The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

109% funded
267 supporters

Publication date: April 2016

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Paul Sidey was a greatly respected and much loved editor, first at Penguin from 1970 to 1980, and then at Hutchinson until his retirement in 2012.

Over many stimulating conversations about writing the great ‘Sarf London’ novel with Angela Carter, whose editor he was at Penguin, Paul Sidey always harboured the secret desire to write that novel himself. But as a respected popular and much-loved publishing editor, his time was taken up with nurturing other authors’ careers.

After he retired in January 2012, Paul finally powered up his laptop, and the fiction began just pouring out. And when he realised he was at last losing his fourteen-year battle against cancer, he started writing The Book of Wag in an obsessive frenzy, against the deadline of impending oblivion, and managed to finish it mere months before his death in September last year. His dying wish was to see it published.

The Book of Wag is a cross between family memoir and fiction. The novel ranges freely from the Western Front, to World War II, through post-war civvy street, the 1960s gangster era of the Richardson brothers and the political tumult of the 70s. Narrated in alternating voices by Wag, a veteran of the First World War, and his nephew Jack, its cast of characters is led by the richly eccentric Burton family, ruled over by the matriarch Harriet. Drawing on Sidey’s own uncle’s handwritten, unreliable World War I memoir and his recollection of family stories, in its playful interplay of fact, history and invention, the book evokes Doctorow and Tristram Shandy. It is funny, tender, sometimes violent, hugely enjoyable and unlike anything you will have read for a long time.

It's an utterly charming novel . . . I loved it. It deserves to be published, not only because it's Paul, but because it's a richly-woven tapestry of a certain time (well, times) and of another London, erudite and witty and brimming with life. I won't pretend I worked out the encryption at the end, but I will keep trying! - Patrick Janson-Smith


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E-book edition.
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1st edition clothbound hardback and the ebook edition
  • Paul Sidey avatar

    Paul Sidey

    Paul Sidey was a greatly respected and much loved editor who started his career at Penguin in 1970. There he learnt two lessons that he would never forget: keep in with the production department, and never hurry back from lunch. In 1980 he moved to Hutchinson, where he worked as an Editorial Director until his retirement in 2012. Among the authors he worked closely with over the years were Ruth Rendell (whose editor at Hutchinson he remained for over thirty years), Angela Carter, Graham Swift, Olivia Manning, John Lahr, John Mortimer and Willie Donaldson. His lifelong love of the cinema (he went to the London Film School after Cambridge, and had an aborted first career as a filmmaker) led him to publishing the memoirs of many film directors and actors, including Richard Attenborough, Anthony Sher, François Truffaut, John Mills, Charlton Heston and Anna Massey.

    When his children were young, he published two volumes of poems for children, My Brother is an Alien and Dinosaur Diner. After he retired, he wrote three novels based on Arthurian and Greek legend, and then, a few months before his death of cancer in September 2014, completed his remarkable autobiographical family novel, The Book of Wag.

    ‘I started no literary movement, wrote no great work (although Wag deserves a go), but I was, on more than one occasion, the reason good words were in other people’s mouths and books.’ - Paul Sidey

  • The following lines were inscribed in my Uncle Wag’s dense, angular scrawl at the back of the third of his cloth-­‐bound memoirs.

    ‘I lost the sunshine and the roses
    I lost the heavenly leaves of blue
    I lost the beautiful rainbow
    I lost the morning dew
    I lost the Angel you gave me, summer the whole winter through
    I lost the gladness that turned into sadness
    When I lost you’

    I guess he must have composed the poem himself. Underneath is some indecipherable squiggle, and the doodle of a knight’s helmet with the visor down above a shield decorated with two fleurs de lys and a diagonal stripe with three blobs.

    Uncle Wag

    1. JACK

    Shall I tell you about the underwear or the ghost? I think, perhaps, I will start with Ethel’s silk and satin underwear. After Uncle Wag’s death from cancer of the pancreas, my mother Ivy was left the house and its contents, as well as a small fortune, some of it in neatly bound £50 notes in a shoebox under the stairs.

    When we were clearing Wag’s sister’s bedroom – he had kept everything as it was since her death, also from cancer, twenty years earlier – my mother discovered pristine pants and bras, folded immaculately, exuding a slightly camphorated perfume, in the top drawer of Ethel’s ornate Regency dressing table. Her monogrammed silver-­‐backed hairbrushes, without a single grey hair entangled, stood side by side, next to some antique, silver-­‐topped perfume bottles and sprays.

    The gilded, three-­‐part mirror was slightly foxed round the edges. My mother sat down in front of it and stared at a couple of sepia photographs – Wag is dapper in uniform, legs astride, peaked hat, puttees, a swagger stick under his left arm and a leather strip containing a series of pouches which stretches from left shoulder underneath his right arm. It is not a bullet-­‐stuffed bandallero. Ethel is wearing a cloche hat, fox fur round her shoulders, hands concealed in a muff. Both snaps have been cut out very carefully and pasted on a piece of yellowing paper. They remain in a double-­‐sided, battered black leather wallet. Wag must have carried it round with him through the Somme, until the gas got him.

  • Paul Sidey has written 2 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    31st May 2016 Another great review for The Book of Wag from the Glasgow Herald

    'Sprawling family tale of gangsters' – The Book of Wag by Paul Sidey

    Review by Lesley McDowell

    Paul Sidey, who died two years ago, was a longstanding editor of various London publishing houses, as well as a published poet for children. He worked with some of the most successful authors, many of whom have aided the publication of this novel by contributing to its funding.

    Some may find…

    3rd April 2016 The Book of Wag is published this week, and received its first review!

    Dear Friends of Paul

    You should all have received your copy of The Book of Wag by now, but the book will now be out in the general trade from 7 April.  I was delighted to see this lovely review in  the Daily Mail on Friday, from Harry Ritchie. XxMarianne


    27th November 2015 Paul's Failed Film Producer memoir - eighth and last piece

    Dear Friends of Paul

    As we are now positively speeding towards publication (I've just checked the list of contributors' names to go into the back of the book!) I thought this was the time to send out the last instalment of Paul's sort-of-memoir about his working life.  

    Thanks to you all again for supporting this publication - it means a lot.



    (Sir John Mills…

    25th October 2015 The Book of Wag progress report

    Dear Friends of Paul

    Well we're heading towards publication slowly but the end of January, I believe. It is Sunday afternoon, and  I am sitting at the dining table reading through the page proofs, and find that even though I have gone through it so many times at manuscript stage, it still feels fresh:  I am still gripped, touched, surprised and amused by this novel that Paul put so…

    30th September 2015 Memoir of a Failed Film Producer no. 7:For the Friends of Paul, patiently waiting for the publication of The Book of Wag (January!) here is the seventh and penultimate instalment of his 'Failed Film Producer' memoir(7)

    My long stint at Hutchinson was not devoted exclusively to books about theatre and cinema. But actors and performance have remained a preoccupation. Such courage is required, such feats of memory. And these talents often include instinctive skill with the written word and the ability to tell story, where every element comes alive. On the whole, I always steered clear of anything ghosted, and had…

    2nd September 2015 Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (6)

    From Marianne:  While the good folks at Unbound put the finishing touches to The Book of Wag, it is good to see more pledges coming in. Even though it is fully funded, it is possible to pledge and get your name in the back of the book as a supporter before the book goes to print at the end of the year - copies should be ready in Spring 2016. 

    Here follows another extract from Paul's unreliable…

    11th August 2015 For the Friends of Paul, another instalment in his short memoir about his career:Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (5)

    Not long after, the chance to publish another hero presented itself. It was the year I received the black spot from Penguin, 1980, but I managed first to publish a book of reviews by Francois Truffaut, called THE FILMS IN MY LIFE.

    He also did a unique and absorbing interview at the NFT. But beforehand, I invited him to tea and cucumber sandwiches at the flat I shared with my sister in Cadogan Square…

    21st July 2015 Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (4)

    I was all right there. For a year or so. I also learned two important lessons – as I always say: always keep in with Production and never hurry back from lunch.

    But, if not a one-way ticket to Palookaville, the role of Editorial Programme Controller was not going to take me anywhere I wanted to be for a long period of time. Word slipped out that there might be vacancies for two junior editors at…

    4th July 2015 Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (3)

    This includes Paul's classic account of his first day in publishing, on a very hot day in June, which will be familiar to all those who heard his speech at his retirement party a few years ago. But it bears retelling, doesn't it?  xMarianne



    In 1970, £4.1s per week National Assistance was not good enough either for a young man to live on, even with no rent to give his long-suffering…

    20th June 2015 From Marianne to the Friends of Paul:Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (2)

    My father was not always a bank official. Before the war, he had a fledgling career as a singer in the Al Bowlly mode – tenor with light vibrato. He often did a bit of soft shoe and basic tap at parties. On the wall of my study, I keep a couple of moody, dramatically-lit sepia publicity photos of Tony French (the name my father chose), one with a megaphone and another with a cigarette. I still have…

    5th June 2015 Failed Film Producer Seeks Work (1)

    From Marianne: Dear Friends of Paul,  I have discovered another piece of memoir on Paul's laptop, which I shall share with you in instalments (I've taken the liberty to change some names)...


    The title of this piece is not the headline from a card pinned on a board in a newsagent’s window. But I did need work. The company I ran, Horoscope Films Ltd, was doomed…

    27th May 2015 Another snippet from Paul's email diary from Mallorca

    From Marianne: On his last trip abroad in June last year, with our good friends in Mallorca, Paul wrote a sort-of diary  in the form of an extended email to a friend back home. In this extract, he reveals how, in those last months of his life, he faced his end with a strong sense of being able to predict things before they happened, and even, of being able to direct what was to come. It also shows…

    10th May 2015 A letter from Paul to John Mortimer

    For the Friends of Paul, from Marianne: another letter I found in a box - a letter Paul wrote to John Mortimer many years after he had left Penguin and ceased to be Mortimer's editor - but as so many of you know, Paul valued his friendships with his authors, and always made an effort to keep in touch.

    5 April 2002

    Dear John

    Have just got back from Cairo - the dirtiest, ugliest and most chaotic…

    6th May 2015 Extract from The Book of Wag: the old-boy interview

    Dear Friends of Paul

    Gillian and I had a great meeting with the Unbound team last week, and a tour of their (rather cool) office, to discuss the editing, design and production of The Book of Wag. We now have a real production schedule, according to which  publication of the exclusive edition for the pledgers will be January 2016. I for one can't wait!  

    I thought some of you would enjoy the…

    27th April 2015 From Paul's email diary from his last trip abroad, Mallorca, June 2014

    I have got up to watch the dawn over the mountains - how it changes so quickly from orange to a muted freshness. The headlamps of a car wound along the coast road, then suddenly it is no longer night. The day begins. A few lights stay on at the port and in the hills.

    It is beautiful the way the coast wiggles down to our hilltop villa, the sail boats arranged in picturesque clusters.

    Carol wrote…

    17th April 2015 A letter to Angela

    Dear Friends of Paul

    I just found this copy of a letter Paul wrote to Angela Carter in February 1981, when he had left Penguin for Hutchinson, at their offices in Fitzroy Square, and she had taken up a teaching post in Providence Long Island.

    I  don't know why I seem to feel compelled to share these random snippets from Paul's writings with you on a Friday, but I do. 



    8th April 2015 Another snippet from Paul's green notebook diary - random thoughts on life, and death

    It is a bit too hard to make it all the way up the wooden steps to Bedfordshire and I am now using the study to sleep and to write this story about some of the books and objects and paintings that I have collected over the years.


    Ruth’s husband, Don, also died of prostate cancer. He was diagnosed very late and died relatively quickly. He was the kindest of men  - even allowed Jack, as a very…

    30th March 2015 From Paul's green notebook

    Dear Friends of Paul,

    The work on the manuscript of The Book of Wag continues apace. Both Gillian Stern and I love it more the more we delve into  it. I don't have a publication date yet, but when I do, I'll be sure to let you know. 

    In the meantime, some of the old mates may enjoy reading some nostalgic snippets from a diary Paul started writing last summer.




    17th March 2015 Thanking you!

    From Marianne: So I'm on holiday in Western Massachusetts, and when I got up this morning I saw a flurry of emails from friends and colleagues alerting me of the fact that while I was sleeping, the pledging for The Book of Wag had reached 100%.

    It's been exactly two months since the book went up on the Unbound site, and you have all helped Paul's last wish come true. You are all wonderful and generous…

    12th March 2015 More Publishing Lunch from Paul

    Dear Friends of Paul

    It's really wonderful to report that with all your generous pledges, we're practically there: 93% of the money has now been raised, and it looks pretty certain The Book of Wag will be published. I have been working to whip the manuscript into shape with a wonderful freelance editor, but discovered to my horror that we had been working on an out-of-date draft of the manuscript…

    6th March 2015 The Book of Wag has reached 85% of its funding! Here is another extract from Paul's piece Publishing Lunch (2004)

    A year or so later I became an editor. So it was the Garrick with Giles Gordon, the old Escargot with Julian Symons, Langans with John Mortimer, Bertorelli's with Angela Carter, The White Elephant with Olivia Manning, and Bianchi's (which no longer exists) with Terry Venables and Gordon Williams, when they were collaborating on a series of books featuring a cockney private detective called Hazell…

    1st March 2015 For the Friends of Paul: The publishing lunch

    From Marianne: After the little video went up on Friday, there was a great surge of extra pledges for The Book of Wag, and we're now 74% funded. The end is in sight!  To raise a glass to you all, as Paul would surely have done, here is an extract from Paul's piece about the thing he was so well known for: lunch.  It was published in The Author, the magazine of the Society of Authors, in the summer…

    27th February 2015 The Book of Wag video is ready to view

    From Marianne: you may be interested to know that there is now a little video up on The Book of Wag page that explains a bit more about Paul's novel, with some family photos and other memorabilia, things he drew on for inspiration, and which helped trigger his imagination. 

    Watch it here.

    18th February 2015 From Marianne: We're getting closer!

    Dear Friends of Paul,

    Have you seen,we're up to 63% funded for The Book of Wag!  Even though we haven't got a video ready yet - I can assure you it's coming, apologies that it's so slow, but of course we are  handicapped by not having the author on hand to film pitching his own book. 

    In the meantime, thank you all for your support. Do have a look at this page from Wag's wartime memoir, which…

    30th January 2015 From Marianne: two weeks in!

    Well it's only been two weeks, and we have already collected just under half the money needed to publish The Book of Wag!  Thank you all for your generous donations.  And please do keep spreading the word about this book, and about Paul's last wish.

    As a taster, here's Wag's beloved sister Ethel:


    21st January 2015 From Marianne: thank you!

    Dear friends of Paul,

    Thanks to your generous  pledges. It's been a week since Paul's memorial celebration at Chelsea Old Town Hall, the day The Book of Wag went up on Unbound, and we have already collected over 30% of the money needed to publish it. It really was Paul's last wish to see this book get published, and Jack, Saskia and I are so grateful that between us all, with your support, we are…

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  • Daniel Durling
    Daniel Durling asked:

    Is the video supposed to be 15 seconds of silence?

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Daniel, This video was just a placeholder. A video has now been filmed and will be uploaded as soon as possible, so do watch this space. Best, The Unbounders