I RECENTLY encountered some people who were off to meet a famous
author. They were excited at the prospect, but my first thought
They would not actually be meeting the author, of course. He
would be on a stage, behind a microphone - but they would be in the
same room, and he would be taking questions, which can give the
impression of a real encounter.
Some of the thrill seemed to be that they would be in the same
room as a figure declared "famous". But there was a hunger beyond
that; for some of them had read his books, and now wanted to meet
the man. In my experience, however, meeting the author is always a
mistake. You may really like the book - indeed, it may have changed
your life - but the story is best left there.
Remember, there is nothing spontaneous about a book. Authors
spend hours creating something a great deal better than themselves
- more clever, more humorous, more wise, more rounded. They have
been able to edit their lines in a way that they cannot edit their
lives, where there are numerous disappointing typos.
Their lives are in the same tangle as yours - worse, probably,
and a great deal more insecure, or else why would they feel the
need to play God on the page? It is where the prosecution might
begin: writers only write to pretend control over a life they
cannot control. They are small gods on the page as they plot, but,
away from the page, they may lose the plot regularly.
One of my favourite spiritual books, from the early 20th
century, led me into a hunt for the author. I wanted to know more
about that author, and even enjoy the life that gave rise to the
writing. I travelled to Cambridge, and submitted myself to various
security checks in order to get a glimpse of personal diaries,
recently made available. The experience was salutary.
I discovered a carping and critical life, full of falling-outs
and overreaction. The author had written from the best of
themselves, with their ordinary selves on the other side of the
Without a football at their feet, footballers can struggle. And
without a pen in their hands, or a keyboard to bash, a writer may
disappoint. It might be more rewarding to get tickets to meet your
plumber for an evening or your newsagent. They may be less needy,
I write this as I organise a book launch myself. But I don't
imagine that anyone is coming to meet the author; I see it more as
a gathering of friends, wishing me well in my small and insecure
endeavours, because, although some people read a book and wish to
meet the author, I am not one of them. In their work, I have
already met them at their best. From here, it is all downhill.