Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 22 July 2013

Amo, Amas, AMIS

They say no news is good news, and that’s all very well, but I do like to address something in the news for my Monday blog, and if there’s nothing in the Sunday papers then I’m on a bit of a sticky wicket.

Yesterday’s papers were a bit of a desert, if I’m honest. 

There was one small irony. 

Frankie Boyle has gone on hunger strike to publicise the horrors of Guantanamo, and in particular the plight of the last remaining British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, who has been detained without trial since 2002. This piece of news appeared in the gutter on page ten in the paper I read. It took about two inches of column space at the bottom of the left hand page, without pictures. So Frankie Boyle singularly failed to get any real publicity for his cause out of that Sunday paper. Perhaps he should have told an off colour joke about a celebrity instead, and somehow incorporated the information he was trying to get out there. Comparing a hunger striker to whoever qualifies as the latest skinny, in-vogue celebrity might have done it. Perhaps he should have stuck to what he knows and courted controversy instead of sympathy.

Anyway, that wasn’t what I decided to talk about this morning, and maybe this blog should more appropriately have been titled The Cult of Celebrity part ii, because I was only talking about names the other day when I talked about JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith in my blog The Cult of Celebrity.

Martin Amis, not smiling because of his teeth
Martin Amis got an outside column, full length, on page three of the same paper that Frankie Boyle’s hunger strike was mentioned in on Sunday, talking about his name. There was a little photo of him, probably from stock, and a strap line about his teeth that, frankly, I thought redundant.

The thrust of Hannah Furness’s several inches, as the headline indicated, was that Martin Amis regretted using his name and felt that, in hindsight, he might have been better off adopting a pseudonym. “Heredity became a kind of taint,” he said.

His name caused people to question his “legitimacy”.


“It’s become somewhat of a burden,” he said.

In 1973, when Martin Amis published his first book, The Rachel Papers, aged only 24, Kingsley Amis, his father, published The Riverside Villas Murder. There were at least a dozen more novels before he died, more than twenty years later. In that time Martin Amis wrote a further seven books.

Who remembers The Riverside Villas Murder, or for that matter The Crime of the Century or Russian Hide and Seek. We all remember Money and London Fields. We all remember The Rachel Papers for that matter.

I can’t help thinking that Martin Amis protests far too much.

Even in the early 1970s when publishing wasn’t quite in the fix that it’s in now, it wasn’t altogether easy for a man in his early twenties to have his first novel published, and having a famous name and an even more famous father could not have hurt Martin Amis’s chances with publishers or with the public.

It might not have been an entirely cynical move on his part, at the time, after all, as he says, it was his name, but I don’t believe for a minute that someone didn’t say out loud, “and of course it doesn’t hurt having your father’s name and reputation behind you.”

The rest is history. Martin Amis made his own name in this business, and is now, surely, the more famous of the two writers, the more literary, and certainly the writer taken more seriously of the two.

It is churlish, at this stage, to talk about his father’s legacy, churlish and disrespectful. Martin Amis says that it was not an issue in the early stages of his career, but I beg to differ. I think it was an issue. I think that he had a helping hand, and I think he should be grateful for that and respectful of it. 

Of course he was always going to be the writer that he became, but if it came to a choice between Martin Amis and Martin Bardwell (had he taken his mother’s maiden name as a pseudonym for example), I suspect an agent or publisher would have been more likely to pick up his manuscript if it bore the name ‘Amis’ on the title page. 

Every ladder starts with a first rung, and the first rung on Martin Amis’s career ladder might well have been his father’s name.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect even having a very similar surname can boost your sales. As libraries and most bookshops file alphabetically, and many punters are not perfectly focussed all the time, the likelihood of the occasional over-/under-spill is reasonable.