One of the privileges of this job is the chance to meet writers. Sometimes it’s writers I’ve long admired. At other times it’s ones I’ve only just caught up with as a reader so as to interview them. I don’t want to list names because there are lots and I don’t want to leave people out. I like them all! Sometimes it’s writers I never thought I’d meet, and here I’ll name a few: David Ireland, Elizabeth Harrower, JM Coetzee. You know that old warning about it being unwise to meet your heroes? Well, I honestly can say I’ve never met a writer whom I liked less as a result. Quite the opposite, in fact. A wonderful, and perhaps surprising, example — in terms of the unmet hero being even better in person — is the rock star (and brilliant writer) Nick Cave. His warmth and generosity, his intelligence and humour — and his interest in non-rocker me — was beautiful.
Then there are the writers I wish I’d met but now will not. Top of this list is William Trevor, the Irish short-story master and superb novelist, who died on Monday, aged 88. I did try to set up an interview with him a few years ago when I was in England (he lived in Devon) but it didn’t come to pass. Even so, he will live with me for a long time, as he does with so many readers. We are enriched by his deep engagement with what it means to be human. All of his books are worth reading. I was gripped by the 1994 novel Felicia’s Journey, which was filmed with Bob Hoskins brilliant as the friendly, terrible man who comes into Felicia’s sorry life. But my topof-the-head favourites are the 1991 novellas Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria, published together as Two Lives. The second was filmed in 2003 with Maggie Smith. And of course there are the magnificent short stories. I have a fat book full of them, a collection of what Trevor called “the art of the glimpse”, and I will be dipping into it this weekend. I asked Ronan McDonald, a dapper Irishman who is professor of modern literature at the University of NSW, to describe Trevor’s approach to the short story. “He realises, like Joyce, that the form relies on what is unsaid, that master literary miniaturists deploy reticence and restraint as their key tools. Framed by the right words, muteness itself can deliver an epiphanic truth. In that respect, Trevor’s graceful art emerges from a supremely expressive tact.”
When it comes to the longer form, Trevor was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize four times. An argument could be made that he’s the greatest British-Commonwealth writer not to win the award. I don’t know if this is the influence of my other hat, the film one, but I link him, in mind, to Richard Burton, who received seven Oscar nominations but never won. By the way, I never met Burton either, but wish I had. Speaking of that grand Welsh actor, he could have won it in the 1960s for Becket or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ... until you check who he was up against and remember who else was scowling for the screen in that decade. However, I am adamant he should have won as the inquisitor O’Brien in the 1984 film of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I also think John Hurt should have won as Winston Smith, adding to the one he should have won as Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man. OK, I’ll stop now before I am sent to Room 101. Except to add that Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of my favourite novels, and I strongly relate to Charlotte Wood’s introduction to a new edition, which we publish here today. Quote of the week: Paul Keating and Noel Pearson grabbed the headlines at this week’s launch of a much-awaited biography of our controversial 24th prime minister. But I want to share a quote from the biographer, Troy Bramston, recalling a moment late in the editing process when his subject called with some late advice. “He said, ‘Troy, don’t f..k it up.’ ”