Ben Okri, the Booker Prize winning author, has accused his editor of “exaggerating his own importance” after he claimed to have rewritten some of the writer’s work.
Mr Okri, 52, added that he felt sorry for a man who feels it necessary “to claim the hard-won achievement of others”.
The literary row, just the latest between authors and editors, broke out after Robin Robertson, 58, spoke to the Daily Telegraph earlier this year in an article about poetry.
During the article, Mr Robertson, a celebrated editor and poet in his own right, made the claim that he had to rewrite the dialogue of the London-based Nigerian in the short story collection “Stars of the New Curfew”.
Mr Robertson, from Aberdeen, Scotland, said that he was not interested in finding “something I can put my stamp on” and that “editors should be completely invisible”.
But then he added: “I had to rewrite a book of Ben Okri’s written in Lagos patois, and I hope it doesn’t show that it was an Aberdonian who was doing it.”
The comment appeared to have angered Mr Okri, the Booker winner for his novel The Famished Road in 1991, who has written a letter that appears in today’s Daily Telegraph Book Section.
“I read with amusement your article (The Mystery of Poetry Editing, 23/1/12) in which Robin Robertson claims he “redid” my dialogue in “Stars of the New Curfew”,” it reads.
“While it is true that Mr Robertson is a fine editor, he also has a tendency to exaggerate his own importance.
“I am disappointed that Mr Robertson feels he needs to make such claims. “He certainly did not and could not “redo” my dialogue. A simple comparison with the Nigerian dialogue in “Incidents at the Shrine”, an earlier volume of stories, will make that evident.
“One has to feel a little sorry for Mr Robertson that he feels it necessary to claim the hard-won achievement of others.”
Mr Robertson, who is poetry and fiction editor at the publisher Jonathan Cape, said he could not see why Mr Okri was getting so “overwrought” about his comment.
“I only ever edited one book of Ben’s, a fine collection of stories called Stars of the New Curfew, which was published in 1988 by Secker & Warburg.
“I worked on the text in the way I always do, and made a number of suggestions for improvement. Most if not all of these changes were accepted, and the book was duly published.
“In this case – as always – the writer had final approval. “I never alter any text – within the body of the book or on the cover – without the author’s consent.”
It is not the first time author and editor have not seen eye to eye. Back in 1991, the man who was Jeffrey Archer’s principal editor told how he had to make hundreds of pages of revisions to the author’s poorly-spelt manuscripts.
Richard Cohen, Archer’s editor for 16 years, said the novelist made mistakes in punctuation and was often unable to spell simple words.
“Sometimes my rewrites would cover as much space as the original; my notes would generally take up a hundred pages or so,” Mr Cohen said. “I don’t know if Jeffrey had a writing disability, but his actual handwriting had a childish quality, and his spelling was deeply erratic.”
Later in a statement Mr Okri added: “The idea that anyone could have rewritten the dialogue in any of my stories is monstrous, and indeed suspect.
“In any other area of life this would be a libelous statement which might warrant being taken to the courts.
But people are inclined to shoot their mouths off and it is my solemn responsibility to set the record straight.”
By Richard Alleyne6:00AM GMT 11 Feb 2012