By Humfrey Hunter
It’s all John Sweeney’s fault. Really, it is. He was the one who, back in 2012, when I was his agent and Silvertail Books was just an idea, told me in his typically bullish way that I should publish his book about Scientology because no matter what the church’s lawyers said, they would not sue either of us. The prospect was more than a little worrying, but Silvertail was new and I needed good books to publish. So, after even more bullishness from John, we published The Church of Fear and John was right; they didn’t sue. Fast forward three years, and now Going Clear by Lawrence Wright is being published by Silvertail in the UK and Australia. It is a fact that if I hadn’t published The Church of Fear, Going Clear wouldn’t be coming out now.
So what do I hope to achieve by publishing it now? Selling books, for a start – Silvertail Books is not a hobby, it’s a business. But there’s more than that involved here. Scientology is a fascinating organisation, one which provides news pages with a steady stream of great stories. But it has a dark side – by which I mean the side which breaks up families, treats children in a way I believe is inhumane, sees adults physically abused and reduces them to lives of poverty and so on – and these things are often mentioned in various different media. But for all sorts of reasons, this darkness has not been fully explored in book form in the UK. Going Clear will change that.
At the same time as our publication of Sweeney’s The Church of Fear was going on, another publisher was making the decision to cancel their planned publication of Going Clear. I do not know why they did this, but I would not criticise them for it; the other publisher is part of a huge international corporation, full of brilliant people who know what they’re doing and who make decisions for different reasons and in different ways to the permanent staff and shareholders of Silvertail Books, who can be counted on one hand. Actually, make that one finger – it’s just me. That means if I want to do a book, I can, lawyers permitting, of course. And in this case, they did, partly because in a 2013 Bill, which became legislation in 2014, the law here changed and introduced a defence against defamation lawsuits called ‘Publication on matter of public interest’. Essentially this means that if something is published which the publisher can show is in the public interest, or which the publisher reasonably believed was in the public interest, the law protects them. This matters to me a very great deal.
When I heard Going Clear wasn’t being published back in 2013, I wanted it immediately. I don’t think I’m obsessive about many things, but for the next couple of years I probably went a little bit that way over this book. What a prospect it was: a world-famous New York Times bestseller written by a Pulitzer Prize-winner. How could I not be excited at the prospect? What a coup that would be for Silvertail Books. On top of this, I hoped publishing the book here would do some good for the perception of the UK as a place where freedom of speech matters and is exercised. Finally, I hoped it would be a useful addition to the exposure of the church’s dark side and life in it. On this last point it might not do much because the book has been available for three years and its contents are widely known. But still, the fact it wasn’t published in the UK didn’t feel right. The church has a presence here, after all, so having it available meant something.
Then you add in Tony Ortega, author of the brilliant The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, hero to many, fountain of knowledge about the church, and someone who said Silvertail publishing Going Clear would be a good thing. When you’re sitting at a table with Tony and John ‘Trust me, they won’t sue’ Sweeney and they’re encouraging you to do something they approve of, believe me when I say you end up feeling pretty damn motivated. Finally, late last year, Lawrence Wright himself indicated he would be interested in letting Silvertail have the book. And so here we are. Today, 17 March 2016, Going Clear is being published in the UK for the first time.
John Sweeney’s book tells the story of his experiences investigating Scientology for the BBC. It’s a riot, as you’d expect, but also mildly terrifying that a journalist could be treated that way in a civilised country in the 21st century. The second Scientology book I published, Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah, revealed the true story of the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It is a powerful, important and ridiculously entertaining book and Russell is rightly revered as its author. Then there’s The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, Tony Ortega’s riveting biography of Paulette Cooper, the journalist who was the victim of possibly the dirtiest dirty tricks the church has ever pulled after she wrote a book about Scientology in the 1970s. Three brilliant books which belong alongside the best non-fiction of recent years. But something was missing. A portrait of Scientology’s recent history which gives an insight into what’s going on now, how the church became what it is today. And that’s where Going Clear comes in. It is devastating. Like the previous three, it’s impossible to put down because of the human stories it tells. These are real people, from the top to the bottom of Scientology. Real people with familes. Children, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, all of whom are affected by what the church does. That’s why Going Clear needed to be published here, and that’s why I’m proud to have Silvertail’s name on its spine.
NOTE: If it wasn’t for Amazon and the distribution network they offer publishers through print and e editions, no matter how big or small the publisher is, Silvertail wouldn’t exist, and none of the books mentioned above would have been published. That’s an opinion you don’t see very often: Amazon is a friend of free speech. But it’s true. All the books mentioned above are available thanks to Amazon.