Just because Martin Amis is in my book doesn't mean that I hate him

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I have become strangely haunted by the story of how Rod Stewart, after a gig on the south coast, became involved in an obsessive, destructive affair with Tina Turner. Rod's wife, apparently, is languishing in her Fulham flat with neither contact nor financial support for their daughter Holly at stage school. "I used to love Rod Stewart's music," she has said. "Now I can't bear to listen to it."

I have become strangely haunted by the story of how Rod Stewart, after a gig on the south coast, became involved in an obsessive, destructive affair with Tina Turner. Rod's wife, apparently, is languishing in her Fulham flat with neither contact nor financial support for their daughter Holly at stage school. "I used to love Rod Stewart's music," she has said. "Now I can't bear to listen to it."

Hold that libel writ. The husky-voiced, velvet-looned star in question is not the Rod Stewart, only a Rod Stewart. His real name is Rob Hawthorn. He once played in a rock band. Now he earns a living as a Rod-impersonator. Unfortunately for his family, Rob took to his new bump-and-grind role rather too enthusiastically, and fell for Tina Turner, who was once known as Nova Casper.

It seems to be big business, this world of impersonators, tribute bands and lookalikes. With not enough celebrities to feed the public need, an alternative, imitative version has developed. Fans who are unable to see, hear or sleep with the real thing are, it appears, happy to play along with the illusion.

Stories from what Mrs Stewart/Hawthorn describes as "the sleazy, cliquey world of impersonation" have peculiar resonance for me at present. In fact, there have been moments over the past few months when I have begun to feel like a bit of a lookalike myself. The genuine article, in my case, has been Martin "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" Amis.

I have written a novel called Kill Your Darlings. It is narrated by a once-promising but now frustrated and anguished writer called Gregory Keays. A story of self-delusion and warped ambition, it could have been set in almost any world. I chose the one I know, partly because the whole literary scene contains as much, if not more, snobbery and cliqueishness than any other; partly through a sense that the contemporary scene has never been satisfactorily captured in fiction; but mainly because disappointment, for a writer like Gregory Keays, is of an unavoidably visible and public kind. There is a gap on his shelf where the novels he has not written should be. Every time he opens a newspaper or magazine, he is mocked by the latest reviews and profiles of his more successful contemporaries.

Keays needed a hate-figure: someone who had written the books, thought the thoughts, garnered the praise and lived the life that he believes should be his. A thinly disguised version of a real writer was never really an option - I dislike the sniggering in-joke which is central to any roman à clef. Inventing an entirely fictional great author with which to torment my man was the obvious course, but that seemed oddly soft and evasive, the stuff of the light comic novel.

It had to be Martin. He was too perfect to be ignored. No professional and personal career could cause a writer, adrift today in his late forties, more anguish. Fortunately, I had never met the man but had merely read and liked his work.

So Amis became a minor fictional character in Kill Your Darlings. Although he is a live and enraging presence in the narrator's inner life, he only appears in person once for a brief scene in a gents' lavatory in which he unwittingly humiliates Keays yet again.

When the book was completed and people started reading the manuscript, something unexpected happened. Those working within the book business found its content controversial; they began to deploy that disquieting adjective "brave". When, on the insistence of my agent and my publisher, the manuscript was read for libel, it was suggested that at the front of the book, an author's note should be included, pointing out that this was a work of fiction, that its narrator was not me, that his views of Mr Amis were a function of his dysfunctional character and in no way reflected those of the author, who has the highest regard for Mr Amis. After careful consideration, it was agreed that this course of action seemed unnecessarily nervous.

Now that Kill Your Darlings is published, the Amis obsession has faded, but in interviews I am still asked whether Martin has read the book, whether I have met him, whether I am jealous of him, how I would compare my work to his, and so on. Wearily, and occasionally with a chippiness worthy of Gregory Keays, I have attempted to draw the conversation back to the novel.

Something new and odd seems to be going on here. If I had included a real character from any other walk of life - Clinton, Madonna, Gazza - there would have been no talk of how "brave" it was. The nervousness shown in literary circles towards an eminent writer seemed to me faintly unhealthy. What was clearly and openly a work of fiction has been read (by journalists, not by real readers) as sneakily camouflaged fact.

Perhaps, in this age of the bestselling confessional memoir, a process of cross-fertilisation has occurred: just as autobiography has been goosed up by novelistic devices, fiction is no longer accepted as fiction any more.

Meanwhile, at a hotel in Diss, Geri Halliwell, otherwise know as Daniella, will shortly be appearing. If they want a small, distinguished man of letters to introduce her, they know where to call.

'Kill Your Darlings' is published this week by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Comments