An interesting story about a nobody
February 2, 2011 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Writer anecdote filter. Who was the writer in this little story?

In so many words: An accomplished British novelist and a companion were sitting in their club, looking out on a rainy London street. They watched a frumpy middle-aged businessman shuffle up to a bus stop.

The companion said "Now there's a dull life. You probably couldn't think of anything interesting to write about that fellow."

The writer said "To the contrary. If you could perfectly capture that man's hopes and dreams and disappointments, you'd have the greatest seller in the history of literature."

Who was the writer? Where did this story come from?
posted by LonnieK to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Grar--There was a very similar anecdote I read online recently, and I can't find it. Older, established British writer hectors his younger companion to write a particular story--even over decades, always asking, "did you write that story yet?" The younger man is now himself an old man, and has written the story, which was released in the past couple of months. I swore I saw it on the NYT or the Guardian, but now I can't find it. Blerg.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2011

The author in the Admiral's anecdote was Sinclair Lewis. Not a Brit.
posted by Billiken at 1:20 PM on February 2, 2011

Double blerg! I completely misremembered everything. In any event, here's the NYT story, which is thematically similar to your question. Sorry!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2011

Thx both for the answers. But I'm confused -- are we reading the same article?

It's a great story, but if something in it resembles the story I asked about, I'm missing it.
posted by LonnieK at 5:59 PM on February 2, 2011

The point of the conversation in the story I remember was this: that even the dullest, most ordinary-seeming life has heights & depths, hope & despair, and the greatest success in writing is to capture these emotions, because they are engage readers profoundly.
posted by LonnieK at 6:01 PM on February 2, 2011

To be clear, I was focusing on the older established author giving the "bestseller" to the younger Tyro. In my misremembered version, it was actually Sinclair Lewis telling his assistant to write an alternate history of John Wilkes Booth. In your version, it is an older British author telling a younger author that in mastering the life of even a "dull" person, he could have the story of the ages. The similarity is in the relationship between the older and younger writers.

In any event, I misremembered the content of the news story I read; I understand the gist of your question.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:06 PM on February 2, 2011

That makes sense. I was more focused on the aspect of "dull" being interesting.

It's also interesting -- must be a coincidence -- that I thought I recalled reading my story, many years back, in a book by none other than Barnaby Conrad. (Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters). But I've combed that book a few times, and haven't found it.
posted by LonnieK at 7:30 PM on February 2, 2011

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