Coales' Notes: Knowing right from wrong: When a worried writer is referred to the Ars Longa Artists' Counselling Service, Gordon Coales is required to play the delicate role of confessor

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: The office was in high excitement this morning, Rory striding around in a strategic manner. He had been down to Bishopsgate to survey the damage. Thousands and thousands of feet of temporarily vacant office space. 'This is quite simply the installation opportunity of the decade.'

I couldn't let this pass. I said the whole idea betrayed a disgraceful cynicism and I myself wanted no part in publicity stunts of such nature. I think this put a dampner on it.

In the afternoon Di asked very sweetly if I would mind reading some novels. Did I know the work of Trevor Grain?

I said I wasn't aware novel-reading was one of my duties. She said the thing was, this was an artist in difficulties, who needed the help of the Ars Longa Artists' Counselling Service. I asked, didn't he have a publisher to sort him out? She replied it was 'a special request from Jenny at Polygraph'. The author-editor relationship here had broken down, so external assistance was needed. She was convinced I could do it. I bowed to the inevitable.

Later I had a call from Grain himself. He said 'I need help', but would not say why. We arranged to meet.

WEDNESDAY: I have taken the last two days off, to familiarise myself with Mr Grain's collected fiction. I have struggled through A Child's Atlas ('Haunting'), The Rules of Real Tennis ('Compelling'), Beekeeping for Pleasure and Profit ('Extraordinary'), Five Simple Ways to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease ('Extraordinary') and Local Government Finance in the South Riding 1948-53 and Other Stories ('Remarkable').

I have no doubt it is all extremely clever and post-everything, but I cannot work up much interest in this writer. I rang up Di and told her so. She said again 'You can do it.'

THURSDAY: I met Grain this afternoon, at his request, in a cafe on the Holloway Road. He began very rudely. I said I had read his work, how might I help? He said 'I am not inviting your literary opinion. I am simply looking to you as a well meaning, middle of the road, wishy washy sort of chap. OK?'

I said I hoped I was fairly objective, at least. He went on: 'And I'm asking you whether there was anything you found worrying in my work? Anything that, as they say, you had a problem with? Ethically, perhaps?'

I replied that nothing had really struck me along those lines, no.

He said very earnestly that he wished to reveal something to me. He required total secrecy. It was something he could not disclose to his publisher. And then he murmured 'The situation is: I am on the right.'

I said of course one did rather expect writers to be leftish. He replied that he perhaps hadn't made his position quite clear. He was on the extreme right. The very extreme right. Way, way, way out there - on the far right.

I asked what that meant precisely. He laughed. 'I have no desire to distress you with the details of my very personal but very passionately held convictions. I merely hope to give you an idea of the danger I am in.'

I said it would certainly help if he could just give one example of his views. He said the risk was too great. 'But suffice to say that beside my own situation, the case of Larkin pales into insignificance.'

I said well, maybe, but at any rate you'd never guess it from the books. He replied 'Precisely, this is precisely the point, is it not? I keep it out of my art, and it is totally irrelevant to my art - this very extreme right-wing position which I hold.'

I asked what was the problem then?

He looked at me with amazement. 'The problem is, it might slip out. A chance remark - in the glare of publicity, under the pressure of fame. I hope I don't need to remind you, I only failed by a whisker - a whisker - to be included among the Granta 20 Best Young British Novelists. With my next novel I might easily win, shall we say, the Betty Trask Award. I might then be invited to add my name to a round-robin letter by Ian McEwen. I would certainly be interviewed by Sarah Dunant. And I might simply not be able to control myself.'

Then he began muttering: 'It will come out. I can't stop it. And when it comes out, it will be read back - totally irrelevantly - into my books. And then I will be banned.' Not of course, he added, that he was opposed to censorship in principle.

I said I did not know what advice to give. I would need time to think. I was by this stage in a state of some shock, and very keen to get away from him.

And now I have stayed up half the night, intensively re-reading the Grain oeuvre. There is no question that, on further inspection, there are many tell-tale motifs of the most disturbingly right-wing tendency, which I missed entirely the first time round. And to think this kind of thing is published by a respectable house. Quite chilling.

FRIDAY: Extremely tired today. I told Di that it turned out the problem was our author was an absolutely rabid fascist. And on a second reading, you could actually tell. It was appalling stuff. Quite obviously we couldn't have anything more to do with him, and she would do well to warn her friend at the publishers too. She said she certainly would, and apologised for putting me through it all.

I pushed off early. But as I was leaving I heard her say to the phone: 'Well I think it could definitely work, Jenny . . . He's got it perfectly . . . Gordon was absolutely rivetted . . . And just imagine how it would go down on Start the Week . . . Or maybe he should be a desperate perv or something. . Or maybe he once collaborated with the Stasi . . . OK, too far-fetched . . . Well obviously, whatever Trevor is most comfortable with . . . It should really take off.'

I just feel this is a job for a younger, crueller man.

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