Byng snaps up tale of ex-publisher's drugs battle

Byng snaps up tale of ex-publisher's drugs battle

Canongate c.e.o. Jamie Byng has bought a memoir of a former publisher in the US whose life descended into “drug-fuelled chaos”.

Byng acquired world all language rights to the “powerful literary memoir”, Idiot Wind, by Peter Kaldheim, from David McCormick of McCormick Literary agency. It will be published in hardback in July 2019.

Byng was introduced to Kaldheim’s story by Doubleday v.p. Gerry Howard, who had met Kaldheim in the 1970s on the basketball courts of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The two had lost touch in the 1990s but Howard got in contact with Kaldheim after tracking him down via the internet. On receiving Kaldheim’s reply “detailing the astonishing tale of what had happened to him in the intervening years”, the Doubleday publisher encouraged him to write his memoirs, Canongate said.

Kaldheim had graduated in English and Classics from the Ivy League college Dartmouth in New Hampshire, America, and went on to work in publishing, as head copy editor at educational and trade publisher Harcourt in Boston and then acquiring editor at specialist press Van Nostrand Reinhold in New York. However “an addiction to drugs caused his life to come apart, ultimately landing him in Rikers jail after he sold cocaine to an undercover drug squad agent”. 

Idiot Wind is described by the publisher as “a stunning debut with echoes of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, and Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes”.

The memoir opens in 1987 during a large snowstorm in New York as Kaldheim flees the city in a bid to elude a vicious coke dealer he had badly swindled. “What follows is a powerful, deeply moving and redemptive story of one man’s journey from the drug-fuelled chaos of his past to sobriety and sanity via the ‘brotherhood of the road’, pan-handling, flophouses and fishing,” the publisher said.

The synopsis reads: “My life had become nothing to brag about, only something to survive, and for that I had no one to blame but myself and my accomplices: alcohol, cocaine, and a deep-seated streak of what my old Greek philosophy professor would call akrasia – a weakness of will that allows one to act against his better judgment. If Greek’s not your thing, call it what Bob Dylan does. 'Idiot wind'. That’s what I came to call it, and for nearly a dozen years it had been blowing my life ragged.”

On the inspiration behind his memoir, Kaldheim said: “I was 16 when I first read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1965, and I knew right away it was a book that would stick with me forever. However, little did I suspect that two decades later I’d be hitting the road myself, in a last-ditch bid to escape a drug habit that had left me homeless and broke – or that Kerouac’s novel would be instrumental in saving my life.”

Byng said: “Gerry Howard’s taste in books is amongst the best of any editor I know so when he urged me to take a look at Idiot Wind, I knew that Peter’s memoir was likely to be very good. But nothing could prepare me for its humanity and humour, nor the quality of the writing and the book’s immense power."

He added: "Peter is a prodigiously gifted writer and Idiot Wind is a magnificent memoir which we are very proud to be publishing.”

Kaldheim now lives in Lindenhurst, Long Island, where he fishes for fluke on charter boats out of Montauk. Idiot Wind is his first book.