Reading: Martin Amis, Richard Ford and AL Kennedy

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Despite the fact that Richard (Pulitzer prize winning) Ford is the outright heavyweight in tonight's literary line up at the South Bank, the place will inevitably be packed with Martin Amis fans. Good looks, bad teeth, a father complex and a high profile as a journalist as well as a writer have meant that Amis's persona has been cramping his style when it comes to being taken seriously as a writer.

As a result, he's decided to do something he doesn't usually do. Place himself on a platform, among serious literary contemporaries "to read" from Night Train, his new book. "He has invited this I'm-still-a-serious- writer idea," says The Independent's literary editor Boyd Tonkin. "Having been swamped by his image, he now wants to put himself in the same place and company as some Croatian poet." In Night Train, however, he has attempted to remedy his consistent problem with structure in a disappointing way. By opting for a formulaic literary plot tradition - American crime fiction. Still, it's an interesting pastiche with Amis attempting to write in a different persona (as an American female cop) though the book is still laced with Amis's own stylistic idiosyncrasies.

But if he really is trying to play down his "sexy" image, why has he chosen to "out" himself as a literary heavyweight with such an astonishingly attractive author as Richard Ford (right)? A more sophisticated and stylish American Nick Hornby, Ford is often mistaken for a movie star. His books are intimate and immensely sympathetic studies of the ordinary American middle-class fortysomething male. While men love his books for their sensitive portrayal of their own lives, women love them for the same reason. Like John Updike, he captures the American experience with a cultured self- conscious honesty which makes compelling reading. He will be reading from his new book Women With Men.

Included in the line up is Scottish writer AL Kennedy (real name Angela, she first used the initials because she didn't want to be identified as a woman). Not a straightforward realist, Kennedy tends to write about emotionally intense, whacked out people. In the novella Original Bliss, the heroine thinks she's found the perfect man, until he turns out to be overtly crazy. Mid-thirties, austere but enigmatic, tonight it's Kennedy who should win the sex appeal/serious writer prize hands down.

Martin Amis, Richard Ford and AL Kennedy will be at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, The South Bank. 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets are pounds 7, concs pounds 4 on 0171- 921 0600

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