Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Man of Large Friendly Letters

At 5' 2", I spent most of my time in England being shorter than those around me. Then one day, when a few of us were drunk enough to have categorically cool ideas and sober enough to be able to execute them, we decided to play a little game where I sort of stood on a chair, and everyone else sort of scooched down, and so both sides knew what the other felt like. Maybe it had more to do with the vodka than the chair, but this was a world so utterly different from the one that I normally inhabited, that it was as if I had been smacked in the face with some sort of a height-racket!

Now, imagine a very funny author instead of the chair, and imagine life, the universe and everything instead of height, and you might get an idea of what I went through when I first read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The author in question was Douglas Adams.

Douglas Noel Adams (or DNA which I know he quite liked) is usually described as the writer of a series of comic science fiction novels. But it wasn't until I read this description somewhere that I realised that it was science fiction.

A- Because with DNA's books, as with Wodehouse's writing, the actual plot matters very little. What you are really after is the next ridiculous metaphor, the next brilliant transferred epithet, the next rant about the wicked ways of the world, the next sentence that just as you are about to finish it, turns itself upside down and takes your brain with it!
And B- Because he never told you anything. He just went on and on about some random thing or another until you went, 'Ah! I think what you're trying to say is...', and felt very pleased and clever indeed for having arrived at the end of the thought process a moment before this poor baffled author could. There are few greater pleasures that a reader or an audience can share with an artist.

He was a lover of science and a lover of art. He showed me that science is as much a matter of romance and passion and humour and wonder and inspiration as art, and art as much about practice and frustration and calculation and knowledge and boredom and helplessness and ultimately, enlightenment, as science.

He made me appreciate the idea of existentialism without my even realising it (which is more than I can say for all those mainstream existentialists with their heavy-hanging hopelessness, and homicidal holiday-makers), and this he did with stories of spaceships, and galaxies, and cows, and fish. He never put you off with talk of 'serious issues' and 'ethical imperatives'. He was always on your side, by your side, probably pointing at something and letting you in on some absurd inside-joke that was bound to make you giggle. It seems if an idea seemed important to him, then it also deserved to be amusing, and - wherever possible - hilarious!

I owe a lot of what I have found and loved since I came across The Hitchiker's Guide - be it in literature, music, films, or science - to him. But I also owe a lot of what I have written since then to him. Because as a writer who, for the most part, found it essentially impossible to write, he has been my biggest source of inspiration and my brightest ray of hope! It is because of DNA that I can say bollocks to those who think that all great artists just go around spewing out brilliancies, spending all their lives in a bubble of pure genius with a special spot for 'inspiration' in their brains where normal people have itching, or wanting toast.

It is because of him that I know that writing is a lot of hard work and requires a great deal of sitting idle and feeling hopeless. The key is to just get on with the sitting. If your forehead starts to bleed, that's a good start!

It is because of him that even in the most desperate of times, I 'Don't Panic'.



4 comments:

  1. "He was a lover of science and a lover of art. He showed me that Science is as much a matter of romance and passion and humour and wonder and inspiration as art and art as much about practice and frustration and calculation and knowledge and boredom and helplessness and -ultimately- enlightenment as science."
    This about sums up Douglas Adams.

    Beautifully written. Have you read The Fry Chronicles? Stephen Fry has talked about Douglas Adams' writing process.

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  2. Yup! Read it a few months ago. :)
    Thanks!
    Have you read Wish You Were Here? DNA's official biography by Nick Webb?
    That and Don't Panic by Neil Gaiman. Both fine books.

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  3. Make sure you read

    And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer, its the 6th book I the TRILOGY lol

    he writes it in a very similar style to Douglas and it wraps up the story nicely :)

    If you look around you can get one Autographed (I have one)
    Steve

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    Replies
    1. Haha! :) Hmmm. It's complicated. Read my post titled 'I won't panic' to know how I feel about that! :)

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