Writing a list of one’s preferred creative personages is not easy. It’s akin to being asked ‘what’s ya favourite music?’ in Year 9 and trying to compile something vaguely cool without people braying at your Young Einstein soundtrack. It’s all too difficult to contemplate without coming across as either a) pretentious, or b) a philistine.
As a writer, I’m supposed to weigh in with the classics and the heavy-hitters. There should be Booker Prize winners and obscure Peruvians (whose work most reviewers secretly find impenetrable, a quality that seems to endear them to literary awards judges), a few ‘approved’ children’s authors and post-modern poets. And whatever TimeLife considers Gweat Literwatuah: those things bound in priceless vinyl that populate the shelves of display homes. You know – Moby Dick, Tess of the d’Urburvilles and Don Quixote and … and ….. sorry I just dropped off for a moment there.
However my list does not look like anything of the sort. My list reads like a 10-year old girl with pony issues. But as I am full of kindness I have decided to share.
There were certain requirements for an all-time favourite creative boffin, and I had to consider and discard with vigour. For example, I absolutely loved John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, but didn’t get so swept away by many of his other books. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose filled me with delight, but The Island of the Day Before filled me with the desire to end it all. And I would pick up a Stephen King or Ian M. Banks any day, but only to read a new one, not re-read the old.
1. Seizability: it has to be someone whose work you’d grab, regardless of how many bad reviews or crappy the cover (if V.S. Naipaul released a book with a skinny women on the cover dancing across a hairless chest, clutching a martini glass full of love hearts and called it Give me a Man Sandwich on Rye with a Side-order of Retail Therapy, I would still buy three copies in hardback).
2. Sticking power: their words, ideas or images have to stay with you for life. Did I love Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum? Enormously. Could I cite any specific passages in it? No I could not. But could I act out the entire scene of Shoeless Pashly, King of the Bongo drums by Carl Barks? Word for word. (And do I still crack myself up every time? Yes I do)
3. Must withstand the scourge of the silver screen: it doesn’t matter how many precocious American children are cast, or how many drugs the scriptwriters took when adapting the original (Hating Alison Ashley springs to mind), this will not make a ripple upon your original enjoyment of the work.
You’ll also notice there’s no poets, painters, sculptors or anything of that sort in my list as I’m a thoroughly two-dimensional creature who prefers films in black and white, photos in sepia, bicycles with one huge wheel and one tiny one and men with cavalry whiskers, but do I get any of these things in this life no I do not.
Enough bibble! On with the show…
V.S. NAIPAUL: I still can’t explain why I am obsessed with this man. (pictured above – he’s a bit debonair, yes?) What is it about his writing? Well he’s funny for one thing. But his background is also interesting. Of Indian heritage but brought up in Trinidad and educated in the UK, he delves into the disconnection between his many cultures over a 50-year period. He’s not at home in Trinidad because he’s Indian. He goes to India and struggles with it, and in England he’s treated as a foreigner because he’s dark. If I could write even one paragraph as gorgeously as he does, I could put down my pencil forever.
J.K. ROWLING: How excited some writers get, picking this woman’s grammar and expression apart! How ludicrously she is praised for single-handedly bringing back books to kids and how disparaged for introducing them to witchcraft. And how little all that matters when you enjoy her books. Her alternate universe in the Harry Potter series is so well-realised that it’s always tempting to slot oneself in amongst the characters: figuring out your wand hand (my left); house at Hogwarts (Gryffindor); spell of choice (riddikulus) and boy you’d pash at the Yule Ball (Lee Jordan, of course). Although she’s one of the most famous authors alive, when she’s interviewed she comes across as somewhat shy, self-deprecating and dignified, qualities little celebrated these days. ITV screened a recent doco about her which can be seen at this link.
ANTHONY BURGESS: Wrote A Clockwork Orange, Any Old Iron and was famous for the Malayan trilogy. Not so well-known for his autobiographies Little Wilson and Big God and You’ve Had Your Time in which he comes across as a right old prick, and even less-known the fact that he started writing professionally at the age of 40. Like many of my favourite writers has lived a full life, which spanned army service during the second world war, composer, lecturer in linguistics (was fluent in eight languages) and drinking partner of William S. Burroughs. Also a mad shagger (pictured right).
LEO TOLSTOY: As I am a giant girl, I can join the ranks of many who cried at the end of Anna Karenina. I reckon his short stories and novellas were the best, such as The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and my personal favourite, Master and Man. Wore blouses. Was often frustrated, vain, awkward and snobby but always questioned religion, class and politics and for that I dips my lid.
MARK TWAIN: Another dashing adventurer and traveller. Smartarse yes, but I think that if you served years as a steamboat pilot on the treacherous Mississippi you could be entitled to a bit of smartarsery. Well there’s Huck Finn, obvs. And Pudd’nhead Wilson and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And well just the sight of him all grizzled and three-piece-suited (below) brings me happiness and glee.
NANCY MITFORD: The best Mitford, even over Decca. I think it was Nancy who taught us the correct usage of ‘scent’ versus ‘perfume’, ‘looking glass’ versus ‘mirror’ and other vital social mores. Another sharp, cynical person admired by yours truly, she is known best for books like Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred, but her letters to her sisters and numerous correspondents like Evelyn Waugh make up an even better collection of work than her books.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: As previously stated, I would gladly preen his bald head forevermore just to read his shopping list. Sharp, vicious, funny and absurd, some of my favourites include The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury and Satanic Verses. Despite the many death threats made to him, he’s never afraid to give fundamentalist religious types a piece of his mind, and on a completely unrelated note, went to the same school as Flashman.
RUMER GODDEN: Could quite happily produce kid’s books (Pippa Passes) and adult literature (The Peacock Spring) without being pigeonholed into either category. Another author with a ‘thing’ for India, her best-known was Black Narcissus, about creepy, disturbed nuns in a remote community.
ROBIN KLEIN: Arr, I have a distant memory of meeting this classic children’s author. She was doing a book-signing at the Planetarium, at the old State Library. Bustled out of the house in my best kilt and a copy of Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left, when my turn finally came, I was overcome with nerves and turned away, a tear welling in my eye. Mum hissed a few irate phrases in my ear at which I bawled in earnest. Also known for the Penny Pollard series and countless other witty things, mostly about Aussie primary school kids in the ‘80s.
E.M. FORSTER: Most loved for his corset-tightening prose about proper English misses breaking free of social constraints (Bliss! Who doesn’t live for such tales?) such as A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Passage to India. Also writes fantastic short stories including some unexpectedly weird sci-fi and futuristic visions from the 1910s. I found one recently called The Life to Come, a collation of his, er, fruitier accounts of firm-buttocked lads cavorting in the bracken and suchlike, only able to be printed after his death.
COLETTE: Ah the French! What an amusing race. Colette’s novels like the Claudine books and Chéri seem to sum up all that is Gallic – torrid affairs, much older lovers, much younger lovers, fresh veg and flowers picked from a kitchen garden, actresses and gigolos, rural misadventures and as they might say in Viz, ‘people who drink from both taps’.
Hmm. Looking back over this flannel, it appears that the background of the author interests me as much as their actual books. Perhaps one leads to success in the other? They seem to have travelled extensively, done many thrilling jobs in exciting places and endured many success and failures in equal turn. And that is not to be sniffed at.
Look out for Part 2, coming soon…happy new year everybody!