Author for a day

This post is inspired by Kirsten Krauth and a collective of WA writers who recently blogged on the topic: Which writer (living or dead) would you like to be for a day?

It’s a tantalising prospect, one that sets my imagination off in all directions. On one hand, there’s the question whose head I’d like to be inside; on the other, whose life I’d like to live for a day. And in both cases, which day do I choose?

Sara Foster, for example, wishes herself inside the head of Jo Rowling on the day in 1990, on a crowded train, when she conjured up Harry Potter – ‘apparently without a pen, so with hours to simply sit and think through what would become the defining book series of a generation.’

Annabel Smith wants to be Truman Capote, ‘on a day after the publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958, but before he became obsessed with the murder which formed the basis for his 1966 non-fiction book In Cold Blood.‘ In Smith’s imagination, it’s also a day when Capote swims ‘from party to party in a river of martinis…ending the night with my good friend Andy Warhol at Studio 54.’

Dawn Barker wants to be Mary Shelley on the night during ‘one wonderful summer that would change her life and propel her into literary history’, when she dreamt up Frankenstein while holidaying on Lake Geneva with husband Percy Shelley, John Polidori and Lord Byron.

It’s important to be specific because, as Emma Chapman notes, whatever romantic notions we might have of writers’ lives, ‘they don’t just sit on the patio with a bottle of whisky and ‘think’… They write — every day.  They work hard.’ Chapman ultimately settles on Ernest Hemingway, not for his life or routine, but for the chance to get inside the mind of one ‘whose prose is so clean, and who can write a short story or novel where no words (none!) are wasted.’

Natasha Lester is quite specific about wanting to be Joan Didion in the 1960s, before the tragic loss of her husband and daughter, ‘writing perfect sentence after perfect sentence, in love with her husband and child, not knowing of or imagining either of their deaths.’

Similarly, Amanda Curtin choses to be Katharine Susannah Prichard for a day, not in any way wishing to experience the prolific early-20th century writer’s ‘unbearable personal sadness’, but to feel the ‘kind of fearlessness in my blood’ that she associates with Prichard’s remarkable life.

It comes as no surprise for those of us who know her to see Kirsten Krauth bend the rules and insinuate herself into the life of songwriter Leonard Cohen on a day in 1966, 1994 and 2008 respectively.

As for me, I’m torn between the mind I want to occupy and the life I want to experience.

Hemingway’s is a tempting mind to want to be inside, although I’d want to be specific about doing so on a day sometime c. 1951 when he was living at Finca Vigía outside of Havana, his memory still intact, working on The Old Man and the Sea.

But I’m also tempted by the thought of being Agatha Christie, specifically on a day the world’s bestselling novelist spent on an archaeological dig in a now inaccessible part of the Middle East with her husband Max Mallowan. I’d love to have Agatha’s memories of travelling through the Balkans to Turkey, Syria and Iraq, crossing the great stretch of desert between Damascus and Baghdad, and visiting the archaeological digs at Ur where she first met Max. I’d love to have seen Venice, Dubrovnik and Delphi in the 1930s, as well as Teheran, Shiraz and Isfahan. I’d love to have her pragmatic attitude to writing, not to mention her prolific output.

Most of all, I’d love to experience Agatha’s sangfroid, to be unruffled in the face of breakdowns, raging heat, sandstorms, rats. To be free of of such fears and constraints.

What about you? Which writer would you like to be for a day and why?

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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23 Responses to Author for a day

  1. annabelsmith says:

    I’m so pleased our posts inspired you to write your own, Angela. Agatha Christie sounds like one gutsy lady and I love the thought of that part of the world in that era – makes me think of The English Patient. Thanks for joining in!


  2. Thanks for entering into the spirit of the idea Angela; I love that somebody else read our blogs and wanted to swap lives also. I also contemplated Agatha Christie as someone whose life I would like to inhabit, mainly because of how prolific she was and how enduring she is. I imagine it would be quite satisfying to look back on your life knowing you had produced so much that was loved by so many. It makes my own two novels seem rather paltry in comparison!


    • angelasavage says:

      While I fantasise about having Agatha’s travelling/writing life, Natasha, I’m also aware that this came at the cost of her family life. As I wrote here, Agatha thought nothing of leaving her infant daughter Rosalind for 10 months while she travelled overseas.

      It’s also worth remembering that in addition to writing in the era of nannies and boarding school, Dame Agatha didn’t have to promote her own books in the way authors are expected to now. All the more reason to want to be her for a day.


      • I had no idea she did that. I’m not sure I could leave any of my kids for 10 months. I suppose she couldn’t exactly take a baby to somewhere like the Middle East though. There’s always a reverse image isn’t there – a life can seem so wonderful on the surface but sometimes that’s at great cost.


        • angelasavage says:

          Actually, Agatha left Rosalind, aged 2, to go on that 10-month tour, which took in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii — arguably quite safe places to take a child. In her autobiography, Agatha comments that on their return, Rosalind ‘treated them like strangers’ — which Agatha found quite reasonable on the child’s part. Go figure!


  3. Angela – What a creative kind of question! Thanks for your post on this. It’s a fascinating way to get to know writers, too. And I can’t disagree with you about Agatha Christie. A really interesting person and she had so many interesting experiences. In some ways of course very much the product of her times, but in some ways, so very much ahead of them. I love this!


    • angelasavage says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Margot, about Agatha being a product of her time. But when I thought about inhabiting the life of another author, hers was the one I couldn’t resist. Feel free to weigh in and choose your own ‘author for a day’.


  4. amandacurtin says:

    Oh, what a good choice, Angela! I think, though, I’d like to be Agatha on one of those infamous few days 1926 when she herself became the mystery and disappeared.🙂


    • angelasavage says:

      I thought of that, Amanda, but by then Agatha had only visited the Commonwealth countries, as well as Hawaii, where she learned to surf. I figure if I was Agatha in the Middle East in the 1930s, I would remember what I did on those infamous days and thus have insight into that mystery as an added bonus😉


  5. Dawn Barker says:

    Hi Angela, and thanks for joining in! LOved reading your post too. It’s made me want to go and re-read Agatha Christie!


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Dawn. I recommend Agatha Christie’s autobiography, as well as her travel memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live, which she published as Agatha Christie Mallowan.


  6. Sara Foster says:

    Hi Angela, really enjoyed reading your post – Agatha is a great choice! I loved her books and went through a big Christie phase when I was younger, but I don’t know much about the woman herself – you’ve made me want to find out more!


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Sara. I did some research into Dame Agatha’s life last year for a forum I chaired at Melbourne Museum to coincide with its Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition. I think I enjoyed her autobiography even more than her novels!


  7. kathy d. says:

    I would like to be Barbara Kingsolver for a day, the day after she got Poisonwood Bible accepted by a publisher. I’d like to know what she knows about biology, and to live in Appalachia on a farm, which grows healthy crops — and write about that — although we can leave out the goat farm part. (I regard goats like dogs, as pets. In New York, goats are eating up overgrowths of poison ivy, an organic, nontoxic disposal system.)
    Or I’d like to be Fred Vargas for a day, to know what she knows about Medieval times, and to have her creative process going on in order to write such imaginative books — and also to be able to live in France!
    I’d also like to be any woman writer in Oz, so I could see the sights and get a feel for the flora and fauna and learn about the Indigenous peoples’ history.


    • angelasavage says:

      Good choices, Kathy – all of them. I also contemplated being Barbara Kingsolver for a day, but in the end opted for the chance to see parts of the world no longer accessible via Agatha Christie.

      I’ll put some thought into which Australian woman writer you would need to be for a day to get a feel for the flora, fauna and Indigenous people’s history…


  8. kathy d. says:

    Thank you, Angela. Would appreciate that.
    And, now, Jayne Keeney has taught me about how Thailand’s southwestern border was formed. I have to read more about this as it fascinates me and I realize I don’t know enough about the formation of land masses, countries, mountains, etc. So, you see, Jayne is not only an intrepid detective, but a geology teacher. I must find somewhere to read more without having to pick up a heavy tome. I’ve looked at photos of Krabi. It’s beautiful on that coast. Maybe we should think of being characters for a day, and I’d surely pick Jayne as one so I could see the beauties of Thailand. Not snorkeling, not my cup of tea.


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