Joining me today and sharing a very comprehensive #TenThings (or so) he’d like his readers to know about him is author of Love Under Lockdown, Michael Estorick. Love Under Lockdown is published by Arcadia Books and available now in hardback. You’ll find buying options for several retailers on the Arcadia website here or of course, your local bookshop should be able to order a copy for you.
Ten or so things about Michael Estorick
1) Like my characters, I am mad about Golf. To many men of my generation, sport, and ball games in particular, whether as a player or fan, has meant a ridiculous amount. Team games like cricket, rugby and hockey, or more individual ones like squash, golf or Real Tennis, provided community; to us, a man (even one of the greatest rugby players in history, who would leave the golf course before the round was over to go shopping with his wife) is not quite a Man, if at weekends he preferred the company of his family to getting soaked and battered by the opposition or the elements. Enthusiasm is as important as talent, though we are the first to admire the capacity to run, to hit, to swerve; and anyone prepared to devote precious hours to making sure people know where to go and to turn up on time, has as much respect as the man with a low handicap or perfect cover drive. No team game could survive without a benevolent dictator for whom the postcard was the essential tool; and anyone trying to organise anything these days should thank his lucky stars for email and the internet. Now, in our dotage, we sit in clubs and bars on new hips and knees, groaning at dropped catches and missed tackles on the TV, quite as much as missed putts on the green outside the clubhouse window. I still care about a team I supported when I was ten years old, even though I don’t know the names of current players. Sport provides community around the globe. An eye for a ball or fluid swing is a surer guide to a man’s character than sobriety or marital fidelity. That’s how we prefer to judge a man. Tant pis, as the French say. I’ve had three sporting passions (cricket, Real Tennis and golf) each lasting decades, each all-consuming, and on any of which I could bore for Britain. But like many such passions, for a game, a hobby, even for a friend or lover, one day they suddenly seemed of only passing interest. How something that has for so long felt of overwhelming importance can suddenly lose its relevance or meaning, is as mysterious as it is undeniable. With some people it is shooting or bullfighting; others prefer to regularly trade in their cars or even their wives. To say that such pre-occupations are not ‘Real Life’ is to entirely miss the point: what matters in life is whatever you think matters.
2. One thing at 70 I do know for sure: the less one gets in one’s own way, the more likely one is to find an answer, or at least to see where to look for it.
‘The rich are different from you and I,’ Scott Fitzgerald told Ernest Hemingway, who famously replied: ‘Yeah, they’ve got more money.’
Are creative people different in kind from other people, or only in degree? Do they see the world differently, or just their place in it? In it, but also not of it, bidden by some unseen force to look at things from the outside even when they are immersed in them. And if different, does that justify or excuse bad behaviour, the using and abusing of friends and family to some ‘creative’ end; even to sacrifice the lives of lovers and children in some supposedly greater cause: Art. Or as Hemingway may also have said: for money, fame and the love of beautiful women.
I have no answers to these questions, I just ask them, because I like to ask questions. It is what art does (by art I mean literature as much as, say, painting or music, about which I know little but for which I have the highest admiration).
Is ‘bad’ art still art? Who am I, after all, to make value judgments, to say whether something is good or bad, when it is only my opinion; an educated one, in that I have spent my life trying to answer questions by writing about them, or to get down on paper the physical likeness of someone in front of me.
3. When I was at art school, during the first year of a diploma course in painting, the teacher suddenly said ‘say to yourself I want to be an painter.’ He was, I suppose, telling his students that they needed to accept responsibility for what they were doing and to do it responsibly; and although I was by then in my early 30’s and had drawn people all my life, I knew in that instant that I wasn’t an artist in the way he meant. I didn’t think pictorially but in words: the words in my head creating the pictures I formed, as they do when one is reading. That, after all, is the magic of words. That day I packed up my painting things and went back home to an unfinished novel, which finally came out, my first published , in 1986.
4. I think of myself as a writer, but am I still a writer when I am not working on anything? I don’t, for example, take down what people say, as some people imagine novelists spend their time doing; or record what people are wearing and the expressions they make. That isn’t a criticism of people who do. The one novel I was responsible for publishing during my brief career in that profession, was extraordinary, and founded on the author’s precise recollections of events and conversations within his family over decades. What made it so marvellous – it won two major literary prizes after having been turned down by every publisher it had been submitted to – were his eye and ear: his ability not only to remember and record (which was remarkable in itself) but to know exactly what to use of that accumulated experience in the interest of what I can only call ‘art’. It is no surprise to me that he has had a successful second career as a collagist, which does in pictorial terms what he had previously done in words.
5. I think of myself as a golfer. All golfers, however bad, do that. At times I play very well but am not self-disciplined enough to content myself with acquiring a repeating swing. If I hit a bad shot I want to reinvent the wheel, I joke that I am far too intelligent or imaginative to play the game, when the truth is, I long to be good at it, to impress my friends ( and the professional, of course) with my game, when I know my drawing and my writing are infinitely more sensible ways of evaluating myself: after all, I know how well I can do them, at least I think so, and people often like to remind me, even at the age of 70, of just how talented I am, young Estorick! In every pro shop in every golf club labours some pimply youth who will never make a career out of playing the game, but is infinitely better than I will ever be, and yet it is still how I choose to value myself, or be valued by others. Is it so very perverse of me, or no more so than the private obsessions of most of my friends? What, after all, would any of us be without our secret cravings and self-delusions?
6. I am meticulous about detail and like to set things up, but not to run them. This applied as much to the Asylum, a small basement club I owned for three years in the late 90’s, as it does to the Estorick Collection, where I have been chairman for 25 years. This doesn’t mean I am happy to leave others to do as they please. Nothing makes me angrier than being treated with disdain. But as in my novels, I prefer to wait and see what happens than to try to tell my characters how to behave. If I already knew what was going to happen in a novel , I would never bother to write it.
7. I am relentlessly curious about other people and am shocked by other peoples’ frequent lack of interest in anyone but themselves. I am thrilled when I make a new friend who appears to have as much interest in me as I do in them. But I don’t ditch old friends, as some people, obsessed with ‘moving on’, seem to do.
I am also fascinated by only children, who seem conspicuously different to those with siblings. My father was one but I am not, though people often assume I am!
I believe that no two people share the same parents, and that sibling rivalry is a time bomb under our society. It’s a subject I hope one day to write about, but I suspect it will take a pressing question to get me started. In my latest book, about one third written, one of the characters, an artist, is about to die. There will be a fight between his widow and a close male friend over what happens to his estate; that in his death, his old friend will find new life. That is all- and as much as I need- to know for now.
8. A few years ago I read a review in a 1963 copy of the London Magazine of three novels by Douglas Hayes. The reviewer, J Maclaren Ross (a favourite short story writer of mine) described Hayes as the best comic novelist since the 1930’s. Since then I have read all his many novels, yet almost no one, including antiquarian booksellers, has ever heard of him. There is almost nothing about him on-line, and sometimes think I may even have made him up. How is it possible that someone so good, who published a dozen or so novels in the 1950’s and 60’s (he worked all his life in the theatre), can remain completely unknown?
9. I love the stories of the Canadian Mavis Gallant. Living in Paris, she was so poor she sold her clothes for food, when she read in the New Yorker a short story of her own. Only then did she discover her agent was selling her work and pocketing the money; even more important, that she was at last being published. Both Hayes and Gallant lived to by 90, as Maurice Gee, my favourite living novelist, who lives in New Zealand, will be in a few days time. Anyone who has not read him and thinks they know what good novels are is in for a thrill. His best-known novel is Plumb, but Going West is as good a novel as I’ve ever read.
10. The best novel I’ve read recently is The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter. Translated from French, it is so well written I thought it must have been written in English.
I am fascinated by re-reading, of how one’s opinions mysteriously change. As I recently came to the end of Anthony Powell’s 12 volume Music of Time for the third time (a series I had once hugely enjoyed) I woke up one morning convinced it was utter rubbish, and that is how I am happy to think of it. Nothing will now make me change my mind. I’m only sorry it took me so long, and for all the other books I might have read instead over so many wasted years. But perhaps they weren’t wasted, and I needed to read it for a third time to finally know what I thought. I’ve just had the opposite reaction to a biography of the golfer Henry Cotton which I had disliked on first reading and now think marvellous. How do we explain these contrasting views? Is the change in me, or the book, or the relationship between the two?
My favourite book is a short compendium of magazine pieces called Golfer At Large by Charles Price. I know it is my favourite because my opinion of it never changes. Every time I pick it up, even knowing word for word what is coming, I am as excited as I was as a boy, opening the curtains on the morning of a cricket match to see the sun shining; or, later in life, that it wasn’t raining too heavily to put me off playing golf.
Hit balls, talk balls, probably write balls too!
From the back of the book
Bill and Pete, best friends since school, are approaching 70 and now retired, but still meet regularly to chew the fat about sport, politics, their stagnant love lives, mutual friends and, increasingly, Bill’s fractious relationship with his rebellious son Ivan.
Spanning the four years from the Brexit Referendum to the end of the first Coronavirus lockdown, we watch these characters, last seen in About Time, stumble their way through chaos, mistrust, generational differences and blossoming relationships, finding new life and unexpected happiness in uncertain times.