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An erotic novella inspired by Elizabeth Jane Howard


Writing – the best fun you can have with your clothes on
Frederic Raphael Writer
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I haven't missed the company. I like the admiration of my peers – who doesn't? I like the admiration of my betters – who doesn't? I don't particularly like being abused, even by people who don't know what they're talking about – who does? But the fun of being a writer is independence. Not exactly solitude, because I've been lucky enough to live with a woman who... who's happy to live with me and we see a lot of each other. We have all along and we do now. And we also see a lot of our children because, thanks to her – and to some extent thanks to me – our children have become our friends and always have been.

I could wish that my books were widely celebrated. But when I read, as I just have been reading, even such a sort of outsider figure as Philip Roth, whom I used to know a bit and quite... not I'd say liked him, but we got on fine – and Philip, in a recent interview a) says how glad he is to have stopped writing, quite as if he'd been riding a sort of bicycle with a very sharp saddle which no longer does whatever sharp saddles do to what lies between your legs – he's got off that particular thing and he feels much better now. I confess that I dread the day when I don't actually have any writing to do. I don't regard it as a great – what – pain? But partly because, of course, unlike Philip Roth, I don't actually seek to please publishers. I don't mean I'm not pleased if they're pleased, but Roth, by selling many copies and becoming very famous and getting big advances, eventually became a figure, a feature of the publishing industry. That's all he ever did was write novels. He didn't seem to be very interested in anything else which is also a bit sad, because part of the great fun that I've had – and there's no fun like it, as the Americans say, with your clothes on – has been working with actors. Because although you would not tell from my modest demeanour and all the rest of it, I am, as they say, a bit of an actor, or, as Beetle sometimes says, a bit of an over-actor. That'll do actually in showing actors what you think you'd like them to do and I love doing that and I have great respect for actors – not because of their intelligence, though some of them certainly have some – but basically because of their extraordinary facility for assimilating information and ideas and re-presenting it to you in the form of credible behaviour of the character that you've created. It's quite amazing. That's been huge fun and that's the kind of company I like to keep when I have the fortune to keep it. I do not wish to go to conferences. I do not really care very much whether I am welcome, you know, in certain places or not. I wouldn't want to live the life that most very successful writers live because, in a sense, success stalls you. You then begin to either reproduce the work which is successful or to be unable to reproduce it. In either case you have, as they say, got a problem. There's a lovely quotation which I may have mentioned before but I just came across it recently, which is, 'Old age is a funny thing to happen to a little boy'. And the little boyishness, which the only son of a Jewish mother – as Stanley Donen correctly accused me of being – has, is that one remains – and I think Auden talked about this, whether or not he was an only child – you have the feeling you're the youngest person in the room. So in a way, one's always trying to make it and that's a pretty good arrangement; I've had enough success to think I haven't failed but not so much that I feel I must have done it by now.

There's a story about Casals, which I again, I may have said before because it won't be the first time I tell it which I really like – when he was in his 90s and somebody said, oh, can we have coffee in the morning or something banal like that, and he said, 'Oh, I always practice in the morning'. And this person said, 'But, maestro, you're 90 years old. You're the greatest cellist in the world. Why do you... why would you want to practice?' To which he said, 'I might get better'.

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: Philip Roth

Duration: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014