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Clifford (Leonard Clark) Hanley Biography - Clifford Hanley Comments:

life novels study calvin

(1972) Dancing in the Streets, my first published book, was written at the suggestion of my publisher, who wanted a book about the city of Glasgow. At the time I thought it a rather pedestrian recital of childhood memories and was taken aback by its critical and commercial success (it is still used as background reading in schools of social studies and urbanology). My first novel, Love from Everybody, written previously but published later, was frankly intended as a light entertainment, to make money, and was later filmed as Don't Bother to Knock. Having then retired from journalism, I wrote what I considered my first serious work, The Taste of Too Much, as a study of "ordinary" adolescence, without crime and adventitious excitement, and it may well be my most successful book in the sense of fully achieving the author's original conception. In the subsequent novels under my own name, I think my intention was to look at some areas of life—a businessman's troubles, the family situation, the agonies of work in the theater—simply in my own way, without reference to fashionable literary conceptions. I have often been surprised when people found the novels "funny" because their intention was serious; but an author can't help being what he is. I do see the human condition as tragic (since decay and death are the inevitable end), but I don't distinguish between comedy and tragedy. Funerals can be funny too, and life is noble and absurd at the same time. I also insist on distinguishing between seriousness and solemnity, which are opposite rather than similar. On looking back, I realize that the tone of the novels tends to be affirmation rather than despair. This may be a virtue or a fault, or an irrelevance—a novelist should probably leave such judgments to critics and simply get on wivh what he must do. Maybe they also betray some kind of moral standpoint of which I was unconscious. This was explicit, in fact, in my first professionally produced play, The Durable Element, which was a study of the recurrent urge to crucify prophets. It was also deliberate in The Chosen Instrument, a pseudonymous Henry Calvin ten years later, in which a contemporary thriller mode was used to do a sort of feasibility study on the New Testament mythology. (The intention was so well disguised that no critic noticed it).

But I suppose cheerfulness keeps breaking through. I am an entertainer as well as novelist, and the two may be compatible. My first commandment as a writer is not at all highfalutin. It is Thou Shalt Not Bore. A Skinful of Scotch is an irreverent guide to one man's Scotland and was written for fun. So, originally, were the Henry Calvin thrillers. I enjoy reading thrillers and I adopted the pen-name simply to feel uninhibited. The thriller too is a morality, but the morality is acceptable only if it has character and pace. These are not intellectual mysteries but tales of conflict between good and evil. My later work for the theater was exclusively devoted to calculated entertainment and I am glad that people were actually entertained. I find now that I see life in more somber terms, but whether this will show in future novels is hard to tell. It may even be a temporary condition.

(1991) Self-assessment has always struck me as a futile exercise, in the sense that we can study a bug through a microscope, but we can't study the microscope through itself. I wrote my novels for fun or from internal compulsion (the two are the same, maybe) but have always seen myself as an entertainer, so they were intended for the reader's fun, which could include laughter, fear, enlightenment, puzzlement, and any other response.

They are not bad, probably. I did feel I hit the target with The Taste of Too Much (a committee title I don't like too much) in picturing the pangs of teenage love. School pupils agreed, especially girls, and it seems nothing has changed in 30 years. Nothing But the Best was partly stolen from life, and when I myself was widowed in 1990 I was interested in how my own responses followed those of the hero. Another Street, Another Dance was compulsive. The heroine, Meg, came into my mind fully formed, I was back in the time and place of my autobiographical first book Dancing in the Streets. It went onto the typewriter at the rate of 4, 000 to 7, 000 words a day with no hesitation because Meg was in the room with me. A very strange experience.

The Henry Calvin thrillers were entirely for fun, and I can only hope readers have shared it. (Odd, how many Scottish writers have hidden under pseudonyms). Henry was my father's name, and I picked Calvin because in these light tales virtue would triumph over vice, and to hell with some of the grim realities.

Not sure if I'll produce any more. I am now lazy, and comfortably fixed—a serious disincentive to work. But I am being nagged by an idealistic young New Yorker on a voyage of discovery through working-class and academic Glasgow, and I fear I shall have to let him right into the brain to dictate his misadventures and revelations. He is taking over, and I mildly resent that, but life is real and life is earnest, and the gravy is our goal, still.

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