Who they think they are

Julian Symons

  • You’ve had your time by Anthony Burgess
    Heinemann, 391 pp, £17.50, October 1990, ISBN 0 434 09821 3
  • An Immaculate Mistake: Scenes from Childhood and Beyond by Paul Bailey
    Bloomsbury, 167 pp, £14.99, October 1990, ISBN 0 7475 0630 2

Volume One of Anthony Burgess’s autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God, left our hero in January 1960 under sentence of death, no more than a few months to live. With one bound, or at least one letter from the Neurological Institute, he is free. ‘The protein content of my spinal liquor had gone down dramatically’: the death sentence is cancelled. Too late: he is already writing at express speed to provide for his widow, and can’t stop. He is not quite the equal of my friend John Creasey, who once told me he tried to keep himself down to writing a dozen crime stories a year but found he wrote 14. The Burgess production rate worked out at five and a half novels in the pseudo-terminal year. And eight years later it was his wife who died.

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