Aging Scribblers

Aging Scribblers


There are many instances of novelists continuing to practise their art well after the appropriate faculties have failed. They re, I imagine, egged on by greedy agents, lazy publishers and pusillanimous editors, all of whom know that, at certain levels, it is names, not content that sell books, leading to the apparently unquenchable output of ‘novelists’ like Danielle Steel.

The late Anthony Powell’s earlier works merit the esteem in which they were held, and which I enjoyed, while acknowledging that he never possessed the scintillating brush strokes of contemporaries like Evelyn Waugh, or the potent darkness of Graham Greene. However, for a long time after he had manifestly lost his grip on story-telling and had drifted into self-indulgent fantasy and hippy metaphysics of a type that should have been confined only to a close circle of understanding friends, his publishers allowed him, perhaps even encouraged him, to carry on.

His final novel, The Fisher King, published twenty years after the last of his twelve book oeuvre, Dance to the Music of Time (which was already showing signs of an uncertain grasp), had it been a presented as the work of a young unknown would have been rejected as unpublishable. It was a disservice to the then 80 year old Powell to publish it at all without, at least, far more rigorous editing.

On a less literary level, and more recently, I was reminded of the dangers of ARAS [Aging Revered Author Syndrome] while tackling a recent offering of Joanna Trollope. I used to like keeping  in touch with my feminine side by reading Ms Trollope, who, while not as important a writer as she suggests at BookFest appearances, nevertheless wrote in her earlier novels with a depth of detail and sufficiently tightly observed insight that there was something to be gained, and admired in her novels.

But Daughters in Law, published some 23 years after her first hit, The Choir, lacks her earlier depth of vision and shows a flabbiness of style, a clunky tendency for repetition and the presentation of flat, banal characters, manifestly products of research, not spontaneous, well-informed creativity. It should be noted that every author needs a confidante to let them know when their art has drifted into the realms of the irrelevant, the unrehearsed and the self-indulgent.

An even more dangerous manifestation of ARAS can be encountered when a writer has changed genres, perhaps sometimes under the misconception that writing popular fiction is not very hard (and when considering works by hard-boiled old pot-boilers like Ms Steel, they could be forgiven for thinking so). Naomi Campbell for a blink of an eye famously swapped modelling for novel-writing (although the real authorship of her not outstanding novel, Swan, is obscure. It is said that Ms Campbell may not be entirely to blame for the miserable quality of the work.)

It seems unlikely that Katie Price, the former Hashemite Kingdom or whatever she was before she became a best-selling novelist, had a lot to do with writing the novels that bear her name, although, cleverly, they’re written in a way that suggests she might have done.

In the case of Prue Leith, who has made the leap to romance from gastronomy (where she cost me hundreds of pounds in wasted joints of overcooked beef as a result of hopelessly inaccurate roasting times in her famed  ‘Bible’) I can’t even contemplate what grisly inaccuracies abound in her works as a reinvented, self-styled  ‘novelist.’ It’s enough to know that she even recycled a title from the magnificent self-publicist (and derivative novelist, Jeffrey Archer), The Prodigal Daughter.

Interestingly, it was clear that Jeffrey, taking a line from the parable put out by the well-known 1st century parabalist, Jesus Christ, believes that ‘prodigal’ means ‘running way from the family before coming home a few years later to receive sympathy’ when it simply means profligate, or spendthrift. I wonder if Ms Leith has made the same mistake?

Forgive me for my unprofessionalism, but I haven’t checked.




I’ve  often noticed that journalists whose images accompany their prose seem never to age. Take, for example, John Harris of The Guardian, alongside whose work appeared for some 15 years the image of a fresh-faced student apparently qualified to write meaningfully about rock music (which he did well, but does less these days). Now that he writes almost exclusively about politics, it seems he has finally agreed to an updated mug-shot, in which he looks slightly older, but more knowing.

I applaud this sincerity, and have decided (after a mere five years) to do the same………

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