Martin Newell

The pop poet and writer responds to the attack made by Barney Hoskyns on novelists and journalists for using their own lives as subject matter
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The Independent Online

If people are buying autobiographies and memoirs by journalists and columnists, perhaps it says more about the appalling state of the modern novel than it does about how bad such confessional writing is. I would much rather read about Tony Parsons's struggles as a single dad than have to plough through Brett Easton Ellis's gore or Salman Rushdie's impenetrable preciousness.

If people are buying autobiographies and memoirs by journalists and columnists, perhaps it says more about the appalling state of the modern novel than it does about how bad such confessional writing is. I would much rather read about Tony Parsons's struggles as a single dad than have to plough through Brett Easton Ellis's gore or Salman Rushdie's impenetrable preciousness.

Barney Hoskyn's singeing attack on the "self-fixated pseudo-literature" of Parsons, Nick Hornby and Paul Morley is ill-judged. All three write very well and in a fine tradition which stretches back to Defoe and Swift, if not to Juvenal. They follow that first rule of writing: to write about what you know.

If these authors are popular and sell, it is because people want to read their stuff. We can bandy terms for their genre as much as we like, but their tales are what used to be known as human interest stories and, as such, have currency. They also have the ring of truth, which is refreshing for those who are fed up with the transatlantic fantasy factory.

What is wrong with people writing well or humourously about their lives? What would Barney have us do? Remove Spike Milligan, Gerald Durrell, Dirk Bogarde and James Herriot from our bookshelves?

Ah, but the gauche and sinful media splashes attendant upon the publications of the New Memoirs: does Barney think Dickens, Wilde or the Brontës would have turned down an Arena special or Start the Week? Writers were once invisible creatures who kept mum about their private lives, but many great writers also lived in obscurity and died in poverty. In an age where traffic wardens, airport staff and vets have documentaries made about them, what's wrong with writers getting a slice of the action?

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