I don’t spend too much of my time poring over the work of other, better writers and feeling bitter. You can only do your best, as my old Mum used to say. I’ve always admired the work of Peter Ackroyd and was particularly shocked to discover that he’s younger than me. How did he get to be so good so fast? Ah well.
An acquaintance of mine once claimed to have encountered Ackroyd in a railway carriage and passed a congenial hour or two in conversation, a scenario I found so improbable I wondered what psychotropic substance my acquaintance was on. If I should ever see Peter Ackroyd seated in my railway compartment of choice I reckon I’d run away to the bar. Just supposing it wasn’t a Trolley Service Only train. I don’t think you chat to Peter Ackroyd. He’s not an approachable, fluffy author like many of us in the lower orders.
However, I did read a recent interview with him and was chuffed to learn that we have at least one thing in common as writers: as soon as a book is finished we forget about it. Seriously. I struggle to remember the protagonists of all but my most recent novels and as for recalling particular scenes or minor characters, no chance. When it’s finished – and by this weekend the final revisions of The Grand Duchess of Nowhere will be done, gone, off my desk never to return except as page proofs – I move on swiftly and happily to the next project. In my case it’s because I (and my editor) know when a book of mine is as good as it’s going to get. Also because the gas bill has to be paid. In Peter Ackroyd’s case I imagine it’s because that’s just the driven way he is. Still, it made me feel a little better about the shifty-eyed way I blag my way out of a conversation with a reader which has begun, ‘I loved that bit where Crystal ruins her fur mittens with sticky taffy.’
Crystal?, I think. Who in the wide blue yonder was she?
Now I know I can put it down to the Ackroyd Tendency.