Complete fiction - but very familiar

Novel of literary London comes out after lawyers have their say, writes Suzi Feay

The book that became a literary sensation before it was even published - A Vicious Circle, Amanda Craig's devastating portrait of the rivalries and jealousies of some of the country's leading literary figures - finally hits the bookshops tomorrow. But not before it has been censored by the libel lawyers.

Written in the style of the grand Victorian novel, the original version of Craig's novel concerned the struggles of two women: Mary, a poor, self- taught Irish girl, and Amelia, the glamorous daughter of a newspaper tycoon. Both fall in love with Paul Pinsent, a ruthless but stylish literary journalist. But Craig's former boyfriend, the Sunday Telegraph critic David Sexton, put paid to plans to publish the tale when he warned that he might sue, claiming the Machiavellian book reviewer Pinsent was a thinly disguised attack on him.

It has taken months of legal negotiations, the withdrawal of the book by its original publishers, Penguin, a substantial rewriting of the fine detail of the novel and an auction race between other rival houses to get A Vicious Circle into the bookshops. In the revised version out goes Paul Pinsent - and in moves Mark Crawley. Craig has been forced to change not only the main male character's name but also his appearance, origin, job, the location of his flat, his kitchen's contents, the publications he freelances for and one incident of oafish behaviour. Even his fridge and Baby Belling have changed - from a second- hand one to a "a gyp-room fridge and a slo-cooker".

When the news broke that Sexton had written to Penguin, threatening to sue over resemblances he detected, Craig airily commented: "About the only similarity is that they both have a second-hand fridge and wear Italian clothing."

Mary Quinn, a cast-off girlfriend who takes her revenge, has also had her hair colour changed from red to brown. "I think he thought that she was too identified with me," says Craig.

She insists no one person was the model for "Mark Crawley". "It was never my intention to libel this man, and I don't think I did. It's ridiculous to say because my character comes from such-a-place, went to Cambridge and to London to be a journalist it must be that person." The latest version of A Vicious Circle contains a stern disclaimer: "Any resemblance of the satirical archetypes in A Vicious Circle to real-life people and events is ... not only wholly unintended but entirely wrong."

Wholly unintended? The walk-on parts so gleefully portayed are a feast for the journalists and critics who set forth on the trail of the real- life counterparts of literary London.

There's Merlin Swagg, novelist and presenter of an influential TV arts show ("he only has established authors on Snap, Crackle, Pop! and he's much too soft to give them a hard time"). There's dodgy press baron Max de Monde of MDM newspapers, a loathsome fat bully who uses face flannels as toilet paper and flies around in his company helicopter. And there's Ben Gorgle, "portly Canadian editor of Grunt ... bearded, balding, bespectacled ..." The very alliteration seems to point us inexorably towards Bill Buford, the former editor of the literary magazine Granta.

Some people were flattered to find themselves in the novel. A couple of good-natured journalists (John Walsh and Christopher Silvester) happily proffered themselves as candidates for the role of Ivo Sponge, literary editor, lecher and wit. Craig, whose latest version makes Mark Crawley a political pundit while Sponge becomes a literary critic who wants a top Westminster job, claims Sexton has behaved decently. The real villain for her is Penguin, which, she says, dumped her novel without giving her a chance to rewrite.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Belong: Volunteer Mentor for Offenders

This is a volunteer role with paid expenses : Belong: Seeking volunteers who c...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests