Richard Pierce


Day 246

The novel I’m reading right now is Author, Author by David Lodge. It’s basically a fictionalised retelling of the last days of Henry James (whom I must admit to never having read, although he is the fictional Paola Brunetti’s favourite author – PB being the wife of the similarly fictional Guido Brunetti in the Donna Leon novels), and which delves into his life in an intriguing and interesting way. It is essentially (and I’m only halfway through) a meditation on how writers feel they’re competing all the time, not just with writers they don’t know, not just with writers who are friends of theirs, but with themselves (and with those who claim to purvey what’s good and bad in literature of any kind). It’s a reflection on how writers may perceive their powers to be waning when they don’t have the public success they crave, when they feel they’re not selling enough, when they see others (whose work they might feel is inferior to theirs) receiving high public praise and having better sales, etc etc.

It also reflects (or Henry James reflects, and David Lodge through him) on the peculiar occupation that writing (and actually, being a creative) is. We/they are contradictions, because we hide away in our offices (garrets/studios/study/living room corner – take your pick) and disappear from the world we live in into imaginary worlds which, although they cannibalise much of this world (and don’t make the mistake of thinking that each writer’s creation has one single character who is the author, because that’s a massively false assumption; all characters in all novels have one trait or another of the author in them, because authors have split personalities), are fiction and will always remain so, but at the same time we need the public, and are more or less desperate to be in the public’s eye, so we can be celebrated, adored, praised, accoladed, so we can make sales (and here bear in mind the average author in the UK grosses well below £5k a year), whilst at the same time opening ourselves up to public scrutiny, ridicule, criticism, and the danger of crashing and burning. And yet, just to add one more complication, many of us feel driven to write, because (refer back to those split personalities) it gives us an outlet for all the demons in our minds, it’s therapy, it’s a joy. Even just the handling of paper, the scrawl of a pen and the sound it makes on different kinds of paper (sometimes it’s wonderful to write on thick paper in large letters, sometimes it’s better to write cramped and tiny characters on paper thin enough to see through, sometimes somewhere in the middle, and, more often nowadays, for me, anyway, to clack away on my long-suffering keyboard and watch the words form in real time on the screen in front of me. Maybe, actually, that’s where the ultimate job satisfaction resides – just in putting those words, sentences, chapters, books, worlds together, even if no-one reads them. But … it’s never enough, is it?

All generalisations are false including this one. Perhaps all of this is just me.



Released form the claustrophobia of the passport check and interrogation, Aggie walk slowly past the cubicle, elegantly throwing her backpack over her right shoulder, idles through the sliding doors opening out into the Arrivals area, keeps the smile on her face, keeps the unobtrusive gait going, the one that makes her invisible to everybody, and exits into a crowd of people, a jostle of colours and noises and scents. She scans left and right, only her eyes moving, her head seemingly facing straight ahead. When she has almost given up hope, she sees them, the tall black man, and a short woman, with the hood of her hoodie covering almost the entirety of her face, a laminated sign with Angela Jennings scrawled awkwardly, almost illiterately, on it. She changes direction slightly to head towards them, and as she does so, they turn away and start heading towards the exit signposted Taxis, Buses, Pick-ups. She follows them, can see movement through the glass doors, sees the night coloured orange by the lights of passing cars and buses and taxis. She doesn’t speed up, doesn’t lengthen her strides, just keeps the same pace, all the time keeping her eyes on their , for her now unforgettable shapes and backs.

The fresh air is a relief after the air-conditioned coolness of the plane, after the oppressive and high-pitched human condensation inside the terminal, and she takes a deep breath, veers off to the left, the same way they have gone ahead of her, and sees them stop next to a big black limo. The man holds the door open for the short woman, keeps standing there, bolt upright, until Aggie reaches him, bows so slightly she could have missed it, gestures for her to slide onto the back seat, and closes the door softly behind her before slipping himself into the driver’s seat, starting the car, and moving smoothly away from the kerb.

‘Hardly unobtrusive,’ Aggie says, turning to the woman, her backpack already on the floor between her feet.

‘Every drug dealer in this city has one like this,’ the woman says, in a voice that sounds like she’s swallowed sandpaper and which borders on a snarl, throws the hood off her face to reveal a tidy bob on blonde hair curling under at the bottom so the rigid locks of hair almost touch the woman’s ears on their way back up. ‘The best way not to attract attention.’ Her eyes sparkle under the uneven eyebrows, her right one a lot higher than her left one, and indicating that her snarl isn’t actually a snarl but just the way she talks. She leans back in the leather seat. ‘So you’re Angela, are you? Cassandra didn’t tell me you were such an unprepossessing young thing.’ The face arranges itself into a smile, and she reaches out to pat Aggie’s right arm. ‘Don’t worry. I don’t bite.’

‘I didn’t think you did,’ Aggie says, gazing back at Marion unfalteringly. ‘I just don’t really understand why Cassandra would want me to come over here.’

Marion coughs, and it turns into a laugh. ‘Ah, the reluctant spy,’ she says. ‘That’s no surprise.’

‘Not really reluctant, just intrigued.’

‘That’s good.’ The car is nearing the edge of the airport. ‘Where should I start?’

‘The beginning’s always a good place.’

‘Oh dear, there are so many of those. I don’t even know which one to pick.’

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