In these days of celebrity tell-all, it seems that writers are expected to resemble their creations. This has always escaped me, for the simple reason that I don’t. When I write dark fiction, people come up to me and say ‘You don’t look anything like I imagined. I thought you’d be really sinister.’ While writing the Bryant & May books, a reader accused me of looking nothing like my sleuths, and when I gave a reading at Chiswick Public Library, two old ladies examined my photograph pinned on the wall and left because, as one said to the other, ‘He doesn’t look like my idea of an author’.
But authors who look like their creations have an appeal to their readers. Will Self has the haunted, hollow-eyed look of a drugged decadent, Jake Arnott has a touch of the East End bruiser, Agatha Christie looks like Miss Marple.
When I booked Augusten Burroughs for a reading I expected to meet the peculiar screw-up of his excellent memoir ‘Running With Scissors’, but he turned out to be a smart adman with a handle on his ‘persona’ as the hero of a memoir. Our audience wanted to knw more about his family than his writing, and he played up to their questions.
When a recent interview with Brett Easton Ellis revealed the morning-after remains of what appeared to be a coke-fuelled binge in his hotel room, Ellis sidestepped questions of his supposed wild night out so neatly that I began to suspect he’d planted the evidence to keep up his bad-boy image. And when a friend interviewed him at a public event and was presented with two opposite personas – his backstage charming author-self and his onstage surly sulker – I started to realise that perhaps US authors are coached in developing such images.
Horror author Poppy Z Brite used to cultivate an exotic image as a wild-child involved in a three-way relationship with two New Orleans men, but it increasingly appeared that she was simply flatsharing with two gay mates. Jacqueline Susann looked every bit as trashy as her novels. My favourite ‘author who looks like their book’ has to be Sebastian Junger, whose photo on the cover of ‘The Perfect Storm’ had him manning a boat, as if he himself had headed into the fatal tidal wave.
Of course, authors have always cultivated images to some extent – remember those old books with sturdy tweedy men smoking pipes on the jackets?