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I start writing The Glittering Prizes


Book reviews and their impact
Frederic Raphael Writer
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I've written quite a larky book... books previously and when Nothing But the... when Like Men Betrayed - I sent it to Tom Maschler, who was by this time my publisher, and he said, well, I don't know how to publish this, and I said, just print it, that will do. And when the book came out, several of the reviews said that it showed that I have no sense of humour, and since I'd been fairly larky in my previous work – not all of it but in some of it, particularly the first novel which I kind of wasted that shot by being merely light-hearted and funny and obbligato – I thought it was quite a tribute that The Times should say that I had no sense of humour. A man called Vernon Scannell, who was quite a famous war hero of a kind and also beat up his wife and did various things which is now earning the bad press – he was also a poet – and he said Artemis's experiences, both straight and bent, come across with heart-stopping clarity and urgency, or something of that kind, which I thought was a pretty nice notice. The book was not well thought of, except by Paul Theroux, who was in those days a Sunday Times reviewer, but I knew it was really good, and it is really good and the thrill was that it was printed. Lippincott took it but they never took another book of mine after it. They'd not a great success with The Limits of Love.

I then wrote another book, which was funny, about Greece, but... well, Jack Lambert came to stay with us. It's quite a typical story of literary life. Jack Lambert, whom I'd done all these reviews for The Sunday Times, became a sort of friend. He'd been a war hero, and that always is slightly chastening – well, considerably chastening – and, having another book coming out I asked him and his wife whether they would like to come and visit us in... in France. And they would, because they were on their way to see somebody else and in this time-honoured English way a few free nights was quite an attractive prospect.

So they came down and saw us, and I said to Jack when we were talking, Julian Symons, who is a... used to be quite a literary figure in London has reviewed my last two books in The Sunday Times, both disobligingly. Do you think you could fix it... would it be terrible to say... could he not review the book I've got coming out in October? So he said, 'I never send a book by the same author to the same reviewer three times in a row'. So I said, that's very reassuring to know, Jack, thank you very much for that, you know. He said, 'By the way, you know you said we could kindly stay for a week?' So I said, yes? 'Will it be all right if we stayed 10 days?' What do you say to somebody in that situation? I would like to say, it would be better if you left now actually. That's the person I would like to be, but I'm not that person. So I said, well, you know, of course. I mean, we do have some people who might actually be coming and, you know, if they are coming they would be staying in the bit of the house that you have got. He never spoke to the three of our children who were with us, by the way, the entire time that he was at the house. I mean, he literally didn't speak to them. He was 54 years old. He wasn't actually an old gentleman and he didn't have Alzheimer's. His wife did, a bit. Anyway, they wrote wonderful thank you letters – God, the English are good at thank you – wonderful thank you letters, and then they eventually buggered off.

And in October the book that I had been talking about was indeed published, and guess who reviewed it? The same man who had reviewed the previous two, Julian Symons, and he didn't like the one because it was not funny, and he didn't like the other because it was funny, and I was, as my mother would say, fit to be tied. And we went down soon after that to La Gardelle and we'd had the garden done, and we had paths and we had the pool, and I said to myself, fuck them forever. This is just fine... if you don't like the book, don't like the book.

So actually in my graceless way I became somewhat philosophical about the fate of my work. Tom actually continued to publish it for quite a long time, and he never did much with it, and my reputation did suffer for winning the Oscar, because of course they thought that I didn't, as they say, need them. When you don't need people, they're quite likely to put gravel in your tank.

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: The Times, Jack Lambert

Duration: 5 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014