What Are Authors Meant To Look Like?

Reading & Writing


I once did a gig at Chiswick Library. It was raining hard, and the librarians had very sweetly pinned my picture onto a blackboard, surrounding it with Christmas tinsel. Just before I went on, two old dears stood up and made their way over to the photograph, which showed me sitting on a London pavement in a leather jacket and jeans. One turned to the other and said ‘Well, he doesn’t look like an author to me,’ and they left, stranding me with an audience of four people and a dog.

It cracked me up at the time because it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about, but now that we have Facebook Timeline, which mingles authors’ social lives (and private pics that people sometimes really shouldn’t post) everyone now knows what their favourite author looks like.

I was once introduced to a writer acquaintance of my mother’s who was – there’s really no polite way of putting this – a wall-eyed hunchback with premium grade body odour. He told me he loved being a writer because ‘nobody cares what you look like’. But that’s not true. Not any more.

In Hollywood it’s not uncommon for writers to hire someone younger and prettier to go and pitch for them. One day I was contacted by a television production company. They said they wanted to film my work. They hadn’t read any of it, and they had hired a writer/director whose name would be on the project. They were sure I wouldn’t mind working for him as a televisual ghost writer. They told me he was incredibly brilliant.

I read some of the genius’s stories. They were awful – embarrassing, childish, dumb, clichéd, beyond boring. At our next meeting, the girls brought their genius in. I found myself faced with a ridiculously handsome six foot four surfer without an idea in his big blond head.

My stories were never filmed. The series was ridiculed by critics and cancelled after the airing of the second show. I began to realize that the producers weren’t entirely conversant with the adaptation of literature, but they knew a lot about pectoral muscles.

We tend to think of writers like Agatha Christie as being immune from this; weren’t they backroom workers who let their work speak for itself? Actually, that’s not strictly true. Christie was very fetching in her twenties, and photographs of her certainly helped to sell the early books. Which might explain why one would-be publisher of mine (who shall remain nameless) said; ‘Ideally you’d be young, female and black.’

Absurd, of course, but I’m pleased the brief nineties’ fad for sexy male writers didn’t really catch on – see Sebastian Junger, of ‘The Perfect Storm’, above (although Junger is a superb journalist).

8 comments on “What Are Authors Meant To Look Like?”

  1. Ken M says:

    I would point out that William Hope Hodgson had the physique of a greek god.

  2. Sam Tomaino says:

    The writer Jack Vance is a superb stylist, but he even says that he looks like a truck driver. Many years ago, I was at attneding a panel with him when he said all writers should look like L. Sprague de Camp (very distinguished and erudite) who was in the audience.

    Gene Wolfe, possibly the best stylist in the fantasy/s.f. field looks like what he was, an engineer.

    By the way, wasn’t William Hope Hodgson a boxer?

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    Writers should look like Mike Moorcock, or Alan Moore, or Kim Newman. Or failing that, Steerpike.

    Probably not like Jason King though. Jetting off all over the world, always writing, well turned out. That’s not what a writer does is… it?

    Ah…

    …I’ll get my coat.

  4. John says:

    Couldn’t you find a picture of Agatha in her youth? Here’s one though she looks a bit mannish in her get up. Who’s the actress on the DVD box cover? Don’t recognize her.

    I’d love to know who that empty headed surfer dude is.

  5. Mike Cane says:

    Writers should look like what they look like. Hollywood and the sickening Face Cult can all go to hell.

  6. snowy says:

    The actress (or female actor if you prefer) is the rather lovely Olivia Williams. You might have seen her in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, or The Ghost or as the villian in Hanna.

  7. Vickie says:

    Two thumbs up to MIKE CANE! Wholehearted agreement from this quarter…

  8. Helen Martin says:

    What has appearance to do with anything? What does a truck driver look like – or an engineer? (both cited above) We’ve all seen too many films where we’re given stereotypes as a short cut to character portrayal. I cut my hair short so I suppose I don’t look like a teacher/librarian any more. Remember Admin in his James Bond incarnation? If it helps, think of him that way. Everyone can look dishy if they put their minds and money to it.

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