Ways not to attend a talk about a crazed stalker
Do not turn up late so that you have to walk past everyone huffing and puffing from three flights of stairs (got lost in the middle of London Fashion Week which was setting up next door).
Do not wear sandals with socks (best crazy woman feet attire) just because you have some issues with painful little toes. It’s not a good look, particularly when one of the speakers (Susie Orbach) has a great line in fabulous footwear.
Do not wear every mismatched item of clothing you own (washing Armageddon at home).
Do not buy the books by all the speakers, ask them to sign them for you and mutter ‘I’m your biggest fan’ under your breath. (I’ve just got rid of over 700 books, buying new ones has become a compulsion – print rushing to fill a vacuum..)
Despite all this, I wasn’t thrown out and was able to enjoy the talk held by the Royal Society of Literature. It was James Lasdun and Susie Orbach in discussion about his recent book, GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU HAVE.
The talk brought up a number of interesting areas for writers and readers to consider. Lasdun met his stalker on a creative writing course he was running, and initially thought they had a friendship based on mutual writing experiences. It turned out that she had a totally different agenda, and the stalking has escalated over the years to include threats to his family as well as a concerted effort to ruin his good name, both personally and professionally.
Both Orbach and Lasdun brought up the intense vulnerability an author feels when putting their work up for comment in a workshop setting, and how even positive praise can feel very intrusive when you’re writing about events close to your own life.
In one of those ironies that life is full of, Lasdun had written a novel about a lecturer being falsely accused of sexual misconduct some years earlier– and it’s this written persona that his stalker took issue with, perhaps mistaking him for it in some way. She constantly used his words against him, quoting elements from his works, or claiming to have written what he’d already had published.
When it comes to reputation, there is always an element who will consider a story such as this and think ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. It’s precisely this nebulous sense that gossip must be founded in fact in some way that is hardest for the innocent victim to fight against. The tendency when reading an incredible story is to apply the logic that you or I would use in a situation. Why would Lasdun’s stalker behave like this if she didn’t have a good reason? Ergo, he must be lying in some way. This logic backfires when dealing with someone very irrational.
Lasdun’s book is careful to be very factual, he mentions at one point that he considered conflating a medical condition with one of the events to make a dramatic point, but resisted. However inevitably by writing about the situation, he has trapped it in print, made it an event bounded by dates and crafted into a fascinating study of personalities, and this – in itself – has blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction.
How does an author write non-fiction? It’s never a simple retelling of facts, it would be naïve to think your own experiences and personality don’t flavour your work. Lasdun manages to accept and examine those aspects of himself as he works through his thoughts about a very difficult part of his life.
He was careful to refute the suggestion that this work may be viewed as an act of revenge, but it is certainly a rebuttal, and a reclaiming of his name and reputation, and a masterful one at that.
February 25, 2013