The interview appears today (sadly I can find no online link to it as I write) and is gloriously indiscreet, illustrated with a very recent photograph. I'm only sorry the Telegraph couldn't have given it a spread. But I hope Duncan will write a much longer, definitive piece for one of his collections.

Hesse, Yoko Ono, Dali, Bowles, Gide, Mervyn Peake, Lawrence Durrell: these are just a few of the authors Owen has published. Bravely he confesses to have passed on Beckett. He couldn't stand Ono ("She sat eating caviar and didn't offer me any," he moans, and her book Grapefruit was "rubbish") and recalls Dali's "cheapest fizzy Spanish wine". One of his first editors was Muriel Spark but "she became too big for her boots" when she started "cavorting" with the likes of royalty and Evelyn Waugh. A memory as long as Owen's and a temperament so attuned to insult or boorishness demand some sort of time capsule.

Not all that I have heard about Owen over the years has been complimentary. Certain people once in his employ complain of his tight-fistedness. Yet in the interview he reveals he doesn't take a salary and that he gives a house to his company rent-free. One suspects that shrewdness, rather than (or not only) meanness, accounts for his business longevity.

So, happy birthday, Peter Owen! I hope this enthralling interview makes it onto the Telegraph website.

PS - Duncan sends me a note: "Tell your Owen readers that though they have the meat the sauce is yet to come." I can't imagine what he means.

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