Tag Archives: literature

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…

Why aren’t novels illustrated?

illustration collage

This may seem like a ridiculous question. But calm down everyone… clearly, the words in a novel should paint a far more vivid picture than any illustration ever could. That’s exactly the point-of-view that I’d normally argue: it’s sacrilege to even consider putting pictures in novels! Novels harness the power of words, they’re not picture books… yadda yadda…

But… would the right sort of illustration enhance some novels?

Of course, illustrators can be great artists – we can all recognise that. But we’re only allowed to appreciate illustrations if they’re in childrens’ books or in comics.

The closest we tend to come to an illustrated novel nowadays is in books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which illustration is used intelligently to help us gain insight in to the mind of the protagonist/narrator: a map of a street, a hypnotic pattern from some fabric, a scrawled doodle. Maybe this is the furthest that an author can push illustration without the risk of producing something that’s seen as more of a novelty than a serious novel.

curious

Both of those books were critically acclaimed and hugely popular – I love them – it can work when done well. And they aren’t alone: The Giro Playboy by Michael Smith was called “A British beat classic for the 21st century” by Esquire, and The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall created images out of the words themselves. What I’m interested in is whether a more ‘straight’ form of illustration can still be effective – or is it just completely unnecessary in a novel?

Is there a middle ground for the right book? Perhaps a hybrid of a traditional novel and a graphic novel? Whaddya think?

Any suggestions of books that have actually done this successfully?

The brilliant illustrations at the head of this post are from:
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Takes From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

The merest hint of snow (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

Overnight,
The temperature dropped,
Wafting the merest hint of snow,
Through the air,
Like dandelion seeds,
Gently blown,
Then blown away,
To make you wonder if they were ever there.

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

Dancing on sand / Living for the now (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

The coach headlights are thrown on full beam,
Illuminating a sandy stage,
As the dancing pairs,
Defy their age.

And though the evening is warm enough,
That coats aren’t required,
You still couldn’t have guessed at the inspired,
Choice of attire on display.
Sequins, sequins everywhere,
Heavy make-up,
Cumulus hair,
No colour to garish,
No trouser too tight,
An army against blandness,
Dressed for the fight.

Here, there’s no disgrace,
In a belly that struggles to remain penned,
By the buttons on a shirt,
Or a jowl that wobbles more,
Than a few years before.
It’s not about being airbrushed and pert,
Because the reality,
Is that this happiness comes more,
From enjoying the commonalities,
We find with other people;
More from appreciating what you’ve got,
Than what you had;
Not from being grateful,
Just from being glad.

Authors who look like their writing: #2 Kurt Vonnegut

random houe:reuters

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

richard-ford-please-credit-laura-wilson

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.

We each erect our own barriers (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

In the back of the car,
Victor runs his hands over the soft, cracked seats,
That always seem to smell like new.
His view out the window is incomplete,
Through the hazy tint,
As if he wants a hint,
Of what’s going on in the world,
But has no desire to be hurled,
In to the grime and banality,
Of what he perceives as reality.

The car leaves the steel and the concrete,
The chaos and the bustle,
Of the city behind,
And enters a suburb defined,
By it’s residents’ desire,
To separate themselves from each other.
Infinite lawns,
And hedges like fences,
Ensure that their lives are isolated,
By their own defences.

They pull up to a security gate,
And are granted entry,
By an anonymous sentry…