“Who?,” I hear you ask.
McLauchlan who has died at 89 was an Auckland newspaper columnist who knocked out low sales social and other New Zealand history books decades back, and all credit to him for this untypical print journalists’ zeal.
Nice tributes have been paid to him by diverse folk although former Arts Council chairman Hamish Keith laid it on a bit thick in saying, “he was our greatest ever story teller,” which he most certainly was not. Others such as Brian Edwards and former Herald editor Gavin Ellis made suitable praising comments, as one does on such occasions, and as it should be. Whether Gordon deserved all of this praise doesn’t matter but my single experience with him is worth recounting.
In 1977 my light-hearted book “Jones On Property” was launched by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and quickly captured public attention. Edition after edition sold out as soon as it hit the shops. To this day I regularly receive letters about it and I remind these correspondents that it was written in another age thus any advice in it would no longer be applicable. Nevertheless, to the chagrin of our pretentious literati mob, it was easily the year’s top selling New Zealand book.
At year end I forbade the publisher from printing any more, as now gripped by the writing bug, I was planning a new book. Having established an audience my thinking was they would in lieu, snap up the fresh offering.
“Jones On Property” had been published by National Business Review and not only rescued them from their constant financial problems but enabled them to buy a Wellington office-building headquarters.
Soured by my refusal to allow them further editions because of the planned new book, the NBR fellow I was dealing with said sniffily of it, “we haven’t said we’d publish it.” “That’s excellent,” I replied. “You can’t.” It was no surprise when this episode got out and I was quickly approached by the legendary Max Rogers, a wonderful gentlemanly figure then known as “Mr New Zealand Publishing.”
He was the tweedy pipe-smoking Christchurch-based boss of Whitcoulls, then New Zealand’s leading book publishers I learnt a great deal from him about economical writing. More salient, unlike so many in the commercial end of arts activities, he was utterly unpretentious.
Max came to Wellington and I explained I wanted to write a series of essays about current issues under the title, “New Zealand The Way I Want It,” this a play on the National Government’s 1975 election slogan “New Zealand The Way You Want It.” But, I explained, I would be unable to start for a month as I was going abroad.
Max returned to Christchurch and belted out an enthusiastic bulletin to booksellers and newspapers about the coming “New Zealand The Way I Want It” which is where Gordon MacLauchlan came in.
Receiving this flyer he failed to read it properly and specifically, that the book would be coming out in mid-year. Instead he assumed it was already published and about to hit booksellers. So he promptly wrote a scathing smug review slamming it in the Herald, that is before I’d ever written a word. Subsequently advised of this blunder, he floundered helplessly in attempting an explanation. There was only one possible, namely envy.
I’m used to this sort of thing in New Zealand and will say no more. For the record Whitcoulls printed 15,000 hard cover copies, a big print run in New Zealand, which quickly sold out.
If Max was a wonderful bloke the same could not be said about two of his female literati pretender assistants who took a snooty approach to me. So I decided to sort them out.
With Max’s encouragement I then wrote “Travelling,” a light-hearted romp about contemporary travel which also became a best-seller. But to set these two female pretenders up (such losers are always easy targets) I included a poem.
As I anticipated, at a Christchurch editorial meeting with these two female pretenders present, Max mentioned the poem and said I’d failed to include an attribution. I feigned a shocked fainting fit saying, “For God’s sake Max, every school kid knows that poem. It’s famous.” I looked at the two female pretenders who nodded vigorously. In fact I was the poem’s author.
I have a novella to be published later this year taking the mickey out of such people’s envy-based pretentions. It deals with the biggest bull-shit business of all, namely the art world.
An even better example of this snobbishness by our literati pretenders was when “Jones On Property” was published, there existed a NZ Book Monthly magazine owned by a ghastly little lefty loser. A principal source of income for him was his sale to our newspapers of a monthly list of the country’s best sellers under the heading, “New Zealand’s Best Selling Books.” Despite my book blasting all other offerings to the wind, not once did it appear in the list. At year end he published a final list of the best sellers for the year.
Needless to say no mention of my book. The top seller he asserted was a book on Arts and Crafts of the Southern Wairarapa.
My then best mate, the much-missed wonderful Tony Dominik, news editor of our then biggest selling newspaper Truth, called on this goose to seek an explanation and elicited the following memorable line. “When we say best seller, “he floundered, “we don’t mean the actual number sold.”
Tony then visited the author of the Arts and Crafts book who confessed he’d been flabbergasted by reading his effort was the top seller as he’d only sold 23 copies (compared with my 30,000 when I stopped further editions).
Tony hammered the NZ Books monthly loser, resulting in him losing all of his newspaper subscribers, and soon after he folded, an outcome that doubtless will have sky-bayers saying that’s evidence there is a God Bob, so change your ways.
I was sad to hear about Gordon’s passing as I enjoyed reading his articles in the NZ Listener back in the 70s and 80s when it was still readable and I hope your new book on the art world is as good as Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Mortdecai novels (ignore the atrocious Johnny Depp film). I eagerly look forward to reading it when released.
Looking forward to your new book. Sir Roger Scruton had a good take on the same subject.
Funnily enough I read “New Zealand The Way I Want It” this summer. Even after 42 years some of your insights haven’t dated. I especially enjoyed the chapter on agriculture and farming for capital gain rather than cash return. Some things haven’t changed.
I will admit I did ask that.
It’s become something of a recent hobby of mine finding copies of your books to read. I own copies of about a third of them now, sourced as I come across them from various second hand stores and fairs, which is often a bit of fun.
For some reason the book I encounter the most is ‘Prancing Pavonine Charlatans’ – every one a signed copy. This took a bit of the lustre out of the first one I found retrospectively, but I find it amusing. As your books aren’t published anymore, I have read a couple further others at libraries, although eventually it would be nice to find copies for myself. One of those books is ‘New Zealand The Way I Want It’ (as you mentioned) which I found at times hilarious in hindsight given some of the things you said – such as pondering the potential cause of an unknown future political demise of Sir Robert Muldoon and scathing remarks about (Sir) Roger Douglas etc.
I shall look forward to the novella with interest, as most of your literature I have is non-fiction. I did enjoy ‘Degrees for Everyone’ but being younger it seemed less the parody that it was intended, given ‘the parody of yesterday is the reality of today’. Your funniest book to my mind is actually ‘On Management’ which had me cackling with delight. It is my (not new under the sun) observation that envy is a chief vice of moderately intelligent ‘left wing’ and artist types and have no doubt you will be on form and on point with what you write about that topic.
Some years ago when down on my luck, I found a signed copy of “NZTWIWI” Put it on a new website called Trademe after reading it. Some goose made a silly comment about it’s price, and I gave him a good serve along the lines of “read it and Learn something etc”Made a couple of hundred, which went a long way back then…
“… the biggest bull-shit business of all, namely the art world.”
If you haven’t yet read it, you might find Charles Hope’s article “A Peece of Christ” in the London Review of Books of 2 Jan 2020 entertaining. The bit about Mohammed bin Salman ‘s $450 million purchase is rather comic.
Look forward to your book about literati pretenders and the self appointed le monde: the desperados who hang about artists and galleries believing it buys them an aura of sophistication. Please pay homage to
Lisa Reihana’s work and remind the enlightened that Maori were butchering each other long before the colonialists turned up – Cook and friends may have been rapacious, but neither did Maori live in utopian harmony.