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Writing about Monsters


Filed under: Non-fiction

Are sinners are more easily brought to life on the page than saints; whether living with a dark character gets a writer down?

Published last year, Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s The Pike scooped three major prizes for non-fiction: the Samuel Johnson, the Duff Cooper and the Costa Biography Award. Her subject, the Italian poet and soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio, was a debauched artist who became a national hero, and as one critic put it his life “becomes more repellent with each page”. Richard Davenport-Hines, the author of highly praised studies of Proust and Ivy Compton-Burnett, international drug traffickers and the Profumo Affair, has also written about the lives of Jack the Ripper, Robert Maxwell, Lord Lucan and Dr Shipman. In a conversation chaired by Selina Hastings, acclaimed biographer of Evelyn Waugh, Rosamund Lehmann and Somerset Maugham, they ask whether sinners are more easily brought to life on the page than saints; whether living with a dark character gets a writer down, or makes them feel better about themselves; and how they think they would have got on with their chosen monsters in real life.