I am always fascinated by other authors’ working habits (see previous entry), so I was delighted when P.D. James and Andrew Motion brought up the subject at last week’s Royal Society of Literature discussion of writers in public life. Both described themselves as larks who like to put pen to paper soon after 6am; and since P.D. James considers two and a half hours’ writing a good tally for the day, she must often finish work before I have begun. I felt embarrassed enough about this until I discovered that Jonathan Keates sometimes comes home and works on two books after a day’s teaching: he is at present writing a biography of Donizetti, and a novel about Henry II’s beloved Rosamond Clifford – as it happens, the subject of Donizetti’s opera Rosmonda d’Inghilterra.
Sadly P.D. James does not have a book under way at the moment – she explains that she has too much correspondence and administration to catch up with – but she hopes to begin on ‘something quite different’ at the end of the month. As she celebrates her 90th birthday in August, it is a splendid thing that she should be breaking new ground.
A mere decade behind her is Miles Gladwyn – published as Miles Jebb – who turns 80 next month. He has recently completed a biography of Patrick Shaw-Stewart, the brilliant Eton-educated scholar and poet who died in action in the First World War, to be published this summer. In the same tradition of Etonian classicists is Harry Eyres, who is writing a book on his love of Horace’s poetry and its effect on his life, for which the newspaper-editor-turned-literary-agent Richard Addis is inviting bids.
I have to thank Miles Gladwyn for introducing me to Philip Ziegler, whose life of Edward Heath will come out just before the Conservative party conference in the autumn (he is hoping for renewed controversy over the party’s stance on Europe to give it topicality). With a book on Harold Wilson already to his credit, he was asked by Heath’s executors to suggest an authorised biographer; he then realised that he couldn’t resist writing it himself, since the two were two sides of the same coin – men from very similar backgrounds who had risen to the leadership of the two great opposing parties. Which did he like better? ‘To have dinner with, Harold Wilson, certainly. As Prime Minister, Edward Heath – at least he had some scruples.’
Admirers of Aamer Hussein will be glad to hear that he has completed his novel The Cloud Messenger, though they will have to wait until March 2011 to read it. Michèle Roberts is at work on a collection of poetry. And as for me, I have just been in China on an assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine, and took the opportunity to do some research for my next novel, which is partly set there. I first visited the country in the 1980s, and a good deal has changed – though in many ways the mentality remains exactly the same.