‘Murder Your Darlings’



From Franz Kafka and Robert Louis Stevenson to Nabokov and Gogol, writers have always wanted to destroy their work. Often their instructions to burn everything after their deaths is ignored.

Franz Kafka was famously dismissive of his own writing and wrote a letter to his friend Max Brod saying that he was leaving all his work to him. He wanted Brod to destroy them after he was gone. As only a fraction of his work had been published in his lifetime, Brod did us a favour by not complying with Kafka’s wishes.


If authors didn’t destroy their own books, they often publicly disowned them. In ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ Ian Fleming deliberately increased the misogyny of his hero in order to decrease his popularity. Fleming was feeling as typecast as Sean Connery. The reviews were awful.

Jeanette Winterson dumped ‘Boating For Beginners’ because it was fantastical juvenilia and ‘absolute bollocks.’ Martin Amis did something similar with ‘Invasion of the Space Invaders’, about video game addiction.

It will come as no surprise that Alan Moore has repudiated – well, everything really. Certainly he hates (oh that we had time to list all of the things Alan Moore hates) his work for DC. The comics company adopted a standard corporate approach, by completely ignoring him.

Virgil asked for ‘The Aeneid’ to be destroyed, possibly to increase its popularity, and Anthony Burgess felt that in the light of Stanley Kubrick’s film, the novel of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ had been misunderstood and needed binning. Terry Pratchett asked for all of his unfinished work to be burned.

v1.bjs1ODYyNTE7ajsxNzYwMTsxMjAwOzE5MjA7MTA4MAType the words ‘Lost Work’ into Wikipedia and see what comes up. You’ll be there for days. TE Lawrence lost a 250,000 word manuscript of ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ on Reading train station. Gilbert & Sullivan lost their first work, ‘Thespis: Or the Gods Grown Old’, Thomas Hardy destroyed his first rejected novel, Brahms destroyed 20 string quartets – the list is endless.

On a lighter note, I binned my first four completed novels because they seemed appalling when I reread them. I kept back the very earliest, ‘Letters From Home’, a bizarre epistolary comedy set in the first world war, out of sentimentality. It’s in the flat somewhere – God knows where.

The title of this piece is attributed (I think – I write most of this stuff from memory) to Dorothy Parker.

10 comments on “‘Murder Your Darlings’”

  1. MSpence says:

    “Murder your darlings,” is a popular piece of writing advice that is often attributed to William Faulkner, but which can actually be traced back to the English writer and surname collector Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

    Re Alan Moore. I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to him at length about the fallout with DC.

    Sadly it’s because of that age old problem: money.

    Back then, DC had a pretty standard contract for their talent, one that stated DC owned the rights to a comic just as long as they used the characters in some form, usually by printing new edition of a book. If in one year the characters weren’t used, the rights would revert back to Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

    This was the normal way to do business at DC as it was unheard of at that time to produce multiple printings of the same graphic novel.

    Then Watchmen happened.

    The popularity of the book exploded, leaving quite a cash cow in DC’s hands, one that they would never hand over the rights to anyone else. Add to that a dispute over merchandising (Moore and Gibbons never received any money from the Watchmen badge set, which DC defined as a ‘promotional item’), and reports that the creators only earned 2% of the overall profits made by the series. Moore wasn’t a happy man so he left, leaving at least one project unfinished.

    I believe a deal was done with Moore much later off the back of The Watchmen and V films and now he gets quite a sizeable cheque each year for sales of the trade paperbacks.

  2. Roger says:

    Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
    – Samuel Johnson’s advice on writing.

  3. Maya says:

    Oh that we had time to list all of the things Alan Moore loves.

  4. Brian says:

    I remember the publication of “The Spy Who Loved Me” quite differently to you. Yes, the reviews were often bad but not fully for the reasons you suggest. The two main reasons were that it was written in first-person by the main character, a woman named Vivienne Michel, and secondly, Bond only had a small role in the book.

    Fleming wrote the book in three sections; “Me” “Them” and “Him” The final section, Him, is when Bond arrives on the scene.

    I read the reviews at the time (1962) and being a fan wondered what to think. A Bond book with very little Bond in it?
    When I eventually procured a copy I ended with a positive view of it. Yes, you might say in looking back 56 years that he was misogynistic, however, Vivienne was nobody’s fool and was clearly up for it.

  5. Denise Treadwell says:

    Artists destroy work they dislike, I certainly have. As a caligrapher, I have concentrated on the delivery of the letters instead of the spelling, in consequence I had to write on a separate piece of paper with correct spelling, and mindlessly draw the letters.

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    I would love to see your, ‘ Letter ‘s from home’ ?

  7. Denise Treadwell says:

    I would love to see your, ‘ Letter ‘s from home’ ? Please put it here.

  8. davem says:

    Hadn’t heard that about Alan Moore – I love his work.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Denise! Another calligrapher! Bet you’re a good one, too. The good ones concentrate on the work, not the spelling. (My work doesn’t have spelling mistakes so you know where I fit.)

  10. Ian Luck says:

    Alan Moore could write instruction books, and it would be fine with me. He writes what he likes, and does it superbly. He’s a proper, old fashioned storyteller. From making the very odd comic ‘Swamp Thing’ from an ‘also ran’ to a ‘must read’, to his beautiful, but semi pornographic ‘Lost Girls’, with gorgeous art from his wife, Melinda Gebbie, everything he does, is worth your time. This ability has passed to his daughter, Leah Moore, whose work is as imaginative as his. Also, Alan Moore teamed up with fellow Northamptoners, the great Bauhaus, and made a record under the name ‘The Sinister Ducks’. The artwork on the sleeve was by the great Kevin O’ Neil.

Comments are closed.