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08 Jan 2012

‘The Great British Novelist You’ve Probably Never Heard Of’

A few years ago I read an article with this title and have been quoting the novelist in question – Stephen Benatar – in my talks ever since. He is a master at just the sort of self-promotion I am always telling authors they need to be able to do. His first novel was published when he was 44 and a later one made it to the Booker long list, but in the tough recent years he has had to resort to self-publishing. He’s done something that almost no self-publisher bothers to do: employed a halfway-decent designer, so that the words look good on the page. (Believe me, it makes such a difference.) And he tirelessly organises appearances at Waterstones and elsewhere to promote his work. I met him at one such event recently, and he assured me that Waterstones were always happy to have him: he was hoping to sell a hundred copies in the King’s Road in the course of a weekend.

Well, he sold one to me. I chose The Man on the Bridge because Stephen said it was the book he’d like to be remembered for. It’s about a young man on the make in London in the 1950s, who is taken up and treated lavishly by a famous painter, whom he in turn treats callously. Stephen’s very good on the difficulties of maintaining a homosexual relationship in the days when it was illegal; and remarkably adept at making us see the world through the eyes of a not very sympathetic narrator. So I’m happy that, having praised Stephen’s self-promoting skills for years, I can now praise his writing abilities too.

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