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Two weeks ago my book Why Can’t We All Just Get Along was published. I’ve done a whole host of media interviews over the last couple of weeks talking about the book but the question I have most often been asked is this: Why did I write it?
Well, it is down to two women. Emily Maitlis, and, well, er, Her Majesty The Queen. In December 2018, the Queen’s Christmas Message contained this sentence: “Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.” It struck a chord with me because I had just tweeted this:
“If you call me a liar. If you tell me to ‘fuck right off’. If you gratuitously insult me. If you swear at me. If you are racist, hateful or homophobic. If you say something you wouldn’t say to my face… I will block you with no warning. And no regrets…”
The Mail on Sunday got in touch and commissioned me to write a 1,500 word article on the decline of public discourse, why it was happening and what could be done about it. I hardly scratched the surface in 1,500 words. There was clearly a lot more to say.
A few months later, while reading Emily Maitlis’s excellent book Airhead, I had a lightbulb moment. Airhead is a book based on thirty or forty of Emily’s experiences in journalism and interviewing, and I got a quarter of the way in when I suddenly thought to myself: ‘This is the book I want to write.’ So, as I read on, I started to jot down chapter headings of incidents I have been involved in during my broadcasting career and life involved in politics.
I phoned my literary agent, Martin Redfern at Northbank Talent Management, who had been discussing various book ideas with me for 12 months, and explained what I was thinking. Finally, I said, I’ve come up with an idea that excites me and a book I actually want to write.
He then told me he had been approached by Ed Faulkner at HarperCollins, who also had a book idea for me. ‘It’s all about the decline of public discourse and how we should disagree more politely,’ he said. Bingo.
We met with Ed and decided we should combine the two ideas into one book. You, dear reader, if you read it, will be the judge and jury as to whether that has worked.
I wrote it over the autumn and had a delivery deadline of 31stJanuary this year, which I met a week early. Only one problem. I was commissioned to write a book of 70,000 words. I ended up writing 122,000. I always overwrite. Always have, always will. I managed to edit it down to 107,000 and then Ed Faulkner got it down to 80,000. Quite a lot of autobiographical stuff disappeared, but to be honest Ed was right. It had to go. If ever I do write an autobiography (unlikely) at least I’ve got tens of thousands of words to start with!
The book was supposed to have been published on 28th May. I had dozens of speaking bookings lined up at think tanks and literary festivals all over the country. All for nothing. Covid-19 arrived and they were virtually all cancelled. HarperCollins suggested postponing publication until August in the hope that things would be better by now. Well, bookshops are open, but live events are still a no-no, and will probably remain so for the rest of the year.
I know that the sales of this book are likely to be a fraction of what they would have been in normal times, but there’s no point in fretting about it when there is absolutely nothing I can do. I am luckier than most authors. I have an audience on the radio of three quarters of a million people. I do TV. I have 214,000 Twitter followers. I have a newsletter going to thousands of people each Sunday. I have tens of thousands of listeners to my podcasts. Other authors who are publishing books at the same time do not have that.
I know there’s an appetite for this book because people know we have a problem in the way we debate and converse. The fact that I have sold 1,050 signed copies of the book through my online shop goes to prove it. They can’t all be buying it because they feel sorry for a struggling author! HarperCollins had already ordered a reprint before publication day, so I have to feel optimistic that it will still sell significant numbers. If you’d like to prove me right, you know what to do!
And if you have already bought the book and enjoyed it, please do leave a review on Amazon to encourage others to follow your far-sighted lead.
Iain Dale is one of Britain’s leading political commentators and presenters. Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less, Listen More is out now.