Meeting your Favourite Author

Publishing Insight day: Penguin Random House

The Guardian children´s fiction prize winner

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I came across this quote recently, from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye:

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

It made me think of a contradictory epigram, from Arthur Koestler:

“To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.”—Arthur Koestler

All the same, it made me wonder which of my favourite authors I'd like to have a friendly chat with—for the purposes of this flight of fancy, I've allowed time-travel to include deceased writers. In no particular order, my wish list includes:

Guy de Maupassant, Richard Brautigan, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Hoffmann, J B Priestley, James Lee Burke and John Steinbeck.

Who would you like to talk to?
I wouldn't mind hearing what Chaucer could tell me about his first hand experiences of the wool industry, John of Gaunt and the peasants revolt.
Romain Gary, Norah Lofts, Nancy Mitford.
Maybe Daphne du maurier. Don't Look Now...
Those living, I have lots of favourites but don't know who'd I want to talk to directly, necessarily. Too close in time. I can often read their interviews and form direct impressions. Maybe the by now truly venerable (81) Alan Garner. A children's writer, they call him. You what? Red Shift and The Owl Service?
Most of the ancient Greeks (esp. Homer - assuming he existed and Euripedes), Camus, Umberto Eco, E Nesbit, Richmal Crompton, the Brontes, Omar Khayyam, Heinrich Heine, Aldous Huxley, Terry Pratchett - that's just a partial list. Daphne De Maurier too, just to ask her what was Rebecca's unmentionable 'vice'.
Graham Greene, David Almond, Joris Karl Huysmans, RC Sherriff, Susanna Centlivre, and probably those guys that do the Fighting Fantasies...

Also Bruce Robinson, though I worry he'd call me a wanker and I'd be absolutely devastated.
At the same dinner party I'd love to have Jane Austen, Germaine Greer, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, Guy de Maupassant and Edna O'Brien.

(You can probably tell that I'm a bloke!)
Sir Richard Burton: polymath, psychopath, explorer, poet and translator. A true Victorian man.

and a cross-dresser, if I remember correctly. I have a copy of "The perfumed garden" translated by him. Would meet.

Other than that I will never come to terms with the fact that John Boswell died prematurely so I will never get a chance to meet him (he was writing non-fiction, but I guess that still counts). I remember fantasizing about meeting Casanova after reading his memoires, just to give him a piece of my mouth (and not giving him any other piece of myself, just to prove the point :D).
and a cross-dresser, if I remember correctly. I have a copy of "The perfumed garden" translated by him. Would meet.
t :D).
Yes, tho' I think his cross-dressing was usually for disguise rather than fun. He also provided the definitive translation of 'The Thousand Nights and a Night' complete with extensive erudite footnotes in true Victorian style. I also like his long poem, 'The Kasidah of Haji Abdu el-Yezdi', and have a nice old copy on my shelf, tho' it doesn't reach the gorgeousness of the Rubaiyat [the definitive English version of which was translated by Burton's chum Fitzgerald].
Oh, well, If @James Marinero is going to do non-fiction authors, they were the first ones that came to my mind--Carl Sagan, E.O. Wilson, and Tom Eisner would top my list. I'd also love to have a long chat with Edward Tufte--I hear he's quite a character, and anyone who can write a book called The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and make it something one can read cover to cover is a genius in my mind.
I seem to remember somebody telling me that EO Wilson was a little, um, difficult.
It's possible. He's an entomologist, after all. I know he has some raging disagreements with certain other entomologists. I saw him speak once, though, and it was truly inspiring--he's not only a brilliant scientist, but an excellent communicator too. I admit to having read his 700-page book, The Ants, cover to cover, as though it was a novel, and not the exhaustive biological text it is.
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Publishing Insight day: Penguin Random House

The Guardian children´s fiction prize winner