I'm giving up writing novels because no one takes me seriously, complains Antony Sher

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Sir Antony Sher, the actor, writer and artist, yesterday launched a bitter critique of the exclusivity of the literary world. Sir Antony, who voiced his concerns on stage during the Cheltenham Festival, described how he had struggled in vain for wider publicity surrounding the publication of his four novels.

Sir Antony Sher, the actor, writer and artist, yesterday launched a bitter critique of the exclusivity of the literary world. Sir Antony, who voiced his concerns on stage during the Cheltenham Festival, described how he had struggled in vain for wider publicity surrounding the publication of his four novels.

The actor attributed the apparently limited reviews and commercial success to what he perceived as the "closed doors" of an elitist literary club.

"The literary world is a sort of club that lets some people in and some not," he complained, "and for some reason I wasn't let in. The way that they let you know you're not going to be let in is they don't review your book. Or they review it so slowly it dies at birth and the publishers don't want to publish your books any more."

Sir Antony is best known as a Shakespearean actor whose most memorable performance was in Richard III as a "bottled spider" in the RSC's production in 1984. He has also emerged in recent years as an aspiring novelist, with four novels under his belt: Middlepost, Indoor Boy, Cheap Lives and The Feast. But due to the nature of the literary world, he announced yesterday that he would no longer be writing novels and instead would focus on screenwriting.

Sir Antony was bemused by the lukewarm critical reception for his first novel, Middlepost. Published in 1988, the novel is set in his native South Africa in 1902 and also showcases his artistic talents with five illustrations by the actor.

Sir Antony claimed yesterday that the literary world remained closed to him in terms of reviews despite the apparent success of the novel, claiming that it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. "I was finding it very unrewarding writing novels that no one was reviewing, so I'm sticking to stage plays now," he announced.

Describing his screenplays, Sir Antony, who has also written two theatre journals and an autobiography, added: "The first two plays I wrote were based on other people's books, so I'd like to write one of my own. I have written one and we've had a little reading that threw up some problems. So I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with that."

His comments were later echoed by members of the literary scene who also alluded to the exclusivity of literary circles.

Adam Horovitz, the poet and author of the recent collection Next Year in Jerusalem, said: "I think there's a literary club that loses the key sometimes, in that they get bombarded by so much stuff that they forget what they're doing. They think, 'Oh yes, who is Antony Sher? He used to write novels, didn't he?'"

He added: "I thought Middlepost was excellent. He's got a way of capturing the sweat of Africa. I can't think of any reason why his subsequent novels weren't reviewed. But as he says, writing plays seems a more natural place for him anyway. If reviews of Primo are anything to go by, the literary club's loss is theatre's gain."

Others claimed that as a well-respected actor, Sir Antony would have been at an advantage in terms of progressing in literary circles. DJ Taylor, the award-winning critic, biographer and novelist, said: "I'm rather surprised by his comments. When Antony Sher first launched his literary career 15 years ago, there was a lot of fuss surrounding his first book. I recall that it was well reviewed and there was a lot of publicity. What happened after that, I really don't know, which shows how little impact his books have made."

He added: "It's certainly true that the literary world can be immensely cliquey but it's quite rare that books of genuine note do not get some sort of comeback. And famous actors have all kinds of contacts they can tweak."

Sir Antony, 55, was born near Cape Town to a wealthy Jewish family and moved to London to train as an actor in 1968.

His status as one of the leading lights of his generation came after he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982, leading to critical acclaim in a string of performances. Sir Antony's latest success was in the one-man show, Primo, which he adapted from Primo Levi's book, If This Is a Man.

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