Tom Lappin meets ANDREW DAVIES, probably the finest TV dramatist in the business, and on the evidence of his second novel,
B. Monkey, one of the more perceptive writers about relationships.
ore than any other writer in Britain at the moment, Andrew Davies has the ability to capture the inarticulacy of love, the feelings behind the words, the looks behind the language. Others can pick out the highlights, the bright colours, but Davies has an unrivalled eye for the shades, the little bits of comedy and tragedy that make up a relationship. A former academic from a Welsh chapel background, somewhere over the years he has picked up an unnerving familiarity with the sordid excitement of male-female relationships that makes his writing often embarrassingly familiar, exceedingly funny and heartbreakingly poignant.
His latest novel, B. Monkey takes a familiar Davies theme, the meeting of opposites, Alan, a quiet, neurotic, intense male and the astonishing Beatrice. ‘I like the bad ones myself,’ says Davies, and in Beatrice, he has created his baddest, boldest, wildest and most vivid character yet, a one-time graffiti artist and not-so-petty criminal, seeking redemption through the love of a decent, if repressed, sort. The novel is a stunning parade of obsession, despair, elation, violence, sex and above all, love. It’s probably the most painfully accurate depiction of a sexual relationship you’ll read this or any other year, although don’t expect to find it appearing on any literary prize shortlists.
The trouble is, you see, Davies isn’t a ‘proper’ novelist. He has made his name as a television dramatist with his own A Very Peculiar Practice (featuring Bob Buzzard, one of the finest comic creations of the decade) and adaptations of others’ works that have included House Of Cards, The Old Devils and Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, ie , some of the best British television drama of recent years. That cuts no ice with the literary establishment, and although Davies is a no-bullshit sort of writer, unashamed of the fact that his work is hugely popular with mass audiences, he does ﬁnd a little of that snobbery still affects him, confessing that he gets a thrill out of seeing his work reviewed in the posh papers’ literary pages rather than in the TV columns.
‘When I was growing up,’ he says, ‘the novel was the thing, or the stage-play, but certainly not writing for television. And I am aware now that there’s a kind of feeling about that people like me are TV writers and we shouldn’t think that we can muscle in on
10 The List 9 — 22 October 1992
the novelists’ territory. It’s alright to be a
sort of genre writer, but they don’t want us
writing literary novels. And that attitude
comes about because TV dramas are so
evanescent. They’re not around even as long as cinema films which at least have this afterlife of video and get revived from time to time. A TV show gets repeated once maybe and then it goes away. It’s very strange that, isn’t it, because it gets watched by such a large number of people? Three or four million is a poor audience on television, but it would be a mega best-seller for a noveL’
The ‘TV dramatists can’t do novels’ squad will probably use the structure of 8. Monkey to reinforce their arguments. Davies has written the whole novel in the first person, using both characters’ viewpoints delivered direct to the reader without the obstacle of an authorial presence. It’s an approach not often attempted in novels (Davies cites Maggie Gee’s Where Are The Snows as a slight influence) but one which comes naturally to a TV writer. ‘It’s something I’ve levelled at myself. I know that being a dramatist, I’m a bit shy about appearing as an omniscient author. But I don’t like it in others’ works either. The authors I admire, even if they are writing in the third person, are nearly always writing internally.
‘I suppose it was a way of overcoming fear of being a novelist that I chose the first person, but it’s as if I could kid myselfthat my own opinions and thoughts and feelings aren’t going to come through, but of course
they do really. When you write a play or a first-person novel you can’t help but include your own world view.’
If pressurised. Davies will admit that personal experience does influence the numerous and explicit sex scenes in his writing. Plenty of writers have a tendency to go into autopilot when depicting sex between their characters, understandably preferring not to give too much away about their own nocturnal activities. Davies is less coy. ‘A friend said to me about my first novel, Getting Hurt, “the sex is very good, but too good. You just pick out all the bits where it works. Who has sex like this all the time? You’re just going to make a lot of boys and girls miserable, because they don’t have such good fucks as that.“ And then she had to go and say “Think what it was like between you and me to start with . .
‘So I thought, yes, let’s really go to town and write about the anguish of failed sex, because people will be able to identify with that. These characters are such desperate people, that it seems like death not being able to get it on . . . well it does seem like that doesn’t it? Ifyou’re mad about each other, and it doesn’t work, it’s anguish, you just want to cry all the time.’
Davies professes to find depicting sex on TV more problematic (although it didn’t prevent him contriving rather more nude scenes for Tara Fitzgerald’s character in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes than Angus Wilson’s original novel). ‘The reason why there’s such a lot ofsex in my books and such disgusting language, is because ofthe conventions ofthe form.’ he says. ‘You can do so much more in the novel, you are allowed to do more, whereas you have to restrain yourselves on TV. Also, even I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the way sex on television can make you feel like a voyeur staring at a couple going at it on the other side of your living room.’
‘In a book you hope the reader is going to identify with the characters so it’s a different process. There’s also the problem of what you’re asking some poor actor to do. They do feel very uncomfortable having to simulate sex while a bunch of fat blokes stand around in old cardigans saying “will I
‘l’ve always thought Pride And Prejudice was a book about sex and money really, and the social comedy was just a surface veneer. These were real people with real bodies, panting hearts and sweat and muscles and erections.’
change the lights?” Terrible. So I’d much rather keep the really sexy stuff for the books where it’s just in your head and the reader’s head.’
More than a few self-appointed cultural custodians got a touch hot under the collar last year, when it was leaked that Davies was working on a steamy adaptation ofJane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. The idea was put on ice for a while, but now it seems that London Weekend have rekindled their enthusiasm. ‘I think they really ought to do it because everybody got so fascinated with the idea of a sexy Pride and Prejudice’ he says. ‘People talked a lot of rubbish about the bonking scenes I was going to include!