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Ben Myers on Richard, the novel

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James McLaren James McLaren | 14:58 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

Journalist and author Ben Myers has written a fictionalised account of the life of Manic Street Preachers' Richey Edwards, titled Richard.

Published by Picador in October, the book, as Myers explains in a recent NME blog post, is an account of the lyricist's (and sometime guitarist's) life from birth until his disappearance in 1995.

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BBC News: Why novelise the mystery of the Manic Street Preachers?

"Only distance could allow a book of this nature to be written - I never met Richey - and though I don't know what the Manics themselves think, I only hope they appreciate the purity of the intention in documenting a tragic modern mystery," he said in the blog.

Reaction to the book on fan forums and among my own friends on Facebook and the like has been mixed, to say the least. There's a level of protectiveness among music fans of a certain age - and old-school music journalists too - towards the band and Richey.

(NB: A seriously in-depth review of the book, complete with excerpts, is available from A Future In Noise.)

My initial reaction, as a fan of the band since Generation Terrorists, was one of a bad taste in the mouth. The idea that fiction can be used as a scaffold around a factual life - a passed life, or a current one, it doesn't matter - to add to those facts already known, or to explain them, sits uneasily with me, especially given the fact that this is recent, quite painful history.

But neither do I want to condemn something without reading it first. And also I wanted to hear Myers' side of the story. This morning I put a couple of questions to him:

The criticism mostly stems from the fact that, as you admit in your NME blog entry, you never met Richey. How can you square that circle and write something that does Richey justice, accurately reflecting his personality, or do you think that your separation from him enables you to be more objective?

"I think autobiographies can be notoriously one-sided and solipsistic, and biographies often favour hard facts over creative flair or a narrative of sorts, whereas fiction allows room to explore a subject on a different level. Not knowing Richey Edwards could certainly be seen as a drawback, though if I did know him I doubt I would ever have written such a book in the first place because, as you say, that distance allows me to be more objective.

"I should add at this point that many people who friends with Richey, toured with him, drank with him, have been really supportive of the book. Bear in mind if writers were only allowed to write books about people they personally knew there would be no history books in existence.

"I at least feel qualified to tackle the subject as I was an ardent follower of the band during all their early years, have all the early rare records, saw them play loads of times, devoured every interview etc. Part of being a writer is dedicating yourself to research, and unearthing new facts and anecdotes. The difference is, I filtered it all through fiction rather than biography in a way that would be comparable to, say, The Damned United about Brian Clough or I, Claudius by Robert Graves."

I suppose as a Manics fan myself from that era, the question that is most key is - why? You say that he's a modern-day Shakespearian tragic hero, falling on his own sword. But that point of view would explain a biography, not necessarily a work of fiction or semi-fiction. So why choose this direction particularly?

"Would anyone really want to read another biography of the Manic Street Preachers that rehashes the same second hand misinformation about Richey Edwards? As a fan I don't think I would. And you certainly couldn't explore such narrative devices as internal voices, conscience, indecision - by-products of depression, if you like - through a straight-forward, dry biography.

"Richey was a literate man and therefore I feel that literature is the medium through which to attempt to capture what he was about. I would hope that had he read the book he would at least appreciate the attempt to elevate him above the canon of doomed young rock stars. I think he was worth more than any lame Sid Vicious comparisons."

You must have known that by choosing this way of writing about Richey, you'd be opening yourself up to all sorts of criticism... is that something you're comfortable with?

"I'm not comfortable with it, no - who would be? - but I totally accept and understand the criticism, though the hardcore Manics fans who have read the book have been nothing but supportive. They've sent me some nice messages to say so.

"It's getting some good advance reviews too, from the likes of Mojo, The Times, NME, fan sites and so forth. The people who hate the book are the ones who have not yet read it. That seems a little reactionary but, again, understandable..."

Is highlighting the 'lighter' side of Richey's character a main reason for writing the book? Do you think that time has meant that the 3-dimensionality of his character has been lost?

"Really, I wanted to try and show all sides of Richey Edwards - the light, the shade, the playfulness, the academic, the joker, the rock star, the brother, the friend. History is rapidly depicting him as a doomed depressive - loads of people think he was a junkie, which was completely untrue and an unfair representation - and I think there was more to him than that."

And finally, why is this a 'tasteful' book? Many Manics fans on forums have described it as a step too far.

"It's hopefully tasteful because it is sensitively handled. Many Manics fans are rightfully protective of their image of Richey Edwards. But I'm a fan too. If they read it and still think it's step too far, that's fine. But I'd argue that is respectfully and carefully written. This is literature - it's a book about life and friendship and music and travel and Britain. It was two years of writing - it's not some awful tabloid tragedy that concentrates on the negative. All I can say is, it was written from the heart."

I'll certainly give Myers the benefit of the doubt; Richard is obviously a book born out of love. But - like any novel produced about the life of Kurt Cobain or the like - I won't be reading it myself. I think it's simply that such recent a life, with people around who know the man, seems a raw subject for fiction. But I applaud the bravery, certainly.

Many thanks to Scott Andrews for help in organising this interview.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I'm a big fan of the manics and richey who was one of the greatest lyricists of the modern age (since Ian Curtis imo). While I do concur that maybe a fictional bio of his life from a man who did not know him is maybe not a detailed account of Richeys life, I'd imagine as Ben Myers said would be a book that would have interested Richey himself.

    Hopefully it will also as he says make the world see richey in a different light not just as the Self Mutilating Rock Star but as the friend and the brother and companion which Nicky Wire does speak of so fondly whenever he is asked about him.

    I myself think I will buy it just to read it

  • Comment number 2.

    I couldn't buy this book for three reasons.

    Firstly, I don't want my carefully compiled memories to be affected by a fictional account of RJE's life.

    Secondly, I think it takes an intellect greater than the one studied to embark on such a task. There are few that could, and those that do I imagine have to wisdom to not.

    Thirdly, as Nicky Wire quietly put it on Radio 2 last night: It's just so presumptuous.

    I hope that this book does not cause harm. I hope that it contributes to the legend and magnificence of a Rock God. However, out of respect to the Edwards family and all those who are still suffering from his loss, I just can't.

  • Comment number 3.

    Mclaren writes: 'I won't be reading it myself' ... well what the ghell are you doing even talking about it, you come off like a Daily mail reader. It's not a raw subject for fiction, if anything, it's ripe for exploitation, I mean exploration. There's no truth in Autobiography only fiction: Richie carved his arm up and probably committed suicide, because he was so consumed with art and the truth and the need to prove himself to a doubtful world... but as Oscar Wilde once wrote:'a thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it' Richie fictionalized his own life constantly, a self mythologizer and blatant self publicist, how anybody can be up in arms about Myers publish his book is beyond me


  • Comment number 4.

    I think this book will contain many inaccuracies about Rich. After all,the author had never met him,and will never understand what went on in his head.Unless you've lived with depression,as i have,then you just dont know how confined and despaired you feel.

    I think richey was a weak man,but he could handle it.
    I will never read this,it will just bring back a sad memories which i have put to the back of the shelf,the way i think of Rich now is a beautiful tragedy whose work and genius will inspire us all.

    And im sick of people being cocks about it,frankly.

 

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