Quoting is not all it’s cracked up to be. As a biographer, I’ve tended to make a fetish of the ipsissima verba. How better to get the authentic voice of a character than through his or her own words?
But after writing my recent life of Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m not so sure. Having been denied permission to quote significant amounts of his own words which happened to be under copyright, I had to go back through my text and paraphrase – all this at the eleventh hour when other pieces of revision were more pressing.
The business of ‘getting permissions’ is one of the most tedious and nerve-wracking aspects of biography. Just when you’ve finished your book and should be elated, you have to sit down, identify which passages are in copyright, and approach their owners – who are under no obligation to grant you