I’ll have a full report on my adventures at AWP in Chicago next week, but for now, enjoy this piece by Ryan Krausmann, who kindly offers us all the cocktail chatter we’ll ever need about Kingsley Amis.
(And check out Ryan’s wonderful previous post, one of the site’s most popular, about his bold move to quit his job and write his novel.)
Fourteen Things You Don’t Know About Kingsley Amis
By Ryan Krausmann
I just finished Zachary Leader’s 2006 biography The Life of Kingsley Amis. Amis (1922-1995) is considered the greatest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century. It’s an excellent book. Haven’t got around to it yet? Don’t worry, I have blog-ified its 996 pages for you. Personally, it took me three renewals from the Philadelphia City Institute Library to finish it.
1. As an only child his mother, Peggy Amis, offered verbal encouragement for him to finish the food on his plate. She would divide the unconsumed portion into what he was allowed to leave and what he must eat.
2. While at Oxford University he met the poet Philip Larkin who would remain a life-long friend. Their constant correspondence – spanning six decades - provides much of the material for The Letters of Kingsley Amis published in 2000.
3. During the Second World War, which interrupted his studies at Oxford University, Amis choose to join a Royal Signals unit for officer-cadets as he was less likely to get killed there than in other service branches.
4. Amis’s first finished book-length fiction “The Legacy” was conceived in the winter of 1945-46, begun in the summer of 1947, completed in the summer of 1948, much revised and rejected in the next two and a half years and never published.
5. His first published novel Lucky Jim received almost uniformly positive reviews. Anthony Powell writing in the defunct weekly Punch called Amis “the first promising young novelist who has turned up for a long time.” It remains in print today in both England and the United States.
6. Lucky Jim won the Somerset Maugham Award administered by the Society of Authors in 1955. Twenty-three years later, his second son Martin Amis won it for his first novel, The Rachel Papers.
7. It is speculated, although never corroborated by tests, that Amis’s third child Sally Amis was not his daughter. The supposed father, a family friend, was not confronted and Sally Amis died in 2000 at the age of forty-six having never been alerted to this possibility.
8. In 1968 Amis wrote a James Bond novel, Colonel Sun, under the pen name Robert Markham.
9. Before Amis’s knighthood in 1990 he wrote a note to Julian Barnes worrying that he was bound to fall over the Queen’s foot, fart or say fuck.
10. Due to the extreme generosity of Amis’s second wife, Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, who was seriously ill, stayed in Amis’s house. He died of pancreatic cancer in that house with his fourteen year old son, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, holding his hand.
11. After winning the Booker Prize in 1986 for his eighteenth novel The Old Devils, Amis signed a two-book contract with his publisher worth 200,000 pounds.
12. In his seventy-three years of life, Amis never learned to drive a car.
13. Amis spent his entire life utterly afraid of the dark and of being alone.
14. In 1996, exactly one year after Amis’s death, a memorial service was held in St Martin-in-the-Fields. Among the novelists in attendance were Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipul, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie.
About: Ryan Krausmann is still at work on his first brilliant, genius novel. It remains unfinished and unpublished. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.