Second Thoughts: Too close a call: D J Taylor recalls Real Life (Flamingo pounds 5.99) and the real trouble it caused

MY SECOND novel, Real Life, came out in hardback in the spring of last year. It got some respectable reviews, and a stinker in the Observer from a chap I vaguely remember from university (what is it about those chaps we vaguely remember from university? Why do they hate us so?) A dozen bad reviews would have been as nothing, though, compared to what happened on a bright morning in April - April Fool's Day, appropriately enough - about three weeks after publication, when the telephone rang.

'Apparently there's a real Mr X,' said my editor anxiously, 'and it looks as if he's going to sue.' The fictitious Mr X, a Soho pornographer and erstwhile friend of the Krays was, needless to say, the villain of the piece. The solicitor's letter, several pages long and extremely amusing had it been addressed to anybody else, arrived a day later. Not only had I given the distinctively named and entirely blameless Mr X a fictional counterpart, I had also guessed the number of his children and, give or take a syllable or two, the name of the company he ran. Calling the thing Real Life didn't help, either.

According to the lawyers, who shook their heads sadly over this chain of coincidence, there wasn't a great deal that could be done. I spent the next few weeks in and out of their offices signing depositions, writing craven letters to Mr X and hanging about in anterooms while negotiations proceeded. 'By the way,' somebody said at an early stage, 'if you've got any property or savings I should put them in your wife's name. Just to be on the safe side.' Eventually the accusation of 'malicious libel' was watered down to 'accidental defamation'. We settled out of court, agreeing to pay damages and reissue the book (withdrawn at the first hint of trouble) with an erratum slip. Everyone said I was very lucky.

Looking over Real Life for the first time in nearly two years, I am conscious not only of the rightfully upset figure of Mr X but of two or three distinct themes welded rather uncomfortably together. Set mostly in Norwich, where I grew up, the novel features a former scriptwriter of pornographic films who retires to the city in search of peaceful retirement only to find himself destroyed by the consequences of his past. On one level an attempt to say something about pornography, a phenomenon which I continue to find both extraordinarily funny and extraordinarily frightening, on another a nostalgic love-letter to the landscapes of childhood, the book seems further weighed down by some slightly amateurish reflections on authenticity, the 'real life' of the title. An epigraph, taken from an old Magazine song ('So this is real life / you're telling me / and everything / is where it ought to be') reflects this almost neurotic interest in the deceits and subterfuges of - say - casual conversation, the impossibility of achieving what Magazine's lyricist Howard Devoto called a 'definitive gaze'.

Literary autobiography - Anthony Powell's memoirs are a good example - suggests that writers tend to remember books for the circumstances or even the milieux of their composition. Most of what I can recall about my first novel takes in the angular Pimlico bedroom in which it was written and the untidy Fitzrovia basement in which it was typed. With Real Life, though, the circumstances of publication endure. It will be a long time before whatever feelings I may have about the book are uncomplicated by the memory of nervy meetings in solicitors' offices and the sight of lawyers' letters, white and sinister, gleaming from the doormat.

Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
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
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