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My friend Vladimir Nabokov


Why writing is an imperative for me
Frederic Raphael Writer
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Writing to me is something which one goes over and over and is careful about and all the rest of it. And if you say, what's the point when the planet is going 'phut', you don't believe in the afterlife and frankly no-one reads your books now, why would they do it later? And the answer is: that's what I have to do. And David Garnett, whom I knew... once I went and saw him in... he had a house down in the Lot in France, and famous member of the Bloomsbury group. And he said about writing... somebody had said to him, why do you want to go on writing when you know that life is, you know, a short and useless activity and no-one is going to care afterwards? And he said, that's why. Because writing is what makes being a snuffed out, or about to be snuffed out, little creature somebody.

I hate all this average man and everything being equal and all the rest of it. Not because I think I'm better than other people or worse, but because the idea of creating a society in which everybody has £8.10 a week or £8.10 a minute or anything else and nobody has more and everybody watches the same television programmes because we don't believe in highbrow stuff. The answer is: you do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to go and read Montaigne. And one of the things I despise most about the cultural climate at the moment is that a man called DJ Taylor, who's quite a sort of toffy reviewer, once reviewed a book of mine in which he sneered because I had refused... I had referred in a letter – which was published – to a friend of mine to, I think it was, Karl Kraus and Montaigne. And he thought that was very affected. But he didn't really think that; he thought that people who read what he was reading would think it.

And I remember coming back to London in the... 80s? I don't know – time begins to lose its linear qualities... 'timeline' – oh, fuck off! Came back, and we had dinner with a man called... with George and Sarah Walden, who are friends of ours, and a man called Howard Davis, who was the head of the LSE at that time; a man who had been a city journalist. He's now Lord or Sir or whatever it is. He had to resign from the LSE because he took money from Gaddafi. What's wrong with that? Something, actually, if you want to know. Anyway, we were having dinner with him and his wife and they started talking about a couple of people called Richard and Judy. And they talked about these people for a while. And eventually I said, 'I'm... I'm terribly sorry but actually who... who are Richard and Judy?' And this man's wife turned to me and said, 'That's the most pretentious thing I've ever heard'. Pretentious, moi? It's pretentious not to know who two people of absolutely no account are?

Well, I didn't take a Cambridge scholarship and I didn't read Classics and I didn't do a number of the things I did for no good reason except, in very many cases, because I was told I ought to. But I didn't do those things in order, in the end, to read crap books by crap people or to know who people of no account are. I don't know anybody who is of much account. That is to say, I do not solicit company of famous people. I tend to walk away from them. My books do contain... my notebooks do contain references to people who've become famous because, God help me, I'm 82 years old and I've known a few people – whether it's Harold Pinter or David Garnett or anybody else – but I have never solicited their company. I don't chase after professors. I don't chase after anybody much. I walk away. More fool me, because I've missed meeting a lot of rather interesting people. Including, for instance, Nabokov with whom I got on very well during a day of conversation.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: writing, mediocrity, culture, individuality

Duration: 4 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014