Andrew Billen recently remarked in the Evening Standard: "When they were young, the boys who wanted to write wanted to write like Martin Amis. Now that we are older, our pessimism less of an act, our cynicism bottoming out, we dream of writing like Richard Ford." It's an odd compliment to pay a Pulitzer Prize-winner - that he attracts a more authentically gloomy, more cynically assured kind of reader - and a cruelly backhanded tribute to Amis's powers (note the pre-teen feel of "boys", the presumptuous repetition of "wanted to write"). In tests, eight out of 10 people would probably aspire to their own style, rather than anyone else's, but Billen's phrase neatly touches on the under-acknowledged extent to which readers reassess writers as their identification with them changes. The pleasure of seeing Amis 48, alongside Ford, 53, at a Fiction International reading (30 Sept) will lie not so much in observing the sparring of prose-styles, as trying to spot the lapsed Amis-ites, the Ford-converted-saturnine scowls straining into Clint Eastwood grimaces, perhaps. With the recent publication of Ford's acclaimed short-story follow-up to Independence Day, Women with Men ("about the ways in which consoling affection gets defeated by a certain kind of solipsism" Ford has said) and Amis's surprisingly emphatic female-narrated Night Train, (the first time "he has created heroines who are defined not by their underwear and the size of their breasts... but by their work," Natasha Walter has written), it looks like their readings might actually resonate against each other.
That's the idea behind these grand symposiums. The bottom line is that we get a chance to hear some of the best writers around reading what they've just inked: hence AL Kennedy joins the chaps to read Original Bliss before she goes on tour to Australia. Prior to that event, this Wednesday, Peter Carey gives a first taste of his new novel, Jack Maggs - a shackling of Dickens's Great Expectations to Australia's prisoner colony past. Literari with nowt to tout are not discriminated against: John Fowles discusses his post-modern classic, The French Lieutenant's Woman. Beryl Bainbridge will read from her high- powered Titanic tale, Every Man for Himself. Bainbridge, you will remember, has a taste for stewed tomato, a large taxidermed mammal in her front room and does a wicked impression of Edna O'Brien. Book up.
Beryl Bainbridge, Peter Carey, John Fowles 24 Sept; Martin Amis/ Richard Ford/ AL Kennedy 30 Sept; Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4242)