Back to Normal 17

It has been a very hectic few days, but they have been productive. I seem to have helped convince the mainstream media of the obvious truth that the maritime boundaries in this part of the Gulf are disputed and fuzzy, and that the real situation is much less clear than the British map. The BBC has at last started routinely to refer to the boundary as disputed and unclear. The support from the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail helped enormously to turn the tide, as did the serious piece in the New York Times.

Last night I did Newsnight, BBC News 24 and a pre-record for this morning’s Breakfast TV. In all cases the BBC introduction stated that the border was disputed and complex as reported fact before I started, which made it much easier.

This morning Richard Dalton, former British Ambassador to Iran, said clearly on BBC Breakfast TV that nobody could be certain whose waters they were in, that the boundary is not agreed and negotiating such boundaries is very complex. That is the first open confirmation of this from an “Establishment” figure since the Blair spin about being “utterly certain” we were in Iraqi waters.

Furthermore, both the FCO and MOD appear to have cottoned on that accepting this as all a muddle is the wiggle room for diplomacy to get us out of this dispute with neither side losing too much face, and the way to get our people back quickly.

There is always something of a price to pay for standing up to the government. I am Rector of the University of Dundee. The local newspaper, the Courier and Advertiser, yesterday published an article giving a highly tendentious account of my views, making me out to support the Iranian detention of the sailors. I wrote a letter to the Editor for publication to correct this, in mild terms, and telephoned yesterday afternoon to check they had received it. They did not publish my letter, but today published an article saying that students were calling for my resignation over my views on Iran. They still have made no effort to talk to me or get my view.

This is the letter I sent to the Courier.


I feel your report today (2 April) was remiss in not noting that I am calling for Iran to hand the captives back immediately, and have made that call consistently since the incident started. You seem to wish to portray me as supporting Iran in this affair, which is completely unfair. I want both sides to see sense and solve this peacefully and very quickly.

There is no agreed Iran/Iraq boundary in the Gulf south of the Shatt al Arab river. That is not a “claim” by me, it is an undeniable fact. Maritime boundaries are established by treaty, and there has never been one. Doubtless the Law department of the University, which had always been very good on international maritime law, can confirm that for you.

The incident took place in disputed waters. That is all we can say. It is also all we were saying. Commodore Tim Lambert on HMS Cornwall stated just after the incident: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we were in Iraqi territorital waters. Equally the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated.”

Commodore Lambert summed the real situation up perfectly. But then the Number 10 spin doctors got to work and Tony Blair made the fatuous claim that he was “Utterly certain” that the incident was in Iraqi territorial waters. The MOD backed this up by producing a map showing a boundary in bright red lines. That boundary does not exist – it was drawn up by the MOD.

By publishing a map purporting to set the boundary in the Gulf, we closed the door on the obvious way to resolve this dispute and turned an incident into a crisis. The government’s desire to make hay out of jingoistic propaganda exceeded its desire to find a solution which would see our personnel returned.

The Iranians have legitimate claims in these seas – as do the Iraqis. it is not for us to decide the boundary between them. For the Iranians to make a practical demonstration of their claim against a foreign power boarding vessels in what they claim as “their” waters is arguably justifiable. But given the waters are disputed, they should behave with much greater circumspection, and to hold captives is bellicose and unjustified.

Both governments have painted themselves into corners. Both have to back down. The way to do that is to admit what everybody knew until they forgot it last week, that these waters are disputed and nobody knows for sure where the boundary is. We make plain that we had no intention of straying into Iranian territorial waters. The Iranians let our people go.

This should not be difficult to solve if the governments involved act reasonably. Both countries have leaderships which are deeply unpopular at home. The danger in those circumstances is that politicians welcome a chance to bang the drum of jingoism to win votes at homee, and are disinclined to compromise. I see elements of that here, and fear for our captives.

One element of this political trick is to pretend there are only two positions, and that anyone who queries is a “traitor” and on the side of the “enemy”. I am on the side of humanity.

Craig Murray

On the brighter side, I always find Jeremy Paxman instinctively likeable when I meet him. I realise that is not a universal view. Just before we went on air, he said that since I last met him he had read, and greatly enjoyed, Murder in Samarkand. I always feel a real thrill when anyone says they read it. I can’t quite explain why – it feels like they must really know me, so we have got through at least one side of several year’s worth of making friends before we start.

I confess to being a bit disappointed by sales of the book. It has sold some 8,000 in hardback, while the paperback has only been out for six weeks so it is a bit early to tell. I had unrealistic dreams of selling huge quantities – everyone tells me that 8,000 hardbacks for non-fiction is really good. But it certainly isn’t enought to live on – I get around 8% of the cover price, minus the costs of the map, index, some legal costs etc. Work it out.

What I find hard to reconcile is the astonishingly positive reaction from those who have read it, with the fairly low sales. I say astonishingly postive because so far 317 complete strangers (yes, I know, I am very nerdish to keep count) who have read Murder in Samarkand have emailed me to say what a huge impact it had on them. There seem two main themes – people did not realise how dark and despicable the heart of our government really is, and people relate to the open account of my own faults and eventual disintegration. Especially the letters indicate anyone who has ever suffered injustice from government or an unfair employer, seems to find those emotional wounds reopened.

But the book does not tell you how to contact me. I don’t think it would ever occur to me to contact the author of a book I had read. Yet 317 people who, with a very few exceptions, appear perfectly sane, have read Murder in Samarkand and then gone to the length of looking up my website, finding my contact details, and then writing to give me their reactions to my book.

The other thing that seems very positive is the number of very famous people who have now read it. I can only name those I happen to know have done so – until last night, for example, I had no idea Jeremy Paxman had. This is a bit of unashamed name-dropping, but among those I know have read Murder in Samarkand are: Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, David Owen, Brad Pitt, Tony Benn, David Frost, Jeremy Paxman, Bianca Jagger, David Hare and Steve Coogan.

So I am left wondering why it is not selling better. I think that part of the problem is marketing. If you go into Waterstones or Borders, you will probably find a copy, but you will have to go up or down to the politics department and poke around the bottom shelves until you find a single copy, spine-on. To sell well nowadays, a book has to be on tables in a “3 for 2” promotion or similar. For that your publisher has to do a deal with the bookstore – one of the disastrous results of independent booksellers being replaced by big chains. My publisher, Mainstream, uses Random House for its distribution and marketing. When asked why they didn’t make more effort to promote the book, Random House replied (I paraphrase, but not much) “Because nobody’s ever heard of Craig Murray”.

All of which is very frustrating. But the book is out there, and spreading solely by word of mouth. The emails keep coming in, and keep my spirits up hugely.

I am now finishing off a short book called “Influence not Power – Foreign Policy for an Independent Scotland”, to be published by Polygon/Birlinn of Edinburgh.

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17 thoughts on “Back to Normal

  • NickW

    "Because nobody's ever heard of Craig Murray"

    Good grief! surely the answer to that is: "Who HASN'T heard of Craig Murray?"

    Anyways, I was in Blackwells in Oxford two weeks back and noticed Murder in Samarkand was on one of the front tables, with a considerable number of copies in the politics section as well. Then again, Blackwells in Oxford is a serious bookshop. Many aren't.

  • Babak Fakhamzadeh

    If it makes you feel better, I've been asking every bookstore for the past six weeks if they had 'Murder in Samarkand' in paperback.

    Not yet, but it will happen.

    I live in South Africa, that doesn't help in this context.

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Call the Courier and Advertiser's bluff and ask the student leaders to meet with you to explain their concerns.

    The C & A is in the business of expanding its circulation. If it can do so with a made up story then that's a pretty cost-effective exercise, and what has it got to lose?

    As to book sales, eight thousand is good. Maybe you need to consider film/broadcast rights?

  • Craig

    Yes, the film is well advanced through pre-production, though filming not starting till February 2008. Produced by Paramount and Plan B, director Michael Winterbottom, and I am indeed being played by Steve Coogan.

    Not that he's nearly as good looking as me, of course,


  • writeon


    Book sales will pick up when the film comes out. The film will act as an ad for the book and it'll seem like it's a new book when the media begin to ask you to comment on the film. It would be a good idea to publish a new edition of the book with a new jacket based on the poster for the film, perhaps with Steve Coogan's picture on the front or some dramatic still from the film. You also have to remember to say the film's great in interviews, even if it's crap. You can afford to be honest later, when you see how the film's doing.

    Publishing is a business going through some far-reacing changes at the moment. I've seen it from both the outside and the inside. Most writer's never get published. Most of the writer's who get published just about survive and make a crust. Most have other jobs on the side.

    It helps to hit on the right subject at the right time. Fate, as much, if not more than "talent" counts. It's also a question of market penetration.

    You should count yourself extremely lucky that it's going to be made into a film, most writers can only dream of that! I hope you chose a percentage of profits rather than a up front payment, or a low royalty rate.

    8% seems low to me. I got 15% and then 12% on another occasion. Sounds like you need a better agent to me.

    Publishing is becoming far more market orientated than it was even ten years ago. In my previous life I knew many important publishers. Most of them were scared stiff of too much talent in a writer. Sure one had to be able to write a bit, but not too much. Too much talent is hard to market. Where does one put the unique? Basically one sort of wants more of the same which has sold before. It's far easier to deal with commercially.

    Sorry if this sounds cynical, only I know publishing from the top to the bottom. It's important to be very realistic as a writer and not expect too much too soon. Publishing is a business after all. It's also worth remembering that modern writers need to be "characters" in their own right. In many repects one is selling the writer just as much as one is selling the work. One publisher I know of produced a false biography for a writer that was more interesting than the actually book!

  • t

    Yes, absolutely chose a percentage of profits. The man who played C3PIO in Star Wars settled for ?5000, and regrets.

    I wonder who the editor of the Dundee Courier drinks with? Perhaps you could invite him out and see?

  • peacewisher

    As already said, most people still haven't heard of it. One reason your book isn't selling well is that it isn't on display in major bookstores – no sign of either hardback or paperback editions in our local Waterstones, for example. Maybe you should go on a Nationwide tour of local bookshops to promote it.

    Oh yes, and airport bookshops would be a good place to get a captive audience.

    What you have to say deserves to be read, Craig. Keep up the good work!

  • Craig

    Thanks. I am indeed on a percentage of profits, but apparently the studios have thiis down to a fine art in terms of not showing any profits they would have to share.

    Writeon, I know exactly what you mean. Publishers were pestering me to compare it to another book that it is "like". Problem is, it completely unlke any diplomatic memoir. I said it was like Graham Greene only true, but that wasn't acceptable.

    Peacewisher, I know it doesn't sell as well as it should because you can't find it in the shops. It is how you get it prominent in the shops that is the problem. I have done a couple of book signings, but been knocked back by the very large majority of bookshops to which I have suggested one.

  • Geoff Jones

    A small point – Maybe you could make the book image on your website link to a place where I could buy it direct? Maybe also write an authors review on Amazon?

  • Craig

    Hi Geoff,

    The image does link to Amazon and a buy button. There are lots of good customer reviews on Amazon, I am glad to say. It sells pretty well there – about 50% of total sales have been online – I understand that for other books typically that is only about 15%. I think that's becaue online it has pretty much a level playing field with other books, but isn't as visible in the stores.

  • writeon

    Just a thought. Perhaps you should have chosen to write a novel instead? Talking about Graham Greene, only true, is a bit of a marketing nightmare, as one's falling between two stools. One might even have more effect and reach a far larger audience with fiction. Given your background and public profile, if I were you, I would seriously consider utilizing your knowledge and talents in fiction next time. As you already have foot in the door in publishing getting a thriller out is far easier for you than for an unknown writer. It doesn't have to be Art too succeed. Don't write sentances that are too long. Don't have chapters that are too long. People are busy and on the move and chapters need to be bite-sized. Short sentences and chapters also given the illusion of pace. Sorry, as you probably know all this already. Anyway, give it a thought, it's not as daft an idea as it seems!

  • Craig


    I think for the purpose of making money, yes, I might do the odd thriller. But the purpose of Murder in Samarkand is to get over some truly shocking facts about the way the heart of government works, and to do so in a way that really brings home the human consequences of this moral bankruptcy.

    Fictionalising it would make it all seem more "safe" and less immediate.

  • rob

    Hi Craig,

    Your talk went down well at Kingston and I shall hassle the kids/library to pick up copies!A lot of the 6th formers were talking about it, especially the Muslim kids in the school. As to low sales- only part in jest- maybe part of the problem is that you tell the story so well in your talk. You need to start dropping some heavy hints about stuff that you can't mention in the medium of the talk.

    Hope to see you again soon.

    All the best


  • Craig


    Yes, you might be right! I am really pleased the listeners were engaged.


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