Friday, December 01, 2006

Amis's first

According to Eric Jacob’s 1995 biography of the man, Kinglsey Amis wrote a never-to-be-published novel in the late forties, before Lucky Jim, entitled The Legacy, and featuring a protagonist named… “Kingsley Amis.” (Martin’s pulled that stunt at least once.)

Amis, just out of school and the war, sent the thing around for two years before giving up and sticking it in a drawer, from whence it was never to emerge. Though he later saw the rejections as having saved him from an embarrassing career-start, the whole thing stung at the time. Amis wrote to Philip Larkin that one publisher “sent The Legacy back, of course, saying it was ‘altogether too slight.’ That’s true in a way, I suppose, but there were plenty of other things to its discredit I would have said before that.” A later reader sent him a long and detailed note, outlining everything that was wrong with the book, including the fact that “there is no suspense,” and, more shockingly, that there was “a total lack of humour.” The capper was the comment that “If I tried to count the number of times your characters repeated themselves, the number of times they light a cigarette, pour out tea, pass plates of food, etc., this letter would be an essay in statistics.”

Amis, again in a letter to Larkin, wrote that she was “QUITE RIGHT in about half of what she says, but rest of the time she’s missing the point isn’t she? … I mean, detail’s the point isn’t it? Now if she can’t see that (I’M NOT ASKING HER TO LIKE IT) what chance have I got old boy? … An original writer who isn’t very much good, that’s what I am: I’ll never be Joyce or Warwick Deeping, so where do I stand? In the brown stuff, it seems.”


This all sounds very, very familiar, as I am sure it does to most writers reading this. And, thanks to the ever-sustaining self-delusion that is a writer’s secret weapon, it is also strangely reassuring. (“Yes, the next one will be my Lucky Jim….”)

1 comment:

ognir.rrats said...

The only way to learn how to write novels is to write novels. Most, if not all, great first novels have at least one, if not two or three, unpublishable "failures" behind it.