Dedications and un-dedications, as told by Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen, author of THE RAPTURELiz Jensen’s seventh novel, The Rapture, was published in August by Doubleday. From the starred review in Publisher’s Weekly: “In gorgeous prose, Jensen paints a depressing but oddly hopeful portrait of a modern doomsday scenario.”

And from Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting: “[The Rapture is] a masterclass on how to write an engaging thriller about a relevant contemporary issue while still respecting the reader’s brain cells …. you’ll be gripped.”

Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire to an Anglo-Moroccan librarian mother and a Danish violin-maker father. She studied English at Somerville College, Oxford, and worked first as a journalist in Hongkong and Taiwan, then a TV and radio producer for the BBC in the UK.

In 1987 she moved to France where she worked as a sculptor and freelance journalist, and began writing her first novel, Egg Dancing. This was published in 1995 after her return to London, where she wrote Ark Baby (1998), The Paper Eater (2000), War Crimes for the Home (2002), The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (2004), and My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (2006).

Liz’s work has been short-listed for the Guardian Fiction award, nominated three times for the Orange Prize, developed for film, and translated into more than 20 languages. She has two sons and shares her life with Danish writer Carsten Jensen. She divides her time between London and Copenhagen.

The Rapture, by Liz JensenTo enter a drawing for a free copy of The Rapture, please leave a comment below! Welcome, Liz, and thank you for appearing at The Ball.

To Thee I Dedicate

It wasn’t difficult deciding who to dedicate my first novel to.

In fact I had no damn choice in the matter. The old geezer practically forced me into it, by bombarding me with a daily barrage of not-so-subtle passive-aggressive hints, which began the moment I announced I’d landed an agent.

Example: ‘It’s so wonderful that your novel’s being published. I only hope I live long enough to see it in print.’

Or: ‘It must be so satisfying to be immortalised between the covers of a book, especially if it’s written by someone you’ve sacrificed so much for, just before your heart gives out.’

Or: ‘If I wrote a book, I’d dedicate it to you because I know how over the moon you’d be.’

He was speaking only partly in jest. And I caved in of course. How not to?

Actually I’d have done it anyway. At some point, at least.

The dedication in my first novel, Egg Dancing, duly reads: To my beloved father, Niels Rosenvinge Jensen. Whose fault everything is.

And everything was indeed his fault. It still is. He was thrilled to bits.

Sure enough, he did eventually die, as all old geezers do. Not right after publication day, as he’d basically threatened to do (that was purely strategic), but ten years later. By then I’d written three more novels and had embarked on another.

‘So I could have waited!’ I told him, after Novel 4.

‘But we didn’t know that,’ he said, and laughed his dirty old geezer’s laugh. ‘So aren’t you glad you did?’

Yes, I was, and I am to this day.

That debut novel turned out to be one of the simpler ones, dedication-wise. The ‘without whose unwavering, tender and inspired support’ business can be a fraught one. In 1998 I dedicated a novel to my husband. All hunky dory — until it was reprinted a couple of years later, by which time we were freshly divorced and in new relationships. What was the etiquette of that, I wondered? We remained on good enough terms but that wasn’t quite the point. Can you un-dedicate someone?

Yes. ‘When in doubt, drop it altogether,’ advised a fellow-writer friend who — for reasons that will become clear — shall remain nameless. ‘Why resurrect the ghost of some bygone disaster? But be warned. Double-check before it goes to print, and never underestimate the incompetence of your editor.’

She spoke from bitter experience. Having given her husband a gushingly fulsome dedication in a book which she wrote, she now claims, ‘despite rather than thanks to that A-hole’, they embarked on divorce proceedings involving the custody battle from Hell. The book was already published in hardback complete with the now excruciating dedication, so short of buying up every copy herself and organising a giant bonfire, there was little to be done. But when paperback time came around, she seized her chance.

‘Eradicate my now reviled ex from all eternity,’ she instructed her publisher. ‘That mini-hymn of praise I wrote just to massage his ego is no longer necessary.’

‘No problem,’ said the editor. ‘We’ll just drop the entire dedication page.’

Time passed and the paperback came out. But what should have been a joyful occasion turned into a day of angry phone calls and fists slammed against walls.

In Britain, when there’s a system-related screw-up, traditionally we do not take responsibility for it, but blame a member of the imaginary sub-species of elf known as the gremlin. If it’s a major screw-up, we’ll point the finger at a whole tribe of them. Sure enough, the gremlins of publishing had struck again.

But my friend got her revenge. Sort of. Whenever she signed copies of her book in public, she ostentatiously sliced off offending page with a razor blade, and as she did so, told the story of why. If a representative of her publisher was in earshot, she gave the long version.

Only she did not use the word gremlin.

Liz Jensen is thinking of auctioning the dedication of her next novel on E-Bay. Any takers?

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12 thoughts on “Dedications and un-dedications, as told by Liz Jensen

  1. “Whenever she signed copies of her book in public, she ostentatiously sliced off offending page with a razor blade, and as she did so, told the story of why.”

    Oh my–what a grand stunt! People must have been talking of that event for months afterward!

    Your dad sounds like a great guy. I’m glad you caved and gave him to first dedication 🙂

  2. Hilarious and witty, as always, Liz. Dedications are a little like the stories we sell, eh? You can only write what seems true at the time, knowing that most truths are indeed ephemeral. But maybe beautifully ephemeral?

    And for everyone else, if you like smart gorgeous prose, any of Liz’s books will do. For great psychological suspense, THE NINTH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX is a must. For smart apocalyptic, THE RAPTURE. A wise and extremely handsome American writer once commented on THE RAPTURE thusly: “In this modern world of religious warfare and global warming, The Rapture is as topical as it is thrilling. Beautifully written, haunting, and thoroughly entertaining. The gripping tension of Lost mixed with the poetic poignancy of The Bell Jar. I simply could not stop turning pages.”

    (Thusly is a British word, right?)

  3. Very funny story. And I love the bit about your dad too. Those Danes…gotta love ’em, eh? I am Distantly Danish and come from a whole line of those geezers! Haha!

    Thanks for stopping by The Debs.

  4. We’re honored to have Liz here at The Debutante Ball. I highly recommend Liz’s books; they’ll make you think and keep you turning pages into the wee hours.

  5. We don’t really dedicate musicals to anyone. But, based on the librettos I’ve written so far, mine would read “To all the Southern women in my life past, present, and future.”

  6. I never thought that dedicating a book would be such a mine field, PARTICULARLY if you end up separated for whatever reason from someone you’d dedicated a book to. Wow.

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