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Hit the sweet-spot

Ace literary agent David Godwin, who represents a host of internationally acclaimed authors, has written a charming golfing memoir. Bhavya Dore writes.

books Updated: Nov 02, 2012 22:49 IST
Bhavya Dore

Breaking 80: An Amateur's Shot At Golfing Respectability
David Godwin
Random House
Rs. 499 n pp 117

David Godwin is a terrible agent. The man whose London-based eponymous literary agency represents three Booker Prize winners and other stars in the literary firmament, has one unhappy client. Himself. In Mumbai on the eve of the release of his golfing memoir Breaking 80: An Amateur's Shot at Golfing Respectability, Godwin the writer was evaluating Godwin the agent. "I was a terrible agent," he told Hindustan Times in the course of an interview at the Taj President on Wednesday, about representing his own book.

"I had no arguments about the money, I didn't dispute the terms, mind you these were people I knew. I just said yes... It's one of the reasons why writers should have agents, it's impossible to do it yourself." Godwin, 64, is all self-deprecation and quiet humour. Tall and bespectacled, he hugs his black jacket across his body, showing off that it sits better now that golfing has made him fitter.

Breaking 80, a slim account of a bumbling everyman, tasking himself with improving his golf score, is not a book Godwin thought he would write. Accounts of agents nurturing literary ambition are few.

Giles Gordon and Ed Victor were two who crossed into writerly territory. But for Godwin, the absence of a lineage of crossover predecessors was barely a concern. More pressing was the possibility of his clientele and reputation becoming casualties in the wake of literary ambition.

"I have a lot of good writers and it would have been embarrassing if the book had been absolutely terrible, for everyone. But it's worked out fine," he says. "I enjoyed doing it. I haven't got any terrible enemies and I haven't lost any clients yet." The book started out when a publisher suggested he aim to achieve a score below 80, a watermark of "golfing respectability".

Tramping through golfing country, taking lessons, participating in competitions - Godwin's reaching for the magical digits is all quaintly epic striving. It's also a straightforward book. "I can't write with complicated ideas or wonderful prose but I can write simply and clearly and I think that's worth doing," he says.

Godwin first started out in publishing, working in Routledge and Jonathan Cape, then leaving to join a literary agency in London. In 1995, with just a desk and his wife, he set up his own agency. It's been 17 years that he's been representing writers.

"The relationship with writers is a bit complicated. In a way you know lots of things about them. You have to be discreet. It's an unusual relationship." Which is why he wouldn't play golf with them. "I always feel I should let them win," he says, laughing. When it was his turn as writer, he was self-conscious in his dealings with publishers. "You want to know all the time what's going on... I was very conscious of not wanting to be a pest to my publishers. Also, it's not a living for me."

Prior to his golfing outing, Godwin's best known burst of athleticism was when he took a plane to Delhi in 1996 clutching the manuscript of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. He wanted to champion the book. She became a famous writer, he became a famous agent. Since then he has represented Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Jeet Thayil and now even Pippa Middleton.

But he is at pains to explain he doesn't see himself as a celebrity agent. "No, that would be bizarre," he says. Having watched the Indian writing scene (he is advisor at the Jaipur Literary Festival), he says it's having an "extraordinary time" and expects that to continue. He is undeterred by the downswing in the publishing industry.

"We have had a good time so I'm not complaining," he says. "It will be fine. Publishing will take care of itself." Now that he's been a writer, he's had time to come away with notes for his day job. "It's little things," he says. "Like returning phone calls, responding quickly." David Godwin is a better agent. And David Godwin the writer has something to do with it. "It has probably made me a better agent, a more sensitive, quicker and hopefully a more thoughtful agent."