Magazine article The Spectator

'Keep All on Gooing'

Magazine article The Spectator

'Keep All on Gooing'

Article excerpt

Francis King's new novel was published a few weeks ago. Nothing, you may say, remarkable about that. He is among the most professional of authors; writing novels is what he does. Well, yes, of course, but it is certainly worth remarking that his first novel appeared in 1946. A career spanning six decades: not many can match that. What is equally remarkable is that this new novel, With My Little Eye, is as fresh, perceptive, lively and moving as anything he has written. Ford Madox Ford, in one of his splendid books of rambling reminiscences, wrote admiringly of an old Kentish countrywoman, Meary, who, near the end of a hard life, used to tell him that the only thing to do is to 'keep all on gooing'. Francis King has certainly done that.

Many can't. They might like to, but other things get in the way. They run out of material or energy. Their imagination flags. They no longer see the world around them as material for fiction. It becomes difficult to concern themselves with the doings of imaginary beings. Few formally give up, though the Who's Who entry of John Heygate (known, I daresay, to many only as the man who broke up Evelyn Waugh's first marriage) used to read, 'Novelist (retired)'. On the other hand some are abandoned by their publishers, and eventually give up hope of finding a replacement. This is perhaps sad, but not surprising. Publishers, like the Athenians (in St Paul's view), are neophiliacs, lusting after something new.

Cyril Connolly listed, in Enemies of Promise, the obstacles which might bring a writer down and prevent him from going on.

The best remembered of these was 'the pram in the hall' -- even in the days when fathers were rarely expected to occupy themselves with their young children. Another was journalism -- did he call that something to do with the charlock, a weed which may flourish in fields of wheat and choke its growth?

Reporting may be, as Hemingway claimed, good training for a novelist, but writing columns, or editing, or simply being a success in newspapers, may stifle the talent for making fiction, or simply leave neither room nor time for it to be exercised. Did that happen to, for instance, Godfrey Smith, author of a delightful novel of Middle England in the Thirties and Forties, The Business of Loving, which appeared in 1961? …

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