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?