Hey Mum, are we real yet?

Okay, well it is late.

Just remembered this piece I read in the Guardian the other day, sensationally headlined “AS Byatt attacks (my emphasis) novelists who use real-life characters” – I mean, really.

Well, she can talk, can’t she:

“It feels like the appropriation of others’ lives and privacy (she says). Making other people up, which is a kind of attack on them.” Oscar Wilde appears in her own Booker-nominated novel, The Children’s Book, she added, but “the novelist doesn’t say what he thinks”.

An attack! Spare me. Or wait, did I have this conversation with somebody recently? What she really means is, she doesn’t think other people are entitled to do it; only in her own silver hands is the sacred power safe…she doesn’t mention Evelyn Waugh, of course. Or Fanny Burney. Or Charles Dickens. Or the woman who write The Devil Wears Prada. Ultimately, not only must we not try to get inside the heads of the other people, we probably shouldn’t even mention them! Best not. “Just pretend he’s not there, dear…”

(This leads me to an overwhelming question, as it happens. Is it the fact of using other people, or is it about being tawdry? The difference between modelling art on life, and being part of Oprah culture? Between Great Expectations and daytime telly? Is it our compensation society, where each of us is so entitled to our own view of reality that ultimately no one else is entitled to theirs, in ours? Or something? Where nowadays if someone doesn’t like what you wrote about them they have therapy and then sue you?

Look how James Frey was dumped in the shit by his publishers, who had insisted on marketing his book as a memoir in the first place! Apparently everyone in Augusten Burroughs’ family has either taken out a lawsuit or cut him off cold – but even if he’s completely crazy and remembers everything differently, does that mean he’s not allowed to write his memoir? Who owns reality?)

Phew! Oh to be a respectably prosperous academic lady novelist with a headful of certainties, instead of my own grubbing, undistinguished, easily flummoxed self. And if you think it doesn’t matter to me because I write poems, not stories, you are very much mistaken. Because in a story you have at least a sporting chance of fictionalising them. Countless poets have tried to write fictional narrative poems and spent the rest of their lives trying to convince interlocutors that they didn’t, say, murder their previous wife, the Duchess. Or run drugs when they were young. No, it is worse for poets. Imagine the Dark Lady producing an affadavit full of the emotional anguish she suffered, and ultimately lost her job for blogging about it, because everybody thought she was a boy.

I even kind of resent the idea that Antonia Byatt can sit in her well-tended drawing room while the gardener does the weeds out the window and tell the rest of us what we can and can’t write about.

Which in turn just reminds me of how very much I still want to go see Arcadia while it’s still on. As it happens.

But there was this one bit I really liked. I was just sitting here thinking how it’s after midnight, and I really need to go to bed – and I was in the middle of doing some research earlier, but then I stopped to watch a movie, which is like the first time I’ve stopped working to do anything other than do housework, or go out, in weeks – so I was thinking how easy it would be to just do some more now – tomorrow is never long enough – see, this is how those 15-hour workdays happen – and then I remembered this. And yes, it rings true:

“One impact of writing on families is that the writer has to spend long periods alone with a pen, and this time, and this attention, is taken from the family. I knew a writer’s family where the children buried the typewriter in the garden.”

Ah, happy days. Happy, happy days of innocence.

Now I’m going to bed.

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