Frankly, this recent profile of Canongate Publisher Jamie Byng strikes me as ranking pretty high on the absurdity scale. It could be how Joel Rickett wrote it up — what else to make of gems like these?
A few years ago, Byng might have celebrated with a vodka or a swift line of cocaine. Now he brews up a pot of fresh mint tea. His second wife, American literary agent Elizabeth Sheinkman, comes down from her roof-terrace office on the way to yoga class; the newly-married pair spent Christmas 2004 on retreat in India.
“I am mellowing out,” he admits. “I’m a little older  and a little wiser.” The infamous all-night sessions are fewer and further between: “Part of the trouble was that I had huge levels of endurance, so I could burn the candle at both ends and blowtorch it in the middle. I realised that it was doing damage to me and I’d be better to slow it down.”
He’s vexed over how to nurture new literary talent in a risk-averse climate. “From September onwards you’re fucked if you’re publishing an unknown writer–you’re not going to get any retail support.”
But he remains relentlessly upbeat. “I still have the same feeling I had in 1994, which is that if I mess this up I’ll have squandered the best opportunity of my life. I feel more excited and energised by the business than ever before. A lot of the right ingredients are there–I just hope we continue to get some luck, because we fucking need it.”
And, despite a calmer lifestyle, he vows to continue to use his personal notoriety to Canongate’s benefit: “It’s weird being so synonymous with a business. But the media like to focus on one person, so it is something we can use to our advantage–it has helped Canongate get a greater profile than it maybe deserves on size.”
Granted, I guess Byng’s faux-nobility and Morgan Entrenkin poster-boy status makes him an easy target, but one has to wonder if that mint tea he’s drinking isn’t spiked with something…