Lawrence Creaghan

Salman Rushdie, Copywriter

Excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s introduction to The Folio Society edition (2009) of Midnight’s Children

The novel in my head was clearly going to be long and strange and take quite a while to write and in the meanwhile I had no money. As a result I was forced back into the world of advertising. Before we left I had worked for a year or so as a copywriter at the London office of the Ogilvy & Mather agency, whose founder, David Ogilvy, immortally instructed us that “the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife,” and whose creative director (and my boss) was Dan Ellerington, a man of rumoured Romanian origins with a command of English that was, let us say, eccentric, so that, according to mirthful company legend, he once had to be forcibly restrained from presenting to the Milk Marketing Board a successor campaign to the famous “Drinka pinta milka day” which would be based on the amazing, the positively Romanian slogan, “Milk goes down like a dose of salts.” In those less hard-nosed times Ogilvy’s was prepared to employ a few oddball creative people on a part-time basis, and I managed to persuade them to re-hire me as one of that happy breed. I worked two or three days a week, essentially job-sharing with another part-timer, the writer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny. On Friday nights I would come home to Kentish Town from the agency’s offices near Waterloo Bridge, take a long hot bath, wash the week’s commerce away, and emerge – or so I told myself – as a novelist. As I look back, I feel a touch of pride at my younger self’s dedication to literature, which gave him the strength of mind to resist the blandishments of the enemies of promise. The sirens of ad-land sang sweetly and seductively, but I thought of Odysseus lashing himself to the mast of his ship, and somehow stayed on course.

Still, advertising taught me discipline, forcing me to learn how to get on with whatever task needed getting on with, and ever since those days I have treated my writing simply as a job to be done, refusing myself all (well, most) luxuries of artistic temperament. And it was at my desk at Ogilvy’s that I remember becoming worried that I didn’t know what my new novel was to be called. I took several hours off from the important work of coming up with campaigns for fresh cream cakes (“Naughty but nice”), Aero chocolate bars (“Irresistibubble”) and the Daily Mirror newspaper (“Look into the Mirror tomorrow – you’ll like what you see”) to solve the problem. In the end I had two titles and couldn’t choose between them: Midnight’s Children and Children of Midnight. I typed them out one after the other, over and over, and then all at once I understood that there was no contest, that Children of Midnight was a banal title and Midnight’s Children a good one. To know the title was also to understand the book better, and after that it became easier, a little easier, to write.