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William Hayley, a Man of Influence but No Poetry, Now Unbound

by Lisa Gee

He’s been dead for nearly 200 years
He wasn’t a very good poet.
You’ve probably never heard of him

… runs the sales pitch for my latest book project: HayleyWorld: the story of a nice man.

Reading that, you may be surprised that I’ve wanted to write a biography of the long-dead, not-very-good poet – William Hayley (1745-1830) – for more than 15 years. It probably won’t surprise you, however, that no publisher had expressed an interest in publishing it.

Until, that is, earlier this year, when I was speaking at an event with John Mitchinson, one of the founders of innovative crowdfunding publisher Unbound.

If you’re unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it’s a process by which people raise money for their artistic projects. It usually involves a website – Kickstarter and Indiegogo for instance – where people trying to get a project off the ground showcase it and offer different rewards depending on how much money someone pledges.

So, for HayleyWorld, any level of involvement gets your name (or the name of your company or someone you’ve bought the book as a gift for).

Pledges start at £10, which buys you an ebook, £20 a hardback plus the ebook.

Then it starts getting really interesting.

£50 sponsors one of the book’s copious exclamation marks – William Hayley used a lot of them – giving you the right to either dedicate it to someone who you feel particularly deserves a !, or to advertise your services or company in a 140 character footnote (so it can also feature on Twitter). You can also pay more and buy advertising space …

You get the idea. Anyway, at the end of the talk I gave on the future of the book I mentioned that I wanted to write this biography, but that, for some unaccountable reason, no-one was interested in publishing it. John, however, was. And he asked me to do it with Unbound.

There’s a huge difference between Unbound and other crowdfunding websites. The difference is that Unbound isn’t just an interface between artists and the public, facilitating the flow of dosh in one direction and rewards – tickets, CDs, books, memorabilia – in the other, leaving the quality of the show, CD, book, memorabilia, etc down to the person or people creating it. It’s also a proper publishing house.

Which means that once funded, my book will be properly loved. It will be edited, designed, marketed, publicised and sold by enthusiastic experts. The company is, after all, run by people with years of publishing and bookselling – not to mention authoring – experience. They know what books, authors and, most importantly, readers need from publishers.

More excitingly, they’re keen to experiment. So at a time when most publishers will only take a punt on

1. biographies of famous people by critically acclaimed & best-selling biographers

2. biographies of undiscovered geniuses by critically acclaimed & best-selling biographers

3. er, that’s it…

Unbound have both the freshness and the freedom to go “Yeah! A book about a long-dead, crap poet who no-one’s heard of! Let’s do it!”

So they are. And I am.

And I hope you’ll join us.

In case my initial sales pitch hasn’t had you instantly reaching for your wallet (go to to buy your copy. Or copies. Or sponsor a !. Or buy original artwork by award-winning theatre designer Katrina Lindsay) here’s why you should help bring this biography of William Hayley to fruition.

Because it’s a great story and a story that deserves to be told: a rollicking, tragi-comic costume-drama of passionate friendships, impetuous proposals, literature of variable quality, death and madness, that features a cast of leading eighteenth century artists, writers and other notables.

William Cowper, William Blake and William Pitt all feature at various points in William Hayley’s extraordinary life, as do George Romney, Emma, Lady Hamilton, John Flaxman, Anna Seward, Joseph Wright of Derby and Amelia Opie.

Not to mention two wives, a semi-literate French governess, an electric shock machine, an accidental stabbing, a best-selling self-help book in rhyming couplets, A Philosophical, Historical and Moral Essay on Old Maids, early deaths, astonishing recoveries, personal tragedy and all the ups and downs of professional triumph and humiliation.

Go on go on go on go on. Straight to There’s no risk. If, for some unaccountable reason, my book doesn’t reach its funding target, you’ll get your money back. If you’re not convinced, check out the accompanying video.


Or, if unconventional, fun, biography featuring a loveable eccentric, who turned down the poet laureateship for political reasons, was a successful amateur doctor, fell off his horse cheerfully all over the South Downs, provided a haven for his artistic and writerly friends with mental health problems and whose wife refused to have sex with him isn’t your thing, I‘m sure there’ll be at least one other book on the Unbound website – – to tickle your fancy.


Lisa Gee is the author of Friends: Why Men & Women are From the Same Planet (Bloomsbury 2004) and Stage Mum (Hutchinson 2008, Arrow 2009) and the editor of Bricks Without Mortar: the selected poems of Hartley Coleridge (Picador, 2000). She’s been obsessed with William Hayley since the mid-1990s, when she started an MA in Literature and Politics 1776-1832 and one of her tutors described him as ‘a man who went round looking after mad poets and artists’.

She works with if:books on “future books”, writes about books and digital literature  for the Independent and reviews for the Independent on Sunday, and make video podcasts for a National Health Service agency. She isworking on a feature for BBC Radio 3 and co-writing a musical. She lives in Harlesden, north-west London with her husband (a children’s entertainer), her twelve-year-old daughter, two cats and more mess than is really healthy.

She also writes about Jazz music.

More @ Lisa Gee  and on Twitter @Lis4g33

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