EARLY IN MY career I used to reply with outrage to the many monstrous injustices any worthwhile writer receives at the hands of the critics. The litany is familiar: charges of professional incompetence, poor craftsmanship, plagiarism, etc. A favourite ploy is to pick up on a subtle distinction the author has carefully made between X and Y and then announce that the author has failed to distinguish X from Y. This is rather like that well-known technique of management consultants. Interview the senior personnel in a firm about what they think their management shortcomings are, and then send in a report, complete with an invoice for tens of thousands of pounds, which simply repeats the misgivings expressed by the interviewees as if they were the original insights of the consultants. It is, of course, one of the peculiarities of being a writer that one makes enemies of people one has never clapped eyes on and often never will. Sometimes the hostile critic writes in terms of such unbalanced stridency that one imagines an amnesic interlude. Did I seduce his wife or his daughter in a moment of madness? I must have done, for surely only such egregious wickedness would justify such an effusion of critical bile? Alas, there is something about authorship that elicits the worst forms of human behaviour and emotion in others.
I used to take my cue from Sir Richard Burton and reason that if one did not answer one's critics, this was to concede their case. Burton always flew into a towering rage if anyone ever criticised his mastodonic productions. In his case the critics