A little while ago, I received news of the death of my publisher in Britain, Ernest Hecht. The news hit hard, even though I was always worried about his health. When I first met him, back when Souvenir Press released PC Bedtime Stories in the UK, he was overweight, in his late 60s, almost addicted to ice cream, and had that air of a man who thought he was immortal. Over time, I began to have the feeling he would outlive ME! Then, news came that he suffered a fall and never recovered from it.
Ernest was a fascinating man. Read his Times of London obit here to get a taste of his life. (Also here, the obit from The Guardian.) He had a ferocious wit and kept conversations moving at such a pace that I felt like a clod next to him. When my wife and I visited London, he took us to his favorite restaurant, the White Castle, and pontificated and charmed in great amounts, with potato chip crumbs down the front of his shirt. It is one of my fondest memories.
He was a great publisher for me, managing to keep PC Bedtime Stories in print long, long after it had gone on the remainder piles in America. He also talked me up with many publishers on the continent, which led to contracts. What’s more, he would call me regularly to say that they had had steady sales all year, a few good article placements, new press runs, etc. That’s the kind of thing that’s good to hear in the long, lonely life of putting words on paper. My American publishers? Deposed, out of the business, burned out, deranged. Ernest was a rara avis in the UK as well, last of the dying breed of independent publishers, but he reveled in that. He knew no other way to be. His motto was that the publisher’s main responsibility to the writer was to make enough money to stay in business. He declined to publish many of my books, which was wise of him I guess, but he knew how to ride one of my winners for a long time. And his faith in me was always unshaken. I have huge regrets now that I didn’t make time to visit him in recent years. Good lord, the time does fly.
From a trade journalist in the UK, quoted in The Bookseller: “No one would say he was easy, but being difficult was for Hecht a sport. Being with him, even in the last couple of tricky years, was never dull. He was truly unique, a Technicolor figure in a now-monochrome world. Publishing will never see his like again.”
Goodbye to a devoted fan of Arsenal football, ice cream, Brazil, and doing everything his own way. Ernest, you were an inspiration.
(Photo credit of his actual catastrophe of an office, The Time of London)