Each day we will feature a different writer whose literary estate is managed by us, including authors Bernard Shaw, Alison Uttley and John Maysfield – with a festive theme in the run-up to Christmas.
The aim is to highlight the importance of maintaining literary estates, not only to bring a writer’s work to a new generation of audiences, but so future writers may benefit from the royalties received through grants and endowments associated with these estates.
We were inspired by the recent news that children’s author Alison Uttley will receive a plaque in her former town Beaconsfield on Monday 17 December. The Uttley estate is currently managed by the Society’s Literary Estates department.
We have long acted as literary representatives of a number of distinguished writers’ estates. This includes, but is not limited to, handling the negotiation and administration of contracts for the full range of rights from print to permissions, to major stage productions and feature films.
Q&A with Lisa Dowdeswell, Head of Literary Estates:
To get a taste of what our estates team do, Lisa Dowdeswell, Head of Literary Estates at the SoA, explains what the Society does for literary states across the UK and their impact on writers today.
Who are some of the literary estates that we represent? What is our role?
We have managed estates on behalf of some wonderfully distinguished writers, including John Masefield, Walter de la Mare, Bernard Shaw, Compton Mackenzie, Harley Granville Barker, St. John Ervine, Rosamond Lehmann and T.S Eliot, and continues to represent their literary estates, along with many others. These eminent authors served at various points on the Management Committee, and John Masefield served as President for thirty years from 1937 until his death.
The SoA had established its Collection Bureau in 1912 with the intention that it should not act in competition with commercial firms as a placing agent for living writers, but provide a service at the request, usually, of writers nearing the end of their working lives, or from executors or heirs lacking the expertise or time to manage literary estates.
The estate of Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the first. In addition, in 1931 the SoA established the League of Dramatists, to negotiate licences and collect fees and royalties on behalf of playwright members.
How did the Society acquire the literary estates it represents?
Many of our authors were longstanding members and asked us to manage their literary estates after their death. Bernard Shaw, aged 90, when he finally asked the SoA to agent his literary and theatre works wrote on a postcard (in 1945): ‘The time has come (I am nearly ninety) when I must hand over the management of my literary and theatre to some permanent agency…You intimated some time ago that [the SoA] is game for the job. On what terms?’
Once the deal was done, and after Shaw’s papers had been passed to us, another postcard from Shaw’s Corner arrived, saying: ‘Act as if I were dead, as I soon shall be.’
Why is it important to look after literary estates?
To continue to keep the legacies of these distinguished authors alive and bring their work to new audiences in a variety of formats. The commission and royalty income we receive helps to support our work, and supports individual authors through grants and endowments awarded by the Contingency Fund and Pension Fund.
What do you love most about working with our estates?
The huge variety and scope of our work from handling rights for print permissions to licences for foreign language publication, audio and major film, TV and stage productions. It is always incredibly exciting to revive old classics. For example, John Masefield’s novel The Box of Delights, has had a new lease of life on stage at Wilton’s Music Hall in an adaptation by author Piers Torday.