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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee