I’m not even sure exactly where the interest has come from, but in the last few weeks I’ve been learning more about Ernest Hemingway. He was some character. Either unlucky or careless he had some truly spectacular accidents: once going to the toilet at his flat in Paris he pulled the cord that opened the skylight instead of the toilet chain and pulled it so hard that the whole skylight fell on his head resulting in a visit to hospital. Another time, whilst in Africa, the plane he was in with his wife crashed leaving them by a waterfall surrounded by elephants. Rescued a day later he was then in a second plane crash almost immediately – and survived both.
You don’t hear such things about E L James and Dan Brown, the biggest selling authors of the last decade. The most that can be said about Brown is that he hangs upside down every morning wearing gravity boots. E L James is the most reclusive of characters. What of the other member of the Holy Trinity? JK Rowling. Writing a book in a café and now part of cyberspace and a multi-millionaire is ordinary when compared to the writers of the past.
Ian Fleming, once a member of the Secret Service during World War II, retreated to Jamaica each year to write the Bond books. Lord Byron and Percy Shelley – renowned eccentrics and fully paid up members of the odd ball club. Barbara Cartland was a vision in pink and taffeta – although the vision would cause nightmares in many who saw her. Enid Blyton was another strange one and Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days, with those missing days never explained – despite the strange film with Elliot Gould and Cybil Shepherd.
The point is do you have to be eccentric or even considered odd to be a writer? Poets do seem to capture this flavour of oddness or is that because they more performers than authors? The idea that they have to go out in front of people rather than the people taking them home with them, as they do with a book. (In the photo is a poet at a wedding - thanks Justin Thyme).
The irony, of course, that many of the great eccentric writers did not meet the best of ends. Hemingway shot himself, Fleming died through ill health – largely because of his Bond-like lifestyle, Shelley drowned in an accident at sea and Lord Byron died of illness whilst fighting in Greece. The question remains then. Do authors and poets have a need to be eccentric or are they odd by conventional standards? And by the standards of Hemingway, and the others, are today’s writers as ordinary as I have painted them? Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.