Martin Amis novelist



in the year 2000 Martin Amis wrote his first-ever piece of sustained nonfiction a memoir called experience which is part Horta biography and part a portrait of his father Kingsley Amis experience is the only thing we share equally in everyone senses this I'm a novelist trained to use experience for other ends why should I tell the story of my life I do it because my father is dead now and I always knew I would have to commemorate him this will involve me in the indulgence of certain bad habits name-dropping is unavoidably one of them but I've been indulging that habit in a way ever since I first said Dan you were the son of a famous person Kingsley Amis was famous in this country so you grew up with a sense of Fame looking back how do you think it affected your own view of Fame well it became you know very early on it was just the air he breathed and nothing is more ordinary than what your dad does and what he is and sorry I could see that you know it's it had it had its disadvantages and in fact had no advantages except for the fact that it's you know helped assemble your readership but it hardly gets you a table in a restaurant I could see that he didn't exalt in it in any way it was part of the job so Fame for me is his you know I think I'm inured to the I think the reason I get all this treatment is because I am his son and that it looks like I had a kind of launchpad that and a set of inherited genes that meant that I didn't have to try very hard there are many examples of fathers and sons or mothers and daughters who are equally successful and famous as writers but Kingsley Amis and his son Martin are certainly a prized example of that and when Martin wrote this extended memoir called experience he was bound to write about his father but his father was so much of his experience obvious as a father but also as a writer whom Martin rated extremely highly I lived in the same street as Kingsley Amis for many years and we used to meet quite regularly and get the public quite regularly and he wasn't term he didn't take to Martins or he said he didn't I couldn't quite work it out because at the same time it was envious of Martin's success this tension I think is more shown in the film Martin's very careful about his father there is in what Martin says about his father so much affection and respect that you knew that despite the Kingsley's sometimes blustering 'he's you know you're only doing to get drunk for instance which he did most days of his life well again not much more than skin-deep and that there was a huge admiration and certain awe for what this younger man this younger writer was doing these interviews based on your book called experience which it was the first non-fiction don't you britain what made you want to write it well I always knew I'd have to write about my father more or less as a kind of pro bono act because of the rarity or indeed uniqueness of our case to writers with a body of work out there at the same time and when he died I thought well now what was so what's so exciting about that it meant that our relationship had all the usual vicissitudes of a father-son relationship it was a universal in that sense and yet unique in that it was a literary friendship as well your mother hilly he met when she was 17 yes can you tell us a bit about her because she seems in a way is distinctive as just Kingsley she's a very remarkable woman and anyone who's ever met her realizes this she's very straight and very innocent in in her soul and I said that you know whatever I inherited from Kingsley I got just as much from her a sort of you know she's completely hunt the optical I'm designing person and and never judges anyone she grew up not in the city but in the village will animal the book is called experience but she's the obverse of there she is the innocence some of which I inherited it was just a very normal family I thought until I met Kingsley a very abnormal and frightfully soundly and goody-goody really which I suppose we know we didn't swear and we didn't drink we didn't do any of those things who are too busy playing instruments or trying to play them which of course huge Goethals from Kingsley okay I think it's a there's this curious duality all the way through experience which is very fascinating if you're interested in Martin a missus writing as I am you know it is an essential thing to read you do very strongly get an impression of someone who is divided between his father and his mother and the the of course the the wit and the sharpness and the ambition come from the father and there is this very gentle sweet side to him that we don't often see as in the reading which is his mother Kingsley Amis famous in a particular and important way in the fifties I mean I was reading lucky jinhwan and whatever I was 40 with my father and we were screaming with laughter and that was happening all over the country when I knew him abetters staged his life he was tremendous he was an engine he was yes a force can you assess sort of what it was like compared with any other sort of experience what are you cars and you know a child is by definition used to anything you know you have nothing to compare it with but I don't know any of my contemporaries or near contemporaries who who got on so well with their father a major theme in Kingsley's work which you tackle in the book very nice read and major part of his life was his close relationship with women from the romantic to the adulteress can you tell us about this I mean you describe his romanticism also you describe him as a constant adulterer well in his first marriage he was you know no I mean an extraordinarily energetic I mean he was it was quite difficult to be you know a hyperactive adulterer in those days but he managed it but I don't think he liked women much really basically he thought they were silly and selfish and daft and it's very unfortunate that he was made as he was and was tremendously random early days you know very keen along that side of things and more bigger choice the better and I think my brother and I were you know largely formed romantically by the things he used to tell us but they were good things I mean for instance the most sexually attractive part of a naked woman is her face very appealing to hear that at the age of 50 and he said also that that the sensations of sex much magnified by love and that really said the cat among the pigeons because we thought that's why we've got a fall in love for the six yeah but he always made it clear that this was the prime value the the first value love the romantic love I think there's a pool inside him as a man between the one the other I mean why did monogamy fit interest romantic love with difficulty he said you know the on his wedding day he looking at down the street and fancying women but first of all when you're writing a book of Auto biographical memoirs honest is obviously important and what always bothers me about autobiography is that I think it's a protection racket and memoirs I think a great title is unreliable man was if you go with that how do you how did you tackle those I would agree with you entirely about unreliability I mean no one's memory is more than 70% but that it seemed to me you know as it emerged the did seem to be a kind of consistency of preoccupation because in a way I was you know the whole process of writing the book was a condensed period of mourning for my father but I don't think that a memoir is necessarily self protective and you know what you find out when you write the thing is is whether you in fact you do have access to cry whether you whether you are energized by animus or grudge and I was actually scandalized by how little of that I felt in me I think I used to say to myself come on you must be a bit more vicious than this but I found I didn't there was nothing I regret it or or blamed anyone for you know I thought what a lucky life is what I kept saying it in public writer Kingsley Amis was full of fun and bonhomie but in private he suffered from a crippling number of anxieties he was a writer of great distinction but he was a very strange man in many ways I mean his phobias were fierce he hated being alone he hated making arrangements he hated gang and aeroplanes and that's just the first letter there isn't it a fight Bob flip at the seaside at the age of 10 was was it flying he never went on an airplane and he was terrified of the dark zips trains buses he really did hate being alone and it was probably when we've Martin and that were very small indeed he sort of panic if he was left alone sometimes when I was five or six I would hear him screaming in the night really authentic growing panic and my mother would bring him into my room and wake me and he would sit there so that while I talked about what I'd done at school that day he would sit there looking looking at me who sort of admiring me and trusting me and I'd say to my mother the next day what was all that about and she said his way of dealing with it was to take me and himself into the children's room maybe I'd be sleeping and he'd sort of manage to pull himself together you know which was a tremendous inversion of parental filial feeling that a six-year-old boy can calm a 35 year old man by his very presence so that but you just accept these things about your parents don't you whatever they were really odd from the outside you just without a second thought it's just it's just their reality and you assimilate it when Hilary discovered that Kingsley was having an affair with the novelist Elizabeth Jane hard their marriage broke down he fell in love with Jane had no real thing he really was very much I suppose we went the vulnerable stage in our marriage so then he took the line of least resistance and mary-jane but it meant four months where we didn't see him and it was ghastly I mean we became almost comatose but I was his wife for at sixteen years and I was a wicked stepmother of Martin as he says I went to pieces it was very tough really there were an awful ages for to happen and the school got disrupted he kept changing schools and generally lost heart I think he needed to be guided firmly and that's what James did Jane hired herself is a considerable novelist the and you were landed therefore with not one but two novelists ahead of you Jane Howard also as I understand it there's between her decided almost that you were under educated but very bright and should be forced to get on with it he's not roughly the case and if so would you draw from it it's very definitely the case like I was averaging an o-level every other year and it was I was really on the street you know my mother for all her virtues wasn't was never good at getting me to do things and getting me to study and Jane was systematic about it and father it wanted me to do well at school but his indolence was such that he couldn't do anything about it he wasn't really up to even giving me a Bala King about it you know that was too much like hard work I said what do you want to do you know grown up he said I'm gonna be a writer so I said you could write how you know read anything no life without anything about literature at all but he said all right what should I read then or something to that effect and I gave him a novel of Jane Austen ISM and he turned up very short I'm after that said Jade you just got to tell me how this ends you've got to tell me so I said no I'm not going to it's a novel you'll have to find that out and he was used all his powers of persuasion which were considerable to try and get it was fascinating about size and what a good thing you want to know the end so much go away and finish it and then they never looked back really I went on to be a writer and was always close to my father I felt protected by him even in the literary sense that far from having difficulty coming out from under a shadow I felt that I was very happy in his shadow a lot fun quite straightforwardly well only he only taught me by example really and I did see very early on that you know as you know it's the great thing is to get into your study and be alone there and the words will come did you feel any novelistic rivalry the I think the biggest difference between us as novelists is that he was a poet as well and he therefore regarded the novel as something a little bit lower Brad and I regarded you know the duty was to be accessible and entertaining and I I go along with that up to a point but I think I like to make the reader you know try a bit harder than that King says attitude to Martin was bizarre in one way I mean Martin was a great admirer and the book off and Kingsley wouldn't give the time of date in the book of symphony that was that night in admiration of the great American Jewish writers kingship bothering with and his treatment of his son was sometimes a bit cruel I remember once or in the king of bohemia and he'd brought one of Martin's boxing he was dead babies and I noticed hard like every three pages it was cooked down like that click click click and I saw what sir what's going on so I can't get by Ritu but I can't get past it I can't I can't stand it I he won't say the man left the room and shut the door he's gotta find this consonant and it was about at least you know 20 or 30 clicks the sill along with a book to go I know well come on also I think what's he telling me for it's like to think what am I telling you for but I'm telling you because I think that was simply not simply complicatedly and the enormous difficulty you had we're taking on board that this man who had his name this young man who had difficulties in all sorts of ways was turning out not only to be a very well acclaimed writer but a writer going in such a different direction from Kingsley himself the Kingsley found it hard to follow and resented the fact that it was difficult for him to follow not to understand you're as clever as paint King to me but to follow why he should want to do this and why this was so successful and perhaps worst of all why this was so good you have a son Martin Amis who is also highly successful as yes but do you find that you share and enjoy his success also or is a slight jealousy there with comparing each other's wounds and sales no not to that question certain amount of envy of youthful success the fact that he's beginning well I I like him to do it and I admire him I think he's a very good writer but you can't help saying years well you published your third novel when I was just shaping up to write my first I liked his stuff a lot more than he liked mine don't worry it was it was painful at first when he when he told me rather sort of abject me but truthfully that he couldn't get on with my second all he couldn't get going on it he read my first and I it was a great affront it was it was a sat in the face it's very very easy for parents to squash their children's dreams and ambitions you know most writers are also critics and to have that turned on a child can be immensely destructive and Kingsley I think from everything I've read of him his letters and his biography was an extremely destructive man and it's to me quite a miracle that Martin emerged as energetic and positive and indeed in this book loving as as he is I now think of him not as the old devil but as the man the engine of comedy that he was for all those decades the center of all sort of joy in high spirits and laughter and wit someone is no longer here the intercession refigure the father the man who stands between the Sun and death is no longer here and it won't ever be the same he is missing but I know it is common all that lives must die passing through nature to eternity death is nearer reminding you that there is much to be done there are children to be raised and books to be written you have got work to do how do you place him as a writer Kingsman well he's clearly the comic novelist of his generation all he ever said he said he wanted to make a niche for himself in literature and that he certainly did and he once said of both of us he said we know all you can say is that we're we're something that you know I was quite happy to take my half of that

3 thoughts on “Martin Amis novelist

  1. really enjoyed this, thanks for posting. the M Bragg pieces are usually an hour long affair however. do you know at all if there's more to the above anywhere? thanks again.

  2. Watched loads of Amis interviews and this is one of the worst.
    I suspect the reason is Melville Bragg, a vastly over-rated interviewer.
    He never puts Amis at ease and the unclear, meandering questions go nowhere.
    Opportunity missed.

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