Poison pens: The art of literary revenge

Jilly Cooper has named a goat in her latest novel after a critic who wrote a biting review. She got away lightly...

There must be something about the many hours they spend alone with their word processors, hammering out words that no one will read until months after they are written that makes authors so very prickly at times. Jilly Cooper, for example, has a vast army of admiring readers, and has made millions from her special brand of fiction. She could surely afford to overlook a mildly critical review of her novel, Rivals, published in 1988, in which rich people get in and out bed with each other, which concluded with the comment: "The interminable randiness, drunkenness and the salacious, schoolgirlish innuendoes become tedious and distasteful."

But the review, and the name of the reviewer, Anne Chisholm, obviously stuck in her mind – because 22 years on, Cooper has revealed at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that she has used the reviewer's name for a character in her latest novel, Jump – and not a human character either.

"Chisolm" (the misspelling is Cooper's) is a goat, who has a sweet enough nature, but is described leaving mess in the car and on the kitchen floor. Surprised that she should be remembered after all these years, Anne Chisholm reacted philosophically. "On the whole, Cooper's revenge could have been a great deal worse," she wrote. "And all publicity is good publicity."

Cooper is not by any means the only author to resent a slight or carry on a feud. Here are some other examples of authors using their work to get back at someone who has crossed them.

James Frey vs Oprah

There is no better way to boost sales in the US book market than being featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but for James Frey, author of a memoir called A Million Little Pieces, about his recovery from drug addiction, the experience turned nasty after it was revealed that a good part of his book was made up. He was called back on to the show when a sometimes tearful Winfrey demanded to know why "he felt the need to lie".

Three years later, in 2009, a paperback edition of Frey's novel Bright Shiny Morning, appeared, with a new section entitled "Chat Show Host" that was not in the original hardback. It described how the protagonist was hauled on to a chat show to be called a liar, and how he later recorded a telephone conversation with the chat show host in which she said that she had written a book that had never been published. When asked if he really had a recording of a phone conversation with Winfrey, Frey replied: "The book is fiction. Interpret it however you want."

John Hervey vs Alexander Pope

John Hervey was the eldest son of the Earl of Bristol, a courtier and a writer with a talent for making enemies, of whom the most talented was the poet, Alexander Pope. The quarrel is said to have begun because Hervey, who was bisexual, married a woman Pope fancied.

Hervey believed that the "Lord Fanny" in Pope's poem Imitations of Horace was an attack on him, and retaliated with Verses to the Imitator of Horace. He was also the suspected author of a letter that mocked Pope's humble birth and physical deformity. Pope hit back with some of the most insulting lines in English poetry, in which Hervey was lampooned as "Sporus", the gay lover of the Roman Emperor Nero: "Let Sporus tremble – 'What? that thing of silk, Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk? Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?' Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings, This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings..."

Melvyn Bragg vs Lynn Barber

Melvyn Bragg is a national treasure whose TV programmes were an adornment of the country's cultural life – or so Lynn Barber was told by everyone she spoke to as she was swotting up to interview the great man in June 1990.

She, on the other hand, could hardly bear to watch him on television – "smiling, simpering, giggling, looking down at his nails when he is supposed to be asking questions, exuding his awful smug matey blokiness... " Meeting him face-to-face, she was surprised to find him "twitchy", "neurotic" and very vain.

The interview in The Independent on Sunday was possibly the worst thing Lord Bragg had ever read about himself. He wasted no time taking revenge. In 1992, he published a novel, Crystal Rooms, which surprised people by the characters he drew, including a pushy, 40-something hack called Martha Potter. She is portrayed sitting in a public lavatory, pleasuring herself while dreaming of Prince Charles.

A N Wilson vs Bevis Hillier

This feud began with a hurtful book review, though the revenge was more elaborate and mischievous. Bevis Hillier is an art historian, who spent 25 years working on a three-volume biography of the poet John Betjeman. Wilson reviewed the second volume in 2002, and described it as "a hopeless mishmash". Then he set to work on his own book on Betjeman, which one newspaper forecast would be "the big one".

Hillier has denied any involvement in the following hoax, but the story told is that the predicted success was too much for Hillier, who composed a fake love letter from Betjeman to a woman named Honor Tracy, and sent it to Wilson, with a cover letter purportedly coming from a woman named Eve de Harben. It was later revealed that the letter was not just a fake, but an acrostic in which the first letter of each sentence spelt "A N Wilson is a shit" – while Eve de Harben is an anagram of "ever been had".

Sebastian Faulks vs DJ Taylor

Again it is said to have begun with an unflattering review. In 2005, Faulks published Human Traces, a fictionalised history of 19th-century psychiatry, which DJ Taylor, writing in The Spectator, assessed as being spoilt by too many "clumps of undigested data". He added: "Sebastian Faulks's novels have never worn their research particularly lightly."

In Faulks's next novel, A Week in December, there appeared a character named R Tranter, an embittered reviewer who took pleasure in destroying the careers of other writer by panning their work. Critics thought they spotted a likeness, though Faulks said Tranter was not based on Taylor.

Then, in March this year, Constable published a new novel by DJ Taylor, At the Chime of a City Clock, midway through which there appears a rather unpleasant detective, "a spindly-looking bloke in a brown mac with a strand or two of silvery hair plastered across his head..."

His name – Faulks.

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
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.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral