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The Wake (Part Six) – Updated

... and any assurances I'd given Crawford about continuing to promote it were moot. I was now a freelancer without a book to punt, and my position on the fence was no longer tenable.

I'd already written him a fairly long email setting out the situation as I saw it, addressing the glitch in the contracts and advising him to drop some of his wilder allegations (the consequences of which for his own position he clearly hadn't thought through and which, in fairness, he hasn't since repeated) and call the whole thing quits. I got back a load of blather about how he didn't know what the problem was, he was "catering to everyone's interests", and was "pushing ahead" on negotiations with retailers about orders for a reprint. The trouble with the last point was that he'd been talking about such negotiations for months, and they had yet to produce anything concrete – perhaps not his fault, after all there's plenty wrong with the state of the book trade at the moment and things are tough all over; but by now we were, frankly, beyond the point where 20% of back end profit on a possible consignment of a thousand books for the discount table at HMV was going to change anyone's mind about anything. I began to wonder if he genuinely didn't get that, or just wanted us to think he didn't.

His next communication convinced me he'd completely lost the plot.

On Tuesday 22nd June, I received by email a PDF of a letter on headed notepaper, marked PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL and addressed to me, Martin and Paul, in which Crawford offered to release us from our contracts and give us the remaining unsold books in exchange for a four-figure sum close to the total cover price, on condition that we agree to concoct with him some anodyne PR spiel to conceal what had really gone on over the past few months. He didn't appear to be joking.

I tore a strip off him about the gagging clause especially, and resolved to go public as soon as I could spare the time. My patience had run out.

Martin and I having separately reminded him in no uncertain terms that actually, he couldn't even sell the remaining books to us except perhaps as damaged stock with the infringing pages physically removed, he came back on Friday the 25th with a revised "final offer" – or rather two offers, one including the seconded books (which at least he was now pricing closer to their notional "damaged" value) and one for the IP rights alone. It was a classic bazaar tactic: ask for something totally outrageous, so that when you discount to merely greedy it looks like a bargain. But none of us were interested in playing that game: we didn't want the books. They were only an issue because Crawford refused to discuss anything else on its own merits: as far as I was concerned, he could keep 'em. (Although, as Martin had by now gone off on his annual family holiday to America, and nobody else knew where they were, there was no way he was getting them back within three days, as his alternate "offer" demanded.)

All we wanted was the rights to our own work. But suddenly Crawford was looking to charge us hundreds of pounds more than we'd ever seen from him to buy them back. Such deals are a standard part of the Hollywood shyster's arsenal, of course; but considering it was Crawford himself who described Insomnia as "a creator-focused and friendly environment" with a "family feel" where "creators retain the rights to their work rather than selling them for a relatively small amount of money as with traditional publishers", and that the whole situation could have been avoided if instead of carrying on digging for a month he'd just apologised to Martin for whatever it was he'd said on the 24th of May, it struck me as a bit of a bloody cheek for him to now be asking us for money.

Challenged about it, he insisted he was being more than reasonable - that he had "costs" to cover (what, don't we all?). In a babbling phone call to me from a withheld number on the afternoon of Monday the 28th, he claimed that the whole Sony digital deal could collapse if Burke & Hare wasn't part of it, and pleaded with me to agree to his terms immediately before he was overruled by his shareholders and things became a lot more difficult for everybody. Which sounded, to me, like an admission that he'd lost control of his company.

So I made him a counter-offer.

Forget trying to negotiate with all three of us as if we were a corporate body with some kind of joint responsibility for each other; forget the books, which was a dispute (if it was a dispute) between him and Martin and could be addressed separately; forget the supposed but strangely unspecified "costs" of dissolving our contracts – I, as an individual, would buy the remainder of his 10-year-license on my, Martin's and Paul's IP for double the value of his original advance to us. Surely his mystery shareholders couldn't claim that was unreasonable.

I've heard nothing from him now in over a week. But no doubt he has other things on his mind: I gather that several other projects are also in limbo over contracts or the lack of them, among them Martin Hayes' and Roy Huteson Stewart's Crowley, which looked interesting. Certainly as much as I'd been looking forward to illustrating Richmond Clements' Pinkerton script, there's no way I'm touching it now so long as Insomnia still have it. On the other hand, Crawford's continuing to announce new signings, so who really knows what's going on behind the scenes?

Only the shareholders, presumably.*

* The original share allocation was 83% to Crawford, 1% to each of his parents in recognition of their being listed as Directors at incorporation, and 15% to Alasdair Duncan. Companies House has no record of any shares being transferred out of the family.

UPDATE 20th July

This gets weirder and weirder. A few days after this post, I checked the Companies House website and saw that Insomnia had submitted accounts for the period up to 30/06/10. I thought they might prove interesting, but I didn't get round to ordering them straight away. On Saturday just gone, however, it came out that these accounts (which because of the size of the company aren't required to show much more than the annual trading balance, so there's no real way of knowing how accurate they are) are glossed with the following note:
Regrettably, Insomnia Publications Ltd ceased trading on 30 June 2010. These are the final set of accounts.
This was news to a lot of people, not least those who were still acting as editors for Insomnia as late as the 17th of July. And all the books are still available as downloads on the Sony Playstation Network, so exactly in what sense Insomnia has "ceased trading" is still unclear – as indeed are the current whereabouts of Crawford Coutts.

The situation is still developing.


  1. Gadzooks! "family feel"? The Corleone family by the sounds of things. Sorry to hear about this mess Will.

  2. Yes, I've mailed them to ask WTF is going on... I am not holding my breath.