I always feel there’s something vaguely accusatory about the “Why do you write?” line of enquiry, as if I’m being ticked off for some act of unspeakable presumption. But if writing is a presumptuous, self-proclaiming act, the act of reading – certainly reading fiction – is open to charges, at the very least, of being time-wasting and delusional.
The idea is to make it seem real . . . . The last novel I did [Everything You Need, Cape, 1999] had a male protagonist, and I spent the next three years fielding sideways questions about whether I’m gay. I presume I’m in for another three years of being asked whether I’m a screaming drunk. Or a gay drunk. I’m straight and teetotal – not that it matters.
“Alas, you fancy yourself as a literary man, and as I have as little faith in your literary ability as in your capacity to judge a play, I have found you – not for the first time – incapable of understanding even your own part . . . . The time has come to call an end to the selfishness, the laziness and the obstinacy which has impeded nearly every rehearsal,” an infuriated Greene tells Richardson, then aged 61. He adds, “The vanity of an ageing ‘star’ can do far more damage to the living theatre than any censorship exercised by the Lord Chamberlain.”