Lucy Vickery

Authors making sneaky appearances in their own novels

Authors making sneaky appearances in their own novels
‘He, Cromwell, expertly appraises this Hilary, Taleteller of Glossop…’ Credit: Sutton Hibbert/Shutterstock
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In Competition No. 3148 you were asked to imagine what the result might have been had a well-known writer slipped a self-portrait into a scene from one of their works.

The challenge was inspired by artists who insert a sneaky selfie into their paintings, a well-known example of which is Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’. But authors have done it too: Douglas Coupland made an appearance in his 2006 novel jPod and Barry Baldwin tells me that Malcolm Bradbury smuggled himself into The History Man.

There were creditable Hemingway cameos courtesy of Christopher Linforth, J.E. Tomlin, and The Parson, and I enjoyed J.C.H. Mounsey’s sketch of self-confessed misanthrope Evelyn Waugh, and Martyn Hurst’s of the rather less self-aware Jeffrey Archer. The brightest and the best appear below and earn themselves £30 each.

He, Cromwell, expertly appraises this Hilary, Taleteller of Glossop. Throughout the interview, she squints at one document, etches another, the latter doubtless a tale to distract England from this season of plague. In conversation she exhibits the enthusiasm men often dismiss as eccentricity but he, Cromwell, commits no such error. If she gives excessive credence to supernatural subjects, it is only the mark of her calling. Yet her knowledge of court intrigue unsettles, rich in detail as the account books of the Great Wardrobe and salacious as Austin Friars gossip. She must, he reasons, commune with a network of spies astute as his own. Her more fanciful stories, of rebellions in France or the assassination of some Grantham thatcher unknown even to him, he dismisses. He is here on Henry’s orders. ‘Put a stop to her slanderous wuffle.’ He does, though not before hearing all and slyly appropriating her papers.

Adrian Fry/Hilary Mantel
Bobbi and I were discussing whether monogamy was a prefabricated cultural dynamic designed to perpetuate patriarchal hegemony, when Sally appeared. I’m not interrupting anything, am I? Not at all, I replied. Are you sure? Sally asked. I’ll go if you like. I feel you want me to leave, that I’m not welcome. I told her I felt she was being oversensitive, even paranoid. I’m sorry, she said, but I’m finding you kind of hostile lately. Nonsense I said. I told her I felt she’d watched too many 50-part TV dramas and was projecting her insecurities. She looked at me for 20 minutes while music played, then walked out. Later I felt bad, that maybe I’d hurt her feelings. I apologised. Sometimes I feel like I’m not sure what I’m feeling about how I feel, I said. I want you to stay. It’s fine, she said. I’ll go if you like…

David Silverman/Sally Rooney
On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. Marlowe wins again, nobody appreciates him, boo-hoo. I looked around. It was a refuge for nighthawks looking to drown loneliness at the bottom of a glass. A redhead whose promise was a cheap night and a clinical appointment. A collar-and-tie gent with big round eyeglasses like an alcoholic owl. A collection of loose ends.

My loose end was scrambling my brain. I gave the barman the high sign. When he came over I asked him ‘Tell me, brother — who murdered the chauffeur?’

It didn’t get a laugh.

‘Why dontcha ask Mr Chandler there? He’s educated.’ Pointing to owl-eyes, so I went ahead.

He looked at me blearily.

‘Search me. You’re the ace detective, aren’t you?’

I gave a repeat order.

Basil Ransome-Davies/Raymond Chandler
‘Estella, take him down. Let him have something to eat, and let him roam and look about him while he eats. Go, Pip.’

Having dismissed them Miss Havisham summoned her manservant, Wiseman, who hovered nearby eager to overhear anything which he could subsequently weave into a whimsical tale to amuse his adoring devotees. Wiseman was, indeed, an imposing figure, upright and handsomely hirsute with beard and billowing bundles of hair above both ears to detract attention from his balding crown. ‘Madam?’ he said, addressing her with feigned obsequiousness.

‘Did you see the boy?’ she enquired. ‘Is his heart breakable?’

‘Undoubtedly,’ Wiseman replied, welcoming the opportunity to expand at length on how the child’s dreams might be dashed.

‘Enough,’ snapped Miss Havisham fearing his story would never end, ‘and dispose of that wretched duster! Forget the cobwebs!’ Thus did Wiseman retreat having no further role to play in the ensuing saga.

Alan Millard/Charles Dickens
‘Writers,’ I remarked, ‘can be rummy coves. Long-haired and all that.’

‘The literary profession is indeed prone to irregularity,’ Jeeves replied.

I was treading delicately. Not that I’d pry into Jeeves’s personal dealings, but last week I heard him expounding in some detail the lowdown on Gussy Fink-Nottle’s latest, and couldn’t help but notice money changing hands for information supplied.

‘Talking of writers, Jeeves, who’s this Wodehouse chappie?’

‘He is a writer, sir.’

‘For a writer he puts up a most creditable short-back-and-sides.’

‘Indeed, sir. I venture that you would consider him one of the right sort. On cricket and aunts his opinions are sound.’

‘Not one of these gossip-columnist fellows, is he?’

‘By no means. He is a talented writer, currently engaged in anthropological study of the idle rich.’

So that’s all right. One wouldn’t want to be a laughing stock.

George Simmers/P.G. Wodehouse

No. 3151: home truths

Lockdown has been an opportunity to tackle those niggling DIY tasks. You are invited to imagine famous authors reflecting on their struggles with putting up shelves/repairing paint scuffs/bleeding radiators… Please email up to 16 lines/150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 27 May. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.