Sometimes there is nothing more disappointing than other authors.
I remember meeting one of my big heroes at a party very early in my career. He was a big man. Physically intimidating. To say that he was drunk was to make a colossal under-statement. He was positively deranged. His eyes were blood-shot, he was unshaven, his clothes were filthy and he looked as though he had been sleeping in the gutter for several days. His wife, a small and desparate-looking woman, kept clutching his arm in an effort to restrain him. Angrily he shook her off.
I have no idea what he was talking about but whatever it was, he was furious about it. He kept cursing and shaking his head like a dog that has just come out of the sea. Spittle flew from his lips as he struggled to enunciate the syllables. In one hand he held an empty beer bottle which he was brandishing like a weapon. The other hand he thrust into his pocket at regular intervals, to produce a silver hip flask from which he drank greedily.
It was my editor who had introduced us. Perhaps he thought I might calm the man down. He didn’t know me very well at the time or he might have realised that calming people down is not really my forte. On the contrary, I seem at times to exercise a kind of psychic induction on people who are already agitated. Perhaps because I am, myself, full of a pent up anger that goes back to my childhood and beyond. Inherited anger, that is how I think of it.
The Inebriated Author must have sensed this in me because he took to me immediately. Bending his face close to mine he muttered angrily about the ‘other bastards in the room’. He could see that I wasn’t like them. I was all right. But ‘those fuckers’. He straightened up and gazed defiantly around the room.
‘I think we should go,’ his wife said, making a hopeless attempt to steer him towards the door. He glared at her as if he might hit her. ‘Don’t be so fucking ridiculous!’ he said. Then he turned back to me. ‘You must come and stay with us in Dartmoor.’ His face was so near mine now that I was breathing his breath and I tried not to wince. The breath of alcoholics generally smells of sick. His smelled as though his insides were full of rotten fungus.
‘We’ve got a cottage there,’ he went on. ‘Nothing grand. None of these people…’ he made a sweeping gesture with the bottle, forcing people standing around him to duck. ‘None of them would ever go there. They’d think it was a miserable hovel.’
It occurred to me that it probably was a miserable hovel. How could it be anything else? But I promised I would go and stay there with him. ‘You’ve got our phone number, haven’t you?’ he asked.
I hadn’t got his phone number since we’d only been introduced a few minutes earlier but I nodded assuredly.
‘Good, then that’s settled. We can get drunk. Properly bloody drunk, I mean. Not like this bunch of pansies. You do like a drink, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I do like a drink. Actually I’ve always been absolutely useless at alcohol. I get completely stotious just looking at a bottle of wine but I didn’t think this was the moment to bring that up.
‘It does you good to get well and truly drunk every now and again,’ he said.
I nodded in agreement.
‘You’re all right,’ he repeated. Then without warning he strolled off towards the open window and threw his empty bottle out into the street. We were on the first floor but he didn’t even glance outside to see whether anyone was passing.
At the sound of broken glass everyone in the room turned and looked in his direction. ‘What are you all staring at?’ he demanded. People looked away again quickly. His eye fell on another empty bottle on a nearby table. Immediately he grabbed it and threw it out the window like the first.
Now his wife, who looked as if she might burst into tears at any moment, began positively dragging him away from the window. The editor who had been standing as though turned to stone came back to life and grabbed the author’s other arm. Between them they propelled him across the room while the crowd parted around them like the Red Sea at the behest of Moses.
Suddenly he seemed to abandon all resistance, nodding his head and smiling grimly as if this were exactly how a man of his talent might expect to be treated. If we had put a crown of thorns on his head he would have merely taken it as his due. As he passed me, he stopped and looked me in the eye. ‘Don’t forget,’ he said, ‘Dartmoor. We’ll show the bastards how to get really drunk.’
The following year I heard that he had died of cancer. Ocasionally, I imagine what it would have been like if I’d taken him up on his offer. Horrendous but memorable no doubt.