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NPR interview with Thomas Corfield

In mid last year, the Thomas Corfield was ordered by a federal court order to 'cease and desist' writing his books because of concerns for the well-being of the reading public at large, an action brought upon him not by readers, but by industry professionals. This was the first time the publishing industry had brought legal proceedings against a writer, and the entire saga was played out in the public arena and voraciously reported by the media. Stephanie Mills had an opportunity to interview Doctor Corfield to discover how the experience had affected him.

Thank you for agreeing to talk to me. And thank you also for the sandwiches. 


Well, although it’s a pleasure, Stephanie, I didn't have much choice in either. The court has ordered me to do all sorts of things I’d rather not, such as make sandwiches and talk to people. Both of which I loathe. Not that I have anything against sandwiches per se, I just don’t like making them. In general, I think sandwiches are great. They’re such an efficient way of conveying condiments efficiently. In fact, I think sandwiches are taken for granted to such a degree, it borders on insulting. 


Yes, well, these are particularly good sandwiches.


Aren’t they though? 


Are you saying that the court specifically ordered you to make sandwiches?


Yes. It might seem silly, but the more time I spend making sandwiches, the less time I spend writing, which I understand to be the crux of their argument.


They’d prefer you to make sandwiches rather than write?


They’d prefer me to do anything rather than write. I think sandwiches just came to mind at that moment. It was nearing lunchtime as I recall.


But that’s bizarre!


Not really. The hearing had been going solidly all morning.


No, I meant about their wanting you to make sandwiches.


Not if you’d read my writing. Regardless, my barrister argued that having me wield sharpened cutlery was far more dangerous than wielding a pen.


That sounds like a reasonable argument. What was the result?


They broke into hysteria and asked whether my defence had read my writing.


This seems to be the pivotal point in this saga of you facing the publishing industry: why are they taking out injunctions against you writing?


Because my writing’s ghastly. It really is dreadful. I mean, it's clinically appalling. And I’m the first to admit it—which is encouraging according to doctor Margorie.


Doctor Marjorie?


Yes. My psychiatrist. Have you read my books?


I intended to, but my editor told me I’d be fired if I so much as peruse their covers. Which is odd considering she’s generally keen to encourage research.


Don’t worry. It’s probably just as well. Even the cover is misspelt. And it’s printed upside down. At least on the first book. The second one was missing its cover altogether.


Who on earth agreed to publish them in the first place, if they’re so dreadful?


Me, of course. I self-published. Do you honestly think a real publisher would misspell the author’s name, or get the page the wrong way around?


No, not really. Did you not notice yourself before they went to print?


Yes, but I thought I’d leave it in the hope it might distract from the writing.


But surely they didn’t sell particularly well?


They didn’t sell at all. In fact, even the printer went bankrupt shortly afterwards. I bought a copy though. Two, actually. One for me and one for my cat. My mother bought a copy also. She didn’t read it though. Instead, she burnt it.


Burnt it?


Yes. While I was watching. She hates me, you see.


Oh, I’m sure she doesn’t hate you, Thomas!


She does. She told me. She even wrote it down on my arm.


On your arm?


Yes. In cigarette burns. I’ve still got the scars. See?


Let’s get back to the reason you’re in this situation. The entire publishing industry has taken out a class action injunction to stop you writing. Correct?


That’s right. As far as I can understand, it's an industry thing. My books are so dreadful, that the publishing industry as a whole decided I was a menace to the unsuspecting public, and that I had to be stopped.


That's an extraordinary accusation!


Not as extraordinary the consequences of my writing. Apparently, from what I can gather in court, illiteracy is now something to aspire to. And book burnings have gone up solidly since the things were released. They’re now almost as popular as the Eurovision Song Contest.




Yes. But with less singing, obviously.


So you perhaps being the worst writer ever, the publishing industry as a whole wants to stop you in order to protect the public.




That’s pretty a severe reaction to your writing!


Well, to be fair, my writing’s pretty severe.


You don’t seem visibly upset by the accusations.


Stephanie, this has been going on for some time now. Frankly, if it wasn’t for my weekly court hearings, I’d lose my sense of routine. They’re oddly comforting in that way. And I know most of the staff. Particularly since I often bring them sandwiches.


Nevertheless, to have an entire industry insisting on how dreadful your writing is must take its toll.


Oh, absolutely. I have about as much money left as someone who has none.  


And I imagine it must hurt your feelings?


Not as much as you might expect. These were industry professionals and not my readers. I think if the latter were up in arms about my books, I would have been far more distressed.


So why do you think your readers weren't up in arms about it?


Because I don't have any readers.


But defending yourself from an commercial industry must take a huge toll mentally, let alone financially.


Of course. But then again, my mental health is responsible for getting me into this situation in the first place.


Well, despite how dreadful it all must be, the public certainly seems to be fascinated by its drama.


Yes. Sadly, I’d prefer them to be fascinated with my books. The media have played a huge role in my admonishment, primarily because they’re funded by the publishing industry. The Guardian newspaper in particular seems to take a very dim view of me indeed. So dim it’s quite bereft of wattage.


The Guardian certainly does seem to be leading the assault, it’s true.


I consider them the public face of the industry. I’d like to sue them for defamation. But I can’t.


Why not?


Firstly because I’m bankrupt, and secondly because they’re right.


I must say, you do seem to be remarkably accepting of the situation.


It’s a bit like death, Stephanie: no amount of arguing is going to make the slightest bit of difference. It’s also very painful and often involves drugs.


Well, may I say thank you for taking the time to speak with me. 


You may, Stephanie, but we both know you wouldn't mean it.


That's true. It's more for my readers and a vague attempt at professional courtesy.


You have readers?




Can I have some?




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