Authors? They're all just jealous, bitchy backbiters

Literary writers look down on crime novelists like me, says Ian Rankin

Ever since Ben Jonson's snide suggestion that William Shakespeare could improve his style by writing less, professional disagreements have led authors to wage tempestuous feuds, and even throw the odd punch.

Yesterday, Ian Rankin, the best-selling crime writer, lifted the lid on a seething contemporary rivalry affecting a whole genre. Asked if he found encounters with other authors stimulating, Rankin replied: "No. There's a lot of bitching and backbiting. Writers, by their very nature, are solitary creatures who don't like competition. So when you put us up against other writers – whether it's in a bar or on a panel – this competitive edge comes into it."

Speaking to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, he claimed that literary novelists were jealous of the success of crime writers, whose prose they often derided as pulpy. "Without a doubt there is jealousy over the sales. I mean, [crime fiction] is a popular genre. It sells by the millions," he said. "We're the non-literary brigade. You don't want us in your literary club, so we'll make our own club, and help each other out as much as we can."

Literary novels have, historically, been seen as the books that win prizes, while crime novels have been dismissed as airport fiction. But that distinction has long since disappeared, says Rankin. "The best crime fiction today is talking about the same things big literary novels are talking about. They are talking about moral questions, taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary situations ... some of the best crime fiction is literature. And some of the best literature is crime fiction."

Reflecting on his own history of spats, Martin Amis told The Independent he had never knowingly started a dispute. "If somebody says something in a letter, you tell them in private. If someone does it in public, you defend yourself," he said. He said it tended to be those on the "periphery" of the establishment who tended to be the most backbiting, and often had "peripheral talent".

Philip Kerr, the crime novelist who has just returned from an (amicable) literary festival in Adelaide, Australia, said the nature of writing led some to become paranoid: "If you spend all your time on your own, it tends to make you feel solitary and neglected, and it's easy to perceive slights when none exist."

One of the biggest points of contention occurred over book reviews written by fellow authors, he added.

"If you are a writer and you review as well, that's not a good recipe for excellent relations with fellow writers. I will be sharing a platform with a fellow crime writer shortly, at Edinburgh, whose book I reviewed unfavourably. I have reread it and apologised since," he said.

Amis concurred, saying he had stopped writing hostile book reviews in his 20s. "Scathing reviews by writers is [a reflection of] a corruption of power. You have got a guy's fate in your hands."

Peter Kemp, a newspaper fiction editor and member of the Man Booker Advisory Committee, said such spats were memorable because of the high levels of eloquence between the people exchanging insults: "Since words are their business, they are more likely to acquit themselves memorably than two people at a Tesco check-out."

Wars of words: Literary feuds

*Salman Rushdie vs. Germaine Greer

Cambridge contemporaries during the late Sixties, their spat erupted in the early 1990s when Greer traduced Rushdie and his controversial The Satanic Verses, refusing to sign a supportive petition and labelling him a self-absorbed "megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin". Rushdie bore a grudge until 2006, when he attacked Greer's opposition to filming an adaptation of Monica Ali's novel Brick Lane on location as "philistine, sanctimonious, and disgraceful, but... not unexpected".



*Ruth Padel vs. Derek Walcott

Erstwhile Oxford professor of poetry Ruth Padel ran a smear campaign against her Nobel Prize-winning rival for the post, Derek Walcott, last year. She sent 100 members of the Oxford faculty (and The Sunday Times) photocopied pages of a 1980s academic study on sexual harassment which detailed Walcott's indecency towards one of his students at Harvard. Once exposed, she resigned from the post just days after her victory, successfully smearing both poets' reputations in the process.

*Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal

Norman Mailer had an "enemies list" almost as long as Richard Nixon's. Perhaps his most notable beef, though, was with Gore Vidal, who tastefully compared reading Mailer's The Prisoner of Sex to experiencing "three days of menstrual flow". In retaliation Vidal was head-butted in 1971 then punched in 1978. During the latter incident Vidal retained his composure, firing back from the floor: "Words fail Norman Mailer again." Mailer also stabbed Vidal's second wife in the back. Literally.



*Martin Amis vs. Julian Barnes/ Pat Kavanagh

The writers' long-term friendship was terminated after Amis betrayed his agent, Pat Kavanagh, who coincidentally was Barnes's partner. Amis left her for American rival Andrew "the Jackal" Wylie to secure a lucrative advance for his new novel, The Information. The response was swift and succinct. As Amis described the note's sign-off: "The words consist of seven letters. Three of them are fs."

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn