Larry McMurtry, one of my most esteemed writers, is 79 today. There are writers who are very full of themselves and indeed these days are encouraged to be – put yourself about, blow that trumpet – and then there are writers like Larry who never take themselves too seriously. My favourite McMurtry anecdote is the one about him wearing a sweatshirt printed with the legend MINOR REGIONAL NOVELIST. Happy Birthday, Larry.
But let me tell you how FADING MIDLIST SCRIBBLER spent yesterday afternoon. I had been checking page proofs, last chance saloon for catching typos, goofs, and frankly regrettable sentences. This year’s book, The Night in Question, features the Whitechapel Murders of 1888. Rather late in the day it occurred to me that readers might appreciate a little map to help them get their bearings. I put the suggestion to my publisher.
‘Unfortunately,’ they said, ‘we have no budget for a map.’
Then they said, ‘Can you draw one? And make it look Victorian?’
So suddenly I’m an illustrator? They’ll be asking me to hoover the offices next. They’ll be sending me out for coffees.
But it was raining, I was bored with page proofs and, you know, I thought why not have a go? So I spent a happy afternoon drawing, redrawing, and pasting on tiny street names. The tools of my new trade: a Pritt stick and eyebrow tweezers. And though I say so myself my little map turned out rather well. If my damned scanner was working I’d show you, but it isn’t. It’s sitting beside me, sneering.
Now I’m wondering whether they have the slightest intention of using my map or was it a mischievous fob-off? Never mind. It was fun. Happy as Larry, I was.