A number of big name authors have used writers as their protagonists. Is this experiment or ego?
The central character in a TV adaptation of an Ian Rankin short story being shown tomorrow is a policeman called John Buchan who has been bested in love and other areas of life by a rich, sexy, witty, bestselling novelist called Jack Harvey.
Most viewers will spot that the policeman’s name is an allusion to a famous Scottish novelist – the author of The 39 Steps – but fewer may pick up that Buchan’s nemesis is also a Caledonian literary reference. Jack Harvey is the pseudonym under which Ian Rankin published three early novels.
The interest of novelists in inventing novelists has both a practical and a psychological explanation. Realistic fiction demands that the details of a character’s job should be as convincing as possible, and the creation of a creative writer uses research already accrued, without the long Googling and interviewing necessary to portray a convincing undertaker or dentist.
But there is also a deeper mental explanation. Most writers have had a literary equivalent of the actors’ experience of self-division: the sense that their writing comes from someone or something separate. It’s perhaps significant that many of the writers mentioned here are torrentially productive writers who also published under pseudonyms, including Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) and Agatha Christie (as Mary Westmacott).
Listen, when I write about my long day stealthily killing imperial samurai from behind and then retreating to my hideout in the bamboo forest, I’m doing nothing more than describing the world as I see it. Much like those love scenes with Lisa Loeb. It’s not escapism. It’s the hard edged truth of my existence.