When the real author disappoints

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

In the last couple weeks I have watched two movie biopics about famous children’s authors – one was the terribly miscast Miss Potter (about Beatrix Potter) and the other, entitled Enid, was about one of my favorite children’s author, Enid Blyton. The latter was a bit of a shock as Enid herself was not in the least what I expected – and this goes to the heart of my blog post today – how readers’ expectations of what an author is like in real life are rarely borne out.
I had expected Enid Blyton to be an adventurous, maternal, ‘jolly hockey sticks’ sort who loved to play games with her own children and who was just as fun and charming as her books. Boy, was I wrong. She was (assuming the movie depiction is correct) an ambitious, selfish and vindictive woman who couldn’t stand being with her own children except for the one hour a day she allocated to them (nanny had them the rest of the day) before she then packed them off to boarding school. She reminded me of so many brittle, stiff upper lip Englishwomen who secretly despise their own offspring – but (I wailed!) she wrote such lovely children’s books. How could it be?!!!

I was of course mistaking the author for her stories…and who amongst us hasn’t fallen into that trap?
The movie Enid presents a side of the author that I hope my own children (huge Enid Blyton fans) never see. In many ways I think as a reader I prefer not knowing anything about my favorite authors, lest finding out ruins reading their books forever. Since Enid Blyton wrote 750 books over her lifetime (amazing in and of itself!) many a child would have been deprived of her wonderful stories had their parents known the kind of woman she really was (and in some way what does it matter, her books should stand on their own, shouldn’t they?)

So have you met an author only to find your perception of him/her totally dashed because he or she were nothing like what you anticipated- nothing, in fact, like their books at all?

Have any of my fellow Kill Zoners been confronted by a fan who has expressed their own surprise/shock/dismay that the author persona was nothing like what they expected?

To date, I have only encountered fans who tell me I am exactly like they thought I’d be… (I’m not sure what that says about me or my writing!) Nonetheless I found myself lulled into the trap of hoping my childhood literary heroine was just like the girls she wrote about in her books. Sigh. It will be a few weeks before I can pick up one of her books again to read to my sons without feeling disappointment that fiction was so far removed from reality.


John Ramsey Miller

Most published authors are asked to speak to groups of one sort or another. I am flattered when I am asked to address people who are interested in what I have to say. As I was preparing a yak-up about my work (and authoring in general) I’m going to be giving next week to people gathered up to support a university library, I thought about the most frequent questions I am asked. After addressing non-writers, readers, book lovers, funders and innocent bystanders, there is invariably a Q & A exchange. No matter where I am speaking, or what aspects I blather on about, when it’s time for questions people ask the same ones.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: There are so many I never know where to start. I usually say it depends on the genre and when I read them. Truman Capote, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsythe, Ken Kesey, John Carre, Ira Levin, William Golding, James Brady, William Styron, Mario Puzzo, Willie Morris, Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, J.D. Salinger, J. G. Ballard, John Cheever, Tolkien, James Clavell, Tom Wolfe, Frank Herbert, and then we have contemporary authors, none of whom I can list here without fear of leaving out someone and hurting feelings. There are so many truly great authors out there.

Q: What are your favorite books?


Q:Do you write every day (on a schedule)?

A: Yes, but not always at the keyboard. These days I write when I want or need to.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Rarely from the same place twice

Q: What is your process?

A: I think a lot. I write. I think a lot more. I write. Like that. Over and over. It’s sort of a cycle that speeds and slows but never stops.

Q: Do you outline or follow characters where they lead you?

A: I never let my characters decide where to take me. I give them a road map and expect them to go exactly where I have made the marks. I am the choreographer. I think it is pretentious to say one’s characters are so alive they take over. As the author, unless you are either in control or on LSD. Your characters are in your imagination and on the page and are not actually alive and acting independent of your mind.

Q: When did you decide to become an author?

A: I have no idea when it started. I have told made-up stories and written since I was very young. Over time I more or less got increasingly familiar with an old friend.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring author?

A: If you are published, yours will be one of 400,000 books published that year. If you don’t have a way of effectively promoting your book, it will not be widely read.

Q: Do you believe that everybody has at least one book in them?

A: In my experience, yes. And as often as not it’s a very bad book. Most people can start a book, but few have the drive to finish one, and fewer still have any idea how to write effectively. And of the books written only about one to two percent are worth reading. In my experience, the worst are autobiographies of normal people who think their experiences are going to interest other people, followed closely by humorous or inspiring stories they have collected.

Okay gang, are there any others you are asked that I’ve missed?