Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I met up with a reading group, the Roosters Book Club, based in Rome. The intention was that I should talk about Little Monsters, which the group had all, with great generosity, not only bought but read. The meeting had been organised by Carolyn, a friend and the driving force behind the group (according to its members!). I’d remarked that it might be fun to meet up, months ago, and was delighted, and mildly disquieted, when Carolyn took me up on this rash offer. When she phoned and suggested a date, I thought, well, yes, what could be more fun? It wasn’t until I was walking from my house to hers, a matter of a hundred yards, that it struck me I had no idea what I’d actually do. I’d been assured by Carolyn that all that was required of me was that I talk about myself and my book and this had seemed so self-indulgent a pleasure up to that point that I hadn’t really considered what it might involve. Because, walking along Via Manzoni, from my house to Carolyn’s, with a copy of Little Monsters in my hand, it struck me that, to my (dis)credit, I’m the least introspective of men and that I also have a rather non-analytical approach to the business of writing – I’m endlessly quoting Frank O’Hara’s essay on Personism:
I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”
Of course, I know it’s not that simple, and that it wasn’t for O’Hara either. But I felt exposed, and unprepared, and slightly fraudulent. Which, when I think about it, is how I feel on most occasions of a social, or professional, nature.
Well, I had a wonderful time, and if the group enjoyed themselves half as much as I did, they must have had quite a lot of fun as well. The joy about lacking the capacity – or desire – for introspection is that you treat yourself as the subject for gossip, the more scurrilous the better. You become, alas, indiscreet. And not only about your private life. Because one of the interesting aspects of being a published writer is that you know something – not necessarily a lot, but something – about the way the whole business works. The writing schedule, revision, where the characters come from, all that was important. But equally interesting, it seemed to me, were the contract, the advance, the title, the cover. This is how it should be. Good books, like hand-thrown vases and the perfect Victoria sponge, should justify themselves. What’s fascinating, because it’s technical. is what lies behind them; it’s the invisible speed of the wheel and the coolness of the hands that finally count. Which reminds me, I must ask Carolyn for the recipe of the excellent salad we all enjoyed as soon as I’d left the hot seat and we’d moved to the dining table for lunch.
If you read this, Roosters, thnak you for breaking me in so gently. And if you’re a book club and would like me to be equally indiscreet with you, just let me know. I’m surprisingly available.
Khaki shorts are an optional.