Work was nearing completion on the book’s publication when McEwan realised something needed to change - the title.
Dan: The major thing was that, when it came in, the novel was still called An Atonement.
Ian: I nearly always show my finished drafts to the historian Tim Garton-Ash. He phoned me about it, and he said, "I’ve got one thing I absolutely have to ask you to change, and I don’t want to ask you over the phone, I’m coming round to your house. Now."
Peter: I think Timothy Garton-Ash suggested he drop the “An”.
Ian: He lived just around the corner so he came round, and I don’t know if he went down on bended knee but he said, “Please change the title”. He said, “It’s clumsy on the tongue”. And I said, “Well, I just wanted to be a little modest about it.” And he said, “Don’t be. Please call it Atonement”.
Dan: Ian rang up and said, “Change it”. Which is minor but incredibly significant.
Ian: I phoned Dan and said, has it gone to the printers yet? I must have already corrected the proof. And he said, “yes...” very warily. “What do you need to change?” I said, “The title is now Atonement, not An Atonement”. And Dan said, “oh phew, thank God”.
Dan: You saw it at once, it was the right thing to do.
Ian: Dan hadn’t told me that he hadn’t liked it.
Roger: To add to the mystique of the book came the author's request to change the title from "An Atonement" to Atonement. What could it mean? We were sent scurrying back to the book to look for meaning. Some of the printed typescripts might have had the original title – I can't remember, but they would have been collectable. Mine, unfortunately, went to a deserving bookseller.
Atonement was published on 20 September 2001 and was nominated for the Booker Prize shortly afterwards.
Peter: I think it was delivered in the summer. They didn’t do proofs, because there wasn’t time. That led to the excitement and buzz about the book.
Roger: We decided to produce bound typescripts as the book was perfect. This was before the days of social media, so it was a question of just getting people to read it.
Ian: There certainly was a launch party. You’ll have to ask Dan.
Dan: I can’t even remember where the launch party was.
Ian: Cape gave so many good parties. The nature of launch parties is that they breed a kind of amnesia – if you can remember it, it was no good.
Peter: There was excitement. There was excitement that Ian had written another book, the minute he had written it people wanted to share their excitement and their joy.
Dan: I remember the reviews were amazing and everything was wonderful.
Ian: There were some lovely reviews. Most of us, novelists, are used to publishing a book and you get a good kicking somewhere and you get praise somewhere else and you just have to take it all in the run of things and the mix of things. This, for once, had a kind of unanimity.
Peter: It came out in the autumn and dominated the lists, dominated the Booker and while it didn’t win, it was certainly the book.
Roger: I can't actually remember publication day, but I remember the reviews and the sales. I remember the gnashing of teeth when it didn't win the Booker.