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David Cook Biography

David Cook comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Preston, Lancashire, 1940. Education: The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, 1959-61. Career: Since 1961 professional actor. Writer-in-residence, St. Martin's College, Lancaster, 1982-83. Awards: Writers Guild award, 1977; American Academy E.M. Forster award, 1977; Hawthornden prize, 1978; Arts Council bursary, 1979; Southern Arts prize, 1985; Arthur Welton scholarship, 1991.; Odd Fellow Concern Book award, 1992. Agent: Greene and Heaton Ltd., 37 Goldhawk Road, London W12 8QQ.



Albert's Memorial. London, Secker and Warburg, 1972.

Happy Endings. London, Secker and Warburg, 1974.

Walter. London, Secker and Warburg, 1978; Woodstock, New York, Overlook Press, 1985.

Winter Doves. London, Secker and Warburg, 1979; Woodstock, NewYork, Overlook Press, 1985.

Sunrising. London, Secker and Warburg, 1984; Woodstock, NewYork, Overlook Press, 1986.

Missing Persons. London, Secker and Warburg, 1986.

Crying Out Loud. London, Secker and Warburg, 1988.

Walter and June. London, Secker and Warburg, 1989.

Second Best. London, Faber, 1991.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Finding Out," in Mae West Is Dead, edited by Adam Mars-Jones. London, Faber, 1983.

"Growing Away," in Daily Telegraph (London), 1994.


Square Dance (produced London, 1968).

If Only (televised 1984). Published in Scene Scripts 3, edited by RoyBlatchford, London, Longman, 1982.

Radio Play:

Pity, 1989.

Television Plays:

Willy, 1973; Jenny Can't Work Any Faster, 1975;Why Here?, 1976; Couples series, 1976; A Place Like Home series, 1976; Repent at Leisure, 1978; Mary's Wife, 1980; Walter, from his own novel, 1982; Walter and June, from his own novel, 1982; If Only, 1984; Singles Week-end, 1984; Love Match, 1986; Missing Persons, from his own novel, 1990; Closing Numbers, 1994; also scripts for Schools Television.


Second Best, from his own novel, 1994.


Film Adaptation:

Second Best, 1994.

I began writing because I was an out-of-work actor, and needed an occupation which would be creatively satisfying. From the beginning, therefore, I brought an actor's concern with character to the task of writing fiction, and all my work is based on the same sort of act of empathy by which any actor brings life to an invented person. My discovery was that I now had to make this empathetic act for all my characters, not just one, seeing through their eyes, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, and to do it without the help of a text; creating the text was up to me.

So the questions for me always are "Who are you?" "How do you live?" "How have you arrived at this condition?", and from the answers, logic will make a narrative. My first novel was about an old bag-lady whom I used to see sitting in doorways near South Kensington Station. I did not write a story; I wrote little pieces of what the details of her life might be, and after a while they began to form themselves into a story. All my work since, both the novels and the TV plays, has been based on empathy and research, and with a strong bias to those who have been called "the walking wounded." When I decided that my fifth novel, Sunrising, should be set in a time which was not my own, the research became different in kind. I could no longer walk to Fleetwood or work with autistic children, but had to find my material in books, and while it is not exactly easy for someone with no academic education whatever to gain access to Oxford's Bodleian Library, it was done. Now that I have the taste, for it, I shall write a sequel to Sunrising one day, but I do not anticipate that I shall abandon the walking wounded of the here and now; they press in too closely.

* * *

David Cook is a stage and television actor who began to write novels in the early 1970s. His first novel, Albert's Memorial, was acclaimed for its originality and its sharply detailed prose, and subsequent novels like Happy Endings and Walter won prestigious prizes. Finely and delicately crafted, Cook's novels build the interior perspectives of his characters with a meticulous sense of authenticity and convincing detail. Characteristically, Cook's characters are isolated, lonely, inward-dwelling creatures whose consciousness is limited by some form of impairment or crippling circumstance. Physical or emotional indigents, they wander through a world they perceive intensely, although never accurately, in only bits and pieces. The juxtaposition of their partial points of view, which Cook always sees sympathetically, with an assumed, seldom stated "normal" point of view provides the tension and the emotional energy of the novels. Albert's Memorial, for example, concentrates on two isolated creatures: Mary, who after her husband's death, tries to live in the cemetery where he is buried and later tramps to the seaside resort where they spent their honeymoon, interested only in the conversations she holds with him inside her head, and Paul, who establishes trivial routines in his more geographically circumscribed wanderings after his homosexual lover suddenly dies. In Walter, the world is seen through Walter's autistic point of view, tracing the origins and effects of the debility that has led to his being institutionalized. Cook's central characters are all dependent on others, or institutions, or fantasies, for a survival they cannot manage on their own.

Cook's characters welcome impingements on their isolation, respond to relationships that break through their defenses or their occluded and partial visions. In Albert's Memorial, Mary and Paul connect, finally living with each other and sharing the fantasy of Mary's phantom pregnancy (she has been raped while tramping, and mistakes symptoms because she and her husband had avoided having children by never fully consummating their love). The relationship exists in mutual dependency, as does that between Walter from the earlier novel and June, a more intellectually functioning although emotionally severely unstable resident of the mental institution, as they escape to wander England in Winter Doves.

Characters like Mary and Paul, Walter and June, are seen against the background of contemporary England. The reader is always aware of an ordinary England dimly seen through the distorted half-lens of the impaired, and Cook never explicitly and seldom even implicitly provides any significant social commentary. The understated conflict between the characters and the larger world is often effectively rendered as comedy, as in the scene in which Paul, consulting a doctor because he is worried that Mary's "pregnancy" may be endangered, is so haltingly unable to articulate his concern that the doctor tests him for gonorrhea and administers a preventive injection. Similarly, wandering characters, in Winter Doves and other novels, duplicate a muted version of the comic picaresque, as they clash with the society that they cannot understand. Cook frequently depicts representatives of the Welfare State who try to help or control the indigents. These representatives, nurses, social workers, custodians in mental hospitals, doctors, and bureaucrats, are generally benign and well-intentioned, although unable to touch or assuage the deeper disturbances of the central characters. England's postwar emphasis on the social services is seen as praiseworthy and humane, although never finally relevant, as if no social issue or characterization is ever as significant as is the tenuous establishment of the individual identity.

Much of that identity in Cook's fictional world is physical and direct. He concentrates on immediate experience, describing with acute sensitivity how his characters touch, feel, reason, and communicate. Long passages detail the tiring efforts necessary to establish oneself as a squatter in an uncompleted office building or the elaborate preparation for and physical progress of the homosexual love affair. In the emphasis on the physical and emotional, the detailed representation of how the impaired see and feel, Cook is attempting to shape his carefully developed prose to get at a primal quality within the human creature. Cook's versions of the primal are never aggressive or animalistic; rather, his novels are most frequently populated by birds, pigeons and doves, in both plot and metaphor. The birds suggest the delicacy, fragility, and tenuousness of identity, the only kind of precarious existence these impaired creatures can manage. Cook sees the bird-like fragility and tenacity of the creatures of limited consciousness with enormous sympathy that, because of his writing's directness, specificity, and lack of pretense, never descends to sentimentality.

—James Gindin

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