Category Archives: – Authors who look like their writing

Authors who look like their writing: #5 Will Self

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This edition of the series was nominated by Mame from http://writemybrainsout.wordpress.com/I’m always up for taking suggestions so please shout if you want to nominate an author to be featured.

“What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions.”

– Will Self

When I lived in Stockwell (South London) I would often pass Will Self, cycling with his kids, as I made my way to the Tube station on the way to work. Self is one of those ‘famous’ people who I could feel proud about living round the corner from. If he lived there, then it was clearly an area fit for creative types who bucked against the establishment and forged their own unique path. In addition, his writing gave the impression that he might just be a little unhinged. Excellent. Yes, this is someone I was happy to share a neighbourhood with.

He’d be so happy to know that.

But it’s the writing that makes the man – and I do believe he exudes the way in which he writes. He takes the everyday and twists it. He perverts it. He exaggerates the absurd and often ties it up in fantastical and surreal worlds. He’ll satirise pretty much anything and he’s happy to make you squirm. And that’s an author I want to read.

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Book review: Canada by Richard Ford

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I’ve never written a review before but I just finished reading this brilliant, masterful book on the train home and wanted to share some of the love.

The novel is narrated by Dell Parsons, who looks back at the experiences of his 15 year old self in a small town in Montana in 1960. The bare bones of the storyline can be summed up in the opening passage:

“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

I’m a big fan of Richard Ford but the plot of this novel is probably the strongest he’s written in terms of page-turning. However, if you’re looking for a thriller then you’ve come to the wrong place – as engrossing as the plot is, it’s less important than the writing itself.

This was the book that inspired my series of posts about authors who look like their writing: at the time, I called Ford’s style elegant, languid and wise. Sometimes, writing this beautiful can give the illusion of being wise and full of insight – but there’s no illusion here… every page is full of a rich voice that feels as if it may be teaching you something new about the world and the people who live in it. That’s not to say that you need a dictionary to get through the book. It’s that Ford uses language so simply to do such complex things that is his genius and, for me, his only equal in this regard is Cormac McCarthy.

Canada is a novel about the strange turns that normal people’s lives can take, it believes in looking forwards and seeing what’s in front of you instead of always looking for hidden meaning in what’s already gone, and it understands above all about human fragility. As you can tell, I would absolutely recommend it. I find it impossible to read a book like this and not be inspired… well, partly inspired and partly accepting that I’ll never be able to write quite that well.

Authors who look like their writing: #4 Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

“My entire career, in fiction or nonfiction, I have reported and written about people who are not like me.”

–       Tom Wolfe 

Considering that the above quote is from the man himself, it may seem strange that I’ve chosen Wolfe for a post in which he’s supposed to look like his writing. But that’s who he is: an outsider looking in. An observer. He’s always one step, very clearly removed from the action he reports – and keeping his distance is one of the things that makes his writing so insightful and true. It’s also what can make it so cutting or full of awe. He’s never been a writer to deliver the most subtle of messages but he’s massively entertaining… brash, fun, exuberant… his writing is zapped with fiendish humour.

Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff are two of my favourite books. I like to think of him standing in front of a fireplace with a glass of champagne (or probably a fine scotch) in his hand, regaling a room full of people with tales from those books. Hmm, maybe I need to stop imagining all of these fantastical meetings with authors and get a move on with my own book…

Authors who look like their writing: #3 Zadie Smith

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‘She is faithful to her roots without being bound by them.’

– Adam Mars-Jones

Zadie Smith is the embodiment of a very modern writer. When I think about her writing, I think about a multi-ethnic, western world, where races are both very separate and completely intertwined at the same time.  I think of vibrance and energy and intelligence and insightfulness. And very helpfully for this post, she exudes all of these in the way she looks.

As an aside, I also love her for being a staunch defender of Britain’s libraries, as the government persists in closing huge numbers. Go Zadie!

The great photo is by Nikolai Failla

Authors who look like their writing: #2 Kurt Vonnegut

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Look at him, with his dishevelled, curly hair and tidy moustache, with his rumpled face and wry smile. He could be a mad scientist or a kindly history professor… maybe a bit of a wise guy. Or a genius novelist who was in turns prophetic and vulgar, a poet and a cartoonist, a non-conformist and an acrid wit. He’s so loved that I feel hesitant to give him any of these labels. To me, he seemed eternally disappointed in humanity yet filled with an absolute optimism in the possibility for human kindness.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.

– ‘Requiem’, Kurt Vonnegut

(Photo: Random House/Reuters)

I’ve been asked a few times if I’m taking suggestions for other authors to include in this series.
Of course, bring it on.

Authors who look like their writing: #1 Richard Ford

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Bear with me on this one. I’m currently halfway though reading the (already) brilliant Canada by Richard Ford and I was thinking how, at it’s best, Ford’s writing is a sublime combination of elegant, languid and wise. Then I flicked to the inside back cover and saw his photo – and the first thing I noticed was that he looks just like his writing. And that made me happy.

And now, excuse me, but I have to go and crack open a couple of beers with him on the front porch at the end of a long, hard day on the ranch*…

Photo © Laura Wilson
*N.B. I do not actually own or work on a ranch. To my knowledge, neither does Richard Ford. I also enjoy drinks other than beer although I have no idea about Richard’s taste in alcoholic beverage or if he drinks at all. Although I bet he does.