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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never “Meet” your Heroes

by Anna Buttimore

My favourite radio show (Simon Mayo on Radio 2) has a book club. Every two weeks they interview an author and invite listeners to read the first chapter on their website. Other listeners, from a pre-selected panel, have already read the book, and give their reviews. It's fascinating to find out how the writers go about researching and structuring their books (a recent featured author was Conn Igguldon who had been to Mongolia in order to get a feel for the location of his historical epic about Kubla Khan, and found it "very like Wales") and naturally you get to know quite a bit about the authors themselves.

I may be shallow, but it actually matters to me what those authors are like. I want them to be nice people. I was delighted to learn that JK Rowling had donated a vast amount of money to the campaign to find Madeleine McCann because, like the rest of the world, I love Harry Potter, and for some strange reason it mattered to me that the creator of Hogwarts was a nice person. Finding out that Enid Blyton was an adulteress and an uncaring mother has affected my enjoyment of her books, and my likelihood of reading them to my children.

Sir Terry Pratchett seemed to be just as delightfully eccentric and personable as I could have hoped and I read his books with renewed delight. And I liked Anthony Horowitz so much when I listened to his interview that I am suggesting one of his books to my book club. Barbara Taylor Bradford came across as rather aloof and unfriendly, so I won't be going out of my way to buy her books.

The biggest shock, however, was Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books which my middle daughter loves so much she has developed a fascination with history generally. In his interview in Radio Times he was little short of offensive. He was arrogant, objectionable and at one stage dismissed a keen 11-year-old fan saying, "How dare people come to me?" He was scathing about other highly respected historians and writers, and even such venerable and admired institutions as Radio 4 and the nation's schools. Interviewer Rosie Millard, herself a venerable and admired institution, did her best to redeem him by mentioning his charity work, but from what I’d already read I loathed the man so she might just as well not have bothered.

So there are nice authors, and not-so-nice authors, and you really can't tell much about the personality of the writer by reading their book. But I really hope I can be a nice author. It's so distressing and disappointing for fans to discover that someone who had created so much reading pleasure is not deserving of their adulation.

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