Here's the thing about the book Jan Morris is working on now: you won't see it until she's dead. The collection of essays, Allegorizings, Morris said, is “a very personal book” that revisits her “lifetime's preoccupations—place and animals and all the things that have interested me.... But, of course, I'm also looking back at them from a peculiar vantage point. There is a theme, which I suppose may remind the audience that even the most superficial writers can have a thread of more serious philosophical thoughts going through your mind.”
Norton executive editor Bob Weil, who worked with Morrison on The World: Travels 1950—2000, released in 2003, acquired the book last summer. “Last year, she said, 'Oh, I didn't tell you, but I've written a posthumous book.' I've never heard anything like that,” Weil said. “I read it over a weekend last summer and was mesmerized by the language. And I thought there was just such profound wisdom in this story and in her willingness to assess her life in the most moving and kind way. The book is just filled with immense compassion.”
Publicity director Louise Brockett said plans for publicity and marketing are in the early stages now, and she acknowledged that it's “peculiar” to plan a marketing campaign around an obituary. “There is an awareness here that critics are going to be very interested in this book and ought to be interested in this book, and that it deserves to be widely reviewed and written about,” Brockett said. “But the timing of the release is not entirely up to us.”
The manuscript is complete, Morris said, except for one final chapter. Once that's delivered, Norton will design the book and have Morris sign off on the final page proofs. Then, of course, there's the waiting. Brockett said Norton is “weighing its options” regarding the book's publication—specifically, to crash, or not to crash?
“I always intended it to be a posthumous book,” Morris said. “There are some things in it that I don't want to write about now, but I'm happy to write about afterwards. And, of course, when you're dead you don't have to read any of the reviews.”
Morris has had, to put it mildly, a colorful career and life. Born James Morris, she underwent sex reassignment surgery in Morocco in 1972 and has written more than a dozen travel books, several memoirs and countless essays and magazine articles. In its review of The World, PW called Morris “one of the most admired and imitated travel writers alive.”
Though slowed down by a couple of brain surgeries in recent years, Morris doesn't plan on going soon. She's hoping to find a U.S. publisher for Hav, a sequel to Last Letters from Hav (Random House, 1985). Already published in the U.K., the sequel was shortlisted for the 2007 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Revised editions of several of her earlier travel books are also in the works in the U.K. at Faber and Faber, the revisions negotiated, Morris said, after Faber expressed interest in bringing her out-of-print backlist back to life via POD.
“Is it unconventional?” Morris said. “When you're 82, you can do these things.”