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The Beatles Wiki

‘I always set out to write children’s book, but they’d turn out to be not for children…’ – John Lennon, 1980


In His Own Write is a 1964 nonsense book by English musician John Lennon. His first book, it consists of poems and short stories ranging from eight lines to three pages, as well as illustrations.

After Lennon showed journalist Michael Braun some of his writings and drawings, Braun in turn showed them to Tom Maschler of publisher Jonathan Cape, who signed Lennon in January 1964. He wrote most of the content expressly for the book, though some stories and poems had been published years earlier in the Liverpool music publication Mersey Beat. Lennon's writing style is informed by his interest in English writer Lewis Carroll, while humorists Spike Milligan and "Professor" Stanley Unwin inspired his sense of humour. His illustrations imitate the style of cartoonist James Thurber. Many of the book's pieces consist of private meanings and in-jokes, while also referencing Lennon's interest in physical abnormalities and expressing his anti-authority sentiments.

The book was both a critical and commercial success, selling around 300,000 copies in Britain. Reviewers praised it for its imaginative use of wordplay and favourably compared it to the later works of James Joyce, though Lennon was unfamiliar with him. Later commentators have discussed the book's prose in relation to Lennon's songwriting, both in how it differed from his contemporary writing and in how it anticipates his later work, heard in songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "I Am the Walrus". Released amidst Beatlemania, its publication reinforced perceptions of Lennon as "the smart one" of the Beatles, and helped to further legitimise the place of pop musicians in society.

Since its release, the book has been translated into several languages. In 1965, Lennon released another book of nonsense literature, A Spaniard in the Works. He abandoned plans for a third collection and did not publish any other books in his lifetime. Victor Spinetti and Adrienne Kennedy adapted his two books into a one-act play, The Lennon Play: In His Own Write, produced by the National Theatre Company and first performed in June 1968 to mixed reviews.

Publication and content[]

In 1963, Tom Maschler, the literary director of Jonathan Cape, commissioned American journalist Michael Braun to write a book about the Beatles. Braun began following the band during their Autumn 1963 UK Tour in preparation for his 1964 book Love Me Do: The Beatles' Progress. Lennon showed Braun some of his writings and drawings, and Braun in turn showed them to Maschler, who recalled: "I thought they were wonderful and asked him who wrote them. When he told me John Lennon, I was immensely excited." At Braun's insistence, Maschler joined him and the band at Wimbledon Palais in London on 14 December 1963. Lennon showed Maschler more of his drawings, mainly doodles made on scrap pieces of paper that had mostly been done in July 1963 while the Beatles played a residency in Margate. Maschler encouraged him to continue with his pieces and drawings, then selected the title In His Own Write from a list of around twenty prospects, the pick originally an idea of McCartney. Among the rejected titles were In His Own Write and Draw, The Transistor Negro, Left Hand Left Hand and Stop One and Buy Me.

Lennon signed a contract with Jonathan Cape for the book on 6 January 1964, receiving an advance of £1,000 (equivalent to £22,000 in 2021). He contributed 26 drawings and 31 pieces of writing, including 23 prose pieces and eight poems, bringing the book's length to 80 pages. Its pieces range in length from the eight-line poems "Good Dog Nigel" and "The Moldy Moldy Man" to the three-page story "Scene three Act one". Lennon reported that his work on the book's illustrations was the most drawing he had done since leaving art school. Most of the written content was new, but some had been done previously, including the stories "On Safairy with Whide Hunter" (1958), "Henry and Harry" (1959), "Liddypool" (1961 as "Around And About"), "No Flies on Frank" (1962) and "Randolf's Party" (1962), and the poem "I Remember Arnold" (1958), which he wrote following the death of his mother, Julia. Lennon worked spontaneously and generally did not return to pieces after writing them, though he did revise "On Safairy with Whide Hunter" in mid-July 1962, adding a reference to the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a hit in early 1962. Among the book's literary references are "I Wandered", which includes several plays on the title of the poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by English poet William Wordsworth; "Treasure Ivan", which is a variation on the plot of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; and "At the Denis", which paraphrases a scene at a dentist's office from Carlo Barone's English-teaching book, A Manual of Conversation English-Italian.

In His Own Write was published in the UK on 23 March 1964, retailing for 9s 6d (equivalent to £10 in 2021). Lennon attended a launch party at Jonathan Cape's London offices the day before. Maschler refused a request from his superiors at Jonathan Cape that the cover depict Lennon holding a guitar, instead opting for a simple head shot. Photographer Robert Freeman designed the first edition of the book, a black-and-white photograph he took of Lennon also adorning the cover. The back cover includes a humorous autobiography of Lennon, "About the Awful", again written in his unorthodox style. The book became an immediate best-seller, selling out on its first day. Only 25,000 copies of the first edition were printed, necessitating several reprints, including two in the last week of March 1964 and five more by January 1965. In its first ten months, the book sold almost 200,000 copies, eventually reaching around 300,000 copies bought in Britain. Simon & Schuster published In His Own Write in the US on 27 April 1964, retailing for US$2.50 (equivalent to US$24 in 2022). The American edition was identical to the British, except that publishers added the caption "The Writing Beatle!" to the cover. The book was a best-seller in the US, where its publication took place around two months after the Beatles' first visit to the country and amid Beatlemania, the hysteria that surrounded the group.

Contributions by the other Beatles[]

McCartney contributed an introduction to In His Own Write, writing that its content was nonsensical yet funny. In 1964 interviews, Lennon said that two pieces were co-authored with McCartney. Due to a publishing error only "On Safairy with Whide Hunter" was marked as such – being "[w]ritten in conjugal with Paul" – the other piece remaining unidentified.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, prone to incorrect wordings and malapropisms – dubbed "Ringoisms" by his bandmates – may have contributed a line to the book. Finishing up after a long day, perhaps 19 March 1964, he commented "it's been a hard day", and, on noticing it was dark, added "'s night" ("it's been a hard day's night"). While both Lennon and Starr later identified the phrase as Starr's, Lewisohn raises doubts that the phrase originated with him. He writes that if the 19 March dating is correct, that places it after Lennon had already included it in the story "Sad Michael", with the line "He'd had a hard days night that day". By 19 March, copies of In His Own Write had already been printed. Lewisohn suggests that Starr may have previously read or heard it in Lennon's story, while journalist Nicholas Schaffner simply writes the phrase originated with Lennon's poem. Beatles biographer Alan Clayson suggests the phrase's inspiration was Eartha Kitt's 1963 song "I Had a Hard Day Last Night", the B-side of her single "Lola Lola". After director Dick Lester suggested A Hard Day's Night as the title of the Beatles' 1964 film, Lennon used it again in the song of the same name.

About The Awful[]

I was bored on the 9th Octover 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us led by Madalf Heatlump (Who only had one). Anyway they didn’t get me. I attended to varicous schools in Liddypol. And still didn’t pass-much to my Aunties supplies. As a member of the most publified Beatles my and (P, G, and R’s) records might seem funnier to some of you than this book, but as far as I’m conceived this correction of short writty is the most wonderfoul larf I’ve ever ready. God help and breed you all.

Paul McCartney's introduction[]

At Woolton Village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realised that he was drunk. We were twelve then, but, in spite of his sideboards, we went on to become teenage pals. Aunt Mimi, who had looked after him since he was so high, used to tell me how he was cleverer than he pretended, and things like hat. He had written a poem for the school magazine about a hermit who said: “as breathing is my life, to stop I dare not dare.” This made me wonder right away – “Is he deep?” He wore glasses so it was possible, and even without them there was no holding him. “What bus?” he would say to howls of appreciative laughter. He went to Quarry Bank High School for Boys and later attended to the Liverpool At College. He left school and played with a group called the Beatles, and, here he is with a book. Again, I think – “Is he deep?” “Is he arty, with it or cultured?” There are bound to be thickheads who will wonder why some of it doesn’t make sense, and others who will search for hidden meanings. “What’s a Brummer?” There’s more to “dubb owld boot” than meets the eye. None of it has to make sense and if it seems funny then that’s enough. PS I like the drawings too.