Reader, I humiliated him

Boy meets girl. Boy leaves girl. Girl bares all in public via a newspaper column and/or heavily hyped book. For every harrowing tale of a broken relationship, there's a significant other squirming with embarrassment. How was it for them?

Along with thousands of other newspaper readers, I've read rather a lot about Kathryn Flett's ex-husband. More than I really want to and a great deal more than he wants me to, I'm sure. As a student he was a "rabid pro-lifer" (her words). When Kathryn tried to initiate sex after they married he: "didn't want to know. Couldn't, to be blunt, get it up." Then there's the really personal stuff. He had "a boxed set of Yes CDs and waxed purple about numerous dirge-like Seventies synth-rockers". Oh, and agreed with Kathryn that neither of them wanted to see each other using the lavatory. A minor relief to all of us, including Eric no doubt, as things turned out.

Apart from his toilet habits, then, most aspects of their brief marriage and break-up found its way into her Observer column. And then, of course, her book, The Heart-Shaped Bullet - a sort of Bridget Jones meets The Bell Jar in the Conran shop.

Nestled among the emotional debris are the sort of details that would mean nothing to a third party but would be unimaginably wounding/embarrassing and surreal in equal measures to The One Involved. Like the fact that "Eric" had a cuddly toy called Bunny, didn't appear to have a best friend, and that he called her "wifey".

With Flett's pre-publication publicity - and, goodness, there's enough of it - poor old "Eric" has nowhere left to hide. Certainly not behind that terminally uncool pseudonym (no chance of a dignified "Nick", "Steve" or "Rob").

Meanwhile, it wasn't just "Eric" that quaked in his shoes - and we can only suppose that he did - but her other ex-partners too. Another ex who prefers to remain anonymous - and who wouldn't in these circumstances? - is still mortified by the descriptions of their romance. He will only be drawn to say, diplomatically: "We are still good friends but I am unhappy about been written about."

Interestingly, once one party comes out in print, those who can follow suit. Dylan Jones, now editor of GQ, lived with Flett for six years and recently wrote about his initial anxieties in one Sunday paper.

"Every Sunday morning brought another frenzied scan to see if our lives had been invaded," he wrote. "It was like living, unwittingly, in a docusoap."

As it happens, he was pleasantly relieved when he finally read her book. "In truth, I've got more of a walk-on part than a starring role - and what there is of me is quite complimentary."

Few get off so lightly, however. And rather fewer get a chance to offer their side of the story in print. Last year, author and journalist Tim Lott wrote a "story" about the break-up of his marriage for Granta magazine. His wife Sarina was appalled. She told one journalist: "It was too personal, too raw. It hurt. I didn't want it out."

Before that, Hanif Kureishi ventured into similar territory when he wrote, quite brutally, about his failed marriage in his novel, Intimacy, upsetting more than one member of his own family in the process.

In defence of a piece he was proud of, Lott has said: "We are over-sensitive about not tearing away those veils... It's a question of whether you're prepared to pay the price in the hostility you provoke."

Lott and Kureishi both seem to share a view that the more painful the ride, as it were, the better the literary reward. And the more those written about appear to be upset, the closer they, as writers, must be to the truth. For other writers, though, that isn't enough of a prize to make the exercise worthwhile.

Author and writer Maureen Freely learnt her lesson several years ago when she wrote a rather salacious account in one newspaper (with changed names, of course) about being someone's mistress. As she recalls: "The wife got very upset and wrote a magnificent letter to the paper saying I was making money from sin. I was completely laying myself open to it. I did end up losing a lot of friends after the letter was published. Nowadays, I think there's got to be a really good reason for writing autobiographically."

Author Julie Myerson admits that she still regrets writing one article for a woman's magazine detailing the break-up of an old relationship. "I shouldn't have done it and I felt uncomfortable. It was all very painful and intimate and I don't think it was fair on him that it was dragged up."

Unavoidably, though, such empathy won't deliver a voyeuristic hit, the raison d'etre of the confessional piece, as any junkie of the genre will tell you. Which is why this mode of expression has to be utterly uncompromising to work well. Whether you agree with their principles or not, Lott's ruthlessness and Flett's emotional honesty make for compelling reads. You might also feel that they've adhered to another important principle: that if you are going to write about your own life, it ought to cause you as much - if not more - pain that some of those who read it.

Confronting personal pain may be fine and noble but another golden rule is knowing when to stop. Journalist India Knight also penned a column - now concluded - for the Observer about, yup, breaking up with her husband.

She says: "My take is that it's fine to do it in print but you need to know when to draw the line. There comes a point where perhaps you shouldn't cast yourself as an eternal victim."

Which is a trap the female confessionalists tend to fall into rather more than the men. Lott and Kureishi neither make a play for our sympathy nor present themselves in such a nakedly vulnerable light as, say, Flett does. How much grief a writer drags to the surface depends, of course, on their state of mind at the moment of confession.

Knight says: "My husband left me and I wrote about it but I wasn't completely distraught or broken up by it. I tried to be funny rather than poignant."

Perhaps that's why her ex-partner Jeremy Langmead, an editor on the Sunday Times, was relatively unfazed by his central role in her pieces.

"It could be strange," he says. "I remember feeling quite sick one Sunday when I picked up The Observer and saw just below the masthead: "Read about why India's husband left her." It felt so surreal, and I couldn't understand why anybody would be interested."

Still, he reflects, it was interesting to find out what she was thinking. And, he adds brightly, it cut down on telephone bills. "I never had to phone people up and tell them that we'd separated or how India was feeling. I'd point them to the paper and they could read it for themselves."

Not a course of action that would recommend itself to poor old "Eric", who is more likely to be burning newspapers than waving them under friends' and loved ones' noses. Still, at least he can console himself with the fact that such exposure can never happen again. As Maureen Freely says, from bitter experience: "Writing about these things is like selling the family silver. You can only ever do it once."

INDIA KNIGHT

Wrote `Observer' column about husband leaving her

Style: "My ex-husband tells me that he will sue if I describe his sartorial eccentricities during this period... So all I can tell you is that as an ex-St Martin's fashion student and nightclub habitue, his costume was on the outre side."

Ouch factor: **

Ex-hubby is understanding. "I felt, as a journalist, you have to get used to it... I thought it was quite therapeutic for her."

TIM LOTT

Penned an account of a marriage break-up for `Granta' magazine last year, referring to a couple called `Tee' and `Ess'

Style: "There is a moment when they almost have sex, but each knows it would be merely nostalgia. Yet both weaken nonetheless, but at different times, so it doesn't happen."

Ouch factor: ****

His wife Sarina was appalled. "It makes my blood boil," she told one journalist.

KATHRYN FLETT

Wrote `Observer' column, then book, about her brief marriage and its break-up

Style: "The night before last, I had to remove my engagement ring because the diamond is suddenly a bit loose. As of last night, Eric wants to move out. I guess the therapy starts here."

Ouch factor: **** Ex-lovers come off OK. No response, as yet, from hapless "Eric".

HANIF KUREISHI

`Intimacy' is a novel detailing a man's emotions the night before he leaves his partner

Style: "There are some fucks for which a person would have their partner and children drown in a freezing sea."

Ouch factor: *****

His former partner, Tracey Scoffield, said: "He says it's a novel but that's an absolute abdication of responsibility.'

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?