Friday, May 26, 2023

Remembering Martin Amis


The novelist Martin Amis, who died last week aged 73, “lived to see himself fall out of fashion”, but he was one of the most influential cultural catalysts of my adult lifetime.

I know I usually write about music on here, but it’s all a massive cultural mush, really.

I can’t think of Blur’s Parklife without considering that Martin Amis’s London Fields has some bearing on the life portrayed.

“Who’s that gutlord marching? You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise.”

Of their 2012 London Loves, or anything by the Smiths that had a similar literary texture.

And any picture of him from the 70s has a real feel of Mick Jagger.

In 2015 my debut (and only) novel was published. I thought it was great, and so did plenty of critics, but I couldn’t get the attention of a major publisher.

That said, when two different critics of some standing included Amis references in their reviews I felt a massive pang of pride.

Kevin Sampson, author, Awaydays said:: "Haha, brilliant! As amoral antiheroes go, Cashmore knocks Gordon Gekko, John Self and Steven Stelfox into a tin hat. What a lovable tw*t!"

Martin Vander Weyer, business editor of the Spectator: "You are the Martin Amis of this generation. Really enjoying it, but had to Google 'rusty sheriff's badge'."

It was reading Amis’s novels Money and London Fields in the 1980s, as well as his earlier work, The Rachel Papers, that really gave me that drive to write modern fiction.

His vivid and often unpleasant central characters Nicola Six, John Self and Keith Talent painted with words a real dark side of life, that comes from the most important skill a good writer can possess, indeed what he values as a key virtue of the modern novelist is “a good ear”.

He offered that remarkable piece of advice when I had the opportunity to meet him in person and hear him speak.

Not many of the obituaries for him mention this, but Martin Amis was Professor of Creative Writing at The University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing from 2007-2011.

He opened students up to the work of Nabokov and Bellow, the comic novel, the Russian novella - as well as works by Austen, Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Anthony Burgess and others.

His very presence drew interest from student writers  and applications to study in Manchester on the MA course surged, but his biggest contribution.

John McAuliffe from the University describes him as “great, congenial company” something I witnessed when I met him when he would come up and deliver a lecture, or a conversation with one of his famous friends, including Australian critic Clive James and fellow literary novelist Ian McEwan. 

It was at one of those talks that Amis offered the ‘good ear’ line.

He also talked about ageing in literature. How the voices of the aged were sadly missing - how Dickens and Shakespeare died in their 50s. Where then is there a voice from the elderly?

In a fascinating exchange, Amis opened up by bemoaning the later works of John Updike, who he said had "lost his ear".

And though it seems churlish to mention it, it came to the one time enfant terrible of Britlit too. 

I think his characters suffered for it as he got older. I checked back to something I wrote about when I reviews one of his later novels: “I gave up on Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo: State of England. Disgraceful poverty porn masquerading as irony.”

His father, the novelist Kingsley Amis, also died at 73, which has a symmetry to it. He never won the Booker Prize, which was a shocker, but apparently he was due to get a knighthood.


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