A fascinating piece in the Guardian newspaper a couple of days ago, about dead authors and their last wishes for their work after they are dead. Everybody knows how Kafka got royally screwed by his so-called friend Max Brod (mentioned in this article). Kafka wanted his work destroyed unread and unpublished, and Brod did the exact opposite.
But there have been so many other cases and the Guardian piece does a nice job of summarising some of them. Even the ones obeying the author to destroy any unpublished work gets dog’s abuse – from people who want it published! So literary executors are screwed either way. It’s not an enviable job by any means.
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Terry Pratchett & Harper Lee’s Last Wishes
The most famous recent example of course is Terry Pratchett who specified that the computer hard drive with all his unpublished work should be destroyed with a steam roller. No doubt many Pratchett fans were in physical pain after that and no doubt some screamed abuse. But it was Pratchett’s work and he had the right to decide its fate after he passed away. Another was Harper Lee, who saw a sequel to her “To Kill a Mockingbird” book come out, against her will.
This is why authors should have iron-clad wills from day one, even if currently they are not making any money from their books. One day they may, and then what if the author suddenly dies? That’s the attitude I am taking with my books and I intend to get a will together as soon as possible.