Bonfire of the Inanities: Never-Sent Love Letters and the Confidential Stories of Sources ... They Are among My Most Valued Possessions and, Unlike Jeanette, I Couldn't Just Destroy Them
Malik, Shiv, New Statesman (1996)
Should writers burn their private notes and diaries in order to avoid the prurient eyes of future researchers? Jeanette Winterson's admission to an audience at the Shakespeare & Company literary festival in Paris, that she regularly destroys her documentary legacy with methodical zeal, got the head of a publishing house and me swapping horrified glances.
The theme of the festival, where Winterson and I were speakers, was biography and memoir, so it was no surprise her admission caused consternation. In an era when so much of life is recorded--credit-card purchases, emails, itemised phone bills, not to mention CCTV--why would anyone want to erase real insights?
Later that evening, I suggest to Jeanette that, instead of doing away with her very valuable archive out of fear that a future biographer would pick out only the dirty linen, she should have faith that history would bring the best to the fore: in a hundred years, people would be worrying about context and effect, not tittle-tattle. She retorted that it was her right to leave her legacy free of messy, personal elements. Only the work that she intended for public presentation should remain to be examined. She had the same rule, she said, for her house before going away--windows are cleaned, floors scrubbed and the garden weeded in case of her sudden death.
Commenting recently on Amy Winehouse, Clive James said: "A gift on that scale is not possessed by its owner, but does all the possessing." This came to mind when Owen Wilson, the actor, turned up at the festival's afterparty at the Shakespeare & Company bookshop. Wilson, who was hospitalised last year after a suicide attempt, arrived out of the blue. Sitting alone on a rickety chair at the back of the shop, he texted away into the ether. After an hour, he got on his motorbike and left.
Dad, you're a brick
Back in London, I took my father to Providores restaurant on Marylebone High Street for a belated Father's Day celebration. The "Palm sugar brulee with jasmine, Som Saa lime and orange sorbet, passionfruit shortbread and a Dragon Eye lychee" deserved its long-winded description. …