The truth is that what writers do—the important part—is pretty boringby Sam Leith / October 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
What is it that writers actually do? According to the movies, I mean. It’s a question sometimes asked of mathematicians (wander around looking into the middle-distance, apparently, before frantically scrawling equations onto a blackboard), often of scientists (white coats, test tubes, incomprehensible computer displays); frequently of special forces soldiers and spies (shoot stuff; grunt with pain; sleep with attractive women), and surprisingly often—usually unsatisfactorily—of authors and novelists.
I ask because I’ve been chortling my way through season two of the Dominic West drama The Affair. Our hero plays a failed novelist who suddenly hits the big time with an overheated semi-autobiographical novel based on his extra-marital bunk-up with Ruth Wilson. How do we know he’s a writer?
Because—when unsuccessful—he stares at his laptop in a tormented way and resents his successful and obnoxious father-in-law (to the extent that he’s faint with glee when a Vanity Fair profile of the old sod insinuates he doesn’t write his own books); and when it’s going well he’s tapping away (never seeming to use the “g” or “h” keys, oddly) unconscious of what’s around him, before embarking on a never-ending book tour where he behaves with egomaniacal boorishness. It’s all making passes at publicists, drinks with Franzen, adoring young girls passing him their numbers and his taking drunken swings at the authors of bad reviews.