Thursday, May 27, 2004

Delicate ground

Yesterday's newspapers reported that the UK literary agent Rod Hall had been found stabbed to death. Rod Hall represented chiefly film and television writers rather than novelists.

This is a very sad event, and it would be wise to avoid facetious remarks about aggrieved clients and -- more particularly -- would-be clients. However, if I were the police officer in charge of the inquiry, I would certainly be making a list of such people.

The same thought seems to have occurred to others. Today's Publishers Lunch newsletter, for instance, carries an item headed 'Agent murdered; writer missing.' There is a link to a BBC news item about Rod Hall's death, but so far as I can see this report includes no mention of a writer at all.

Of course there are other possible motives for murder besides a disagreement over business matters. The press reports don't actually say that Rod Hall was gay, but they tell us very firmly that he 'lived alone.' Which seems to constitute a definite nudge in the ribs. Or is it just me? British newspapers are so harassed by the libel laws that they talk in code half the time, and sometimes one gets it wrong.

Anyway, today's carries a link to the Guardian which tells us that the police are questioning a man in his twenties in connection with Rod Hall's death; the man's profession is unstated.

Meanwhile, by coincidence, Publishers Lunch also gives us a link to an Australian journal which quotes a Random House editor as saying that she is being stalked by a writer whose work she rejected seven years ago. 'Whenever I'm chairing something or on a panel, I look down into the audience and she's always there, in the front row. It's a bit weird,' says Jane Palfreyman. Not only weird but worrying, I would have thought.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of either of these two events, it has to be admitted that writers are typically rather peculiar and unstable people. A few years ago, Kay Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, produced some research on British writers. This showed that 38% of a group of eminent writers and artists had been treated for a mood disorder of one kind or another; of these, 75% had had antidepressants or lithium prescribed, or had been hospitalised. Of playwrights, 63% had been treated for depression. These proportions are many times higher than in the population at large.

No comments: