In part this is what I wrote about The End of the World:
[H]ere’s why I really loved this book: It reminded me of me. As writers we write the kind of books we want to read. We make do with everyone else’s but then we have to make do with our own because we know what happens in them; there are no surprises. What we really want to read are books written by an us from an alternate universe (story idea there is anyone wants to jump on it) and that’s what I felt I’d found here. This is a book I could’ve written.
When I was a teenager I thought every poem I wrote was a work of genius despite the fact I’d taken my IQ test a few years earlier and although clever I am no genius. Of course when we talk about artistic geniuses and comedy geniuses we’re measuring them by a completely different standard and the best you could say about me at that age was I could string a sentence together. It was also most likely I’d punctuate it incorrectly in the process however (and, as suggested by editor, in the passive voice).
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why we read, why I read at least, and while I was working on another article I chanced upon this quote by Alan Bennett from the film adaptation of his play The History Boys:
The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Vincent Van Gogh. He’s not my favourite artist or anything but I like the fact that he did his own thing and to hell if anyone bought into it—or even bought it. He’s not alone. There are plenty like him—Beckett was another—people, artists, creators, inventors who cling onto a belief in themselves, that what they’re doing will bear fruit somewhere down the line.
It’s hard. You see that. Some new movement comes along—be it Impressionism, Stilyagi or prog rock—and suddenly that’s the way everything needs to be done. Lonnie Donegan was the greatest thing since sliced bread and then the Beatles arrived and who gave a toss about skiffle then? But he kept doing what he loved even though he was unfashionable. He could be criticised for being unable to change with the times or lauded for sticking to his guns. Probably a bit of both is closer to the truth. All I can say is that his 1999 album, Muleskinner Blues, recorded when he was 68 is a damn fine record.
I write what I want to read. There are authors I like to read who I could never emulate—people like Beckett and Brautigan—but most books I read I want to rewrite. That’s not the way I’d do it. I can’t help it. Maybe it is a little arrogant to do that but I think we all would like to reshape the world in our own image if we could. And, of course, writers can. So we do. A while back I sat down to edit my novel Milligan and Murphy. I’d not looked at the manuscript for years, literally years, and although it’s true to say that I could remember the gist of the book most of the detail was lost to me and so it was as close to reading one of my own books as a true reader as I was ever going to get and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I enjoyed my own book. After that it was the chore of tidying it up but it was so nice to be able to read a book that said exactly what I wanted it to say the way I wanted to say it. And I think every author should feel like that about their books. If they don’t then there’s something missing.
Look at a Rothko or a Pollock or a late Mondrian or a Magritte and they are instantly recognisable. These are the ways these artists see the world. I look at my writing—my poetry especially—and there’s no one out there who writes like me. I have my literary heroes but I’ve never been one who’s struggled to shake off their voices; even Beckett struggled to find his way out of Joyce’s shadow. This doesn’t make me a great writer but I am true to myself. I write what I want to read. I write the only way that makes sense to me.
This isn’t a measure of genius. This is a measure of preference. Eliot, Auden, Pound may all be ‘better’ poets than me but I prefer my poetry. Larkin, however, I doff my cap to. If you were asked today to list your top ten writers where would you be in that list? Okay maybe you wouldn’t be Number 1 but what about 3 or 4? If you’re not in your own Top Ten then I humbly suggest you’re doing something wrong.