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Authors as heroes


Superheromini_zpsbbb98849A few years ago, my son dreamt that he met his then favourite author. Rick Riordan chatted to him about his novels, was genuinely interested in what my son had to say, and answered his questions earnestly. But at the end of the conversation, Riordan told my son that he was never going to write another book.

My son woke up elated and devastated.

Earlier this month, my daughter came into the kitchen with a wretched look on her face. It gave me quite a fright. She was carrying her book. While she struggled to get words out, and tears started forming in her eyes, she put the book on the counter and tried to point to something in the book. The only words she could formulate were “It’s so sad, Mom, it’s so sad,” and then she would gulp and hiccough and try to get a handle on her tears. It was so affecting even I got tears in my eyes and I hadn’t even read the novel.

Later that day she said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she suddenly found herself in the same room as Robert Muchamore, the author of the Cherub series of books she so adores, or John Green, who wrote The Fault In Our Stars, the book that had made her cry.

She asked me which three authors, gathered together in a room, would make me almost faint with happiness.

Well, that conversation went on for ages and twisted into all kinds of strange shapes. It became “three authors of a whole lot of books you like” (hers were Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss and Andy Stanton). Then it became “the authors of your top three books of all time”. Then it was “your three favourite authors”.

The conversation remained unresolved as she realised she was trying to shoehorn a lot genius into a single opportunity with the number three.

I doubt I would become lame and mute with excitement about being in a room with three authors anymore. There was a time, but after years of interviewing, working with, partying with, fighting with, loving all kinds of writers, I no longer get stars in my eyes thinking about them.

Which is not to imply that I am either blasé or cynical. It’s just that they no longer occupy the penthouse suite in my mind reserved for superheroes and chocolate. They occupy the far more realistically proportioned storey just below that.

Of course, I would never let any of this on to the children. I want them to grow up having authors as heroes so it’s not my business to disabuse them of the idea that authors never have smelly socks or fights with their neighbours.

In spite of their boring humanness though, authors and writers of all kinds, remain (for me at least) the best kind of person in the world, because they are usually widely and well read.

Which means that their minds are wide open to new ideas. Which means that they seldom tolerate bigotry. Which means that they find ways to be brave even if they’re not really. Which means that they always have new and interesting things to talk about. Which means that, even when they’re dead serious, they often have a sense of how absurd life is and can laugh heartily. Which means that even if they are arrogant, or painfully shy, or irritatingly pugilistic, they are also usually, at core, kind and empathetic people.

It’s May. The Spier Poetry Festival is on next weekend. The weekend after that it’s the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

It’s a very good month for Cape Town mortals to pet their favourite author.

Only: do it in your mind.

Superheroes don’t like to be mobbed in public.

  • I couldn’t find the name of the artist of the wonderful drawing above, but I found the picture here.