Thursday, 25 February 2010

Other Authors

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.


Paul said...

I had a memorable meet up with an author once. It was perhaps the opposite of yours in terms of character but not in terms of befuddlement. The author had penned a series of mystery novels under her own name and had cranked out novels for a famous series under a shared pen name (something like Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew). What I heard as she spoke was that she was a factory. Much like Trollope was supposed to be, she just kept churning out the stories, which actually were not that well written I thought, and she told her tale with just enough narcissism to make clear that she was duly impressed with herself and that everyone else should be. I vowed then to stay grounded whatever the fates had for me.

Derek said...

I once emailed Terry Pratchett, asking him if there were any fantasy fiction literary agents that he'd had particularly positive experience of. He emailed back to say that he'd never had need of a literary agent so he couldn't help me! A lesson learned. Brian, do you often meet your readers?

Brian Keaney said...

Fairly often, Derek. Children's authors are regularly asked to go into schools to talk to pupils.

I don't know if you're still writing fantasy buy my agents are MBA. They handle fantasy and they've been lovely to me.

Brian Keaney said...

that should have been 'but' not 'buy'

Charmaine Clancy said...

Brian I think it's great that you can find the quirkiness in life's occassions. Whenever a friend tells me of an encounter that shakes them, I let them know 'it's all material for the book'.

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks Charmaine. Good to hear from you.

Sue Hyams said...

Sounds like a nightmare but memorable all the same. One of those parties that will never be forgotten! I've been extremely lucky - so far - in that all the authors I've admired from afar and then had the good fortune to meet have turned out to be lovely. But maybe that's just children's authors for you!

Brian Keaney said...

True enough, Sue. Children's authors are a fairly civilized bunch on the whole.