When I wrote FESS I did it in a blaze of energy which came from the emotion generated by uncovering old memories: these were of events which I had not revisited for decades. And when that novelty lessened, there was the sheer pleasure of just getting my life down on paper (technically on screen, but let's not be pedantic).So it all came out in a rush though not chronologically, in the order that appears in the book. Tributaries started by different associations took me off in other directions - collateral benefit rather than damage. So by the end I wasn't entirely sure what I'd written, how much childhood, how much adulthood, how much sex, violence and rock'n'roll, how much boring but necessary dross - because actually there are enormous amounts of dross in our lives and some of it has to be included, or the book becomes just your Greatest Hits. And there should be some Greatest Misses as well, otherwise it's just a fake account of a charmed life, in which case why aren't you living in Hampstead with an Aston Martin outside your Georgian house? This is easy to say but, believe me, it's quite hard to pin up your humiliations for all to read. Frank Sinatra evidently had a troubled past, largely concealed; but his Mafia friendships became known and dogged him throughout his career. No-one is all good or bad and an autobiography should reflect both poles
"Regrets, I've had a few
But then again
Too few to mention...."
An autobiography which is just a PR job is pointless: nobody's that good, and so it would reek of falsehoods and have no credibilty. On the other hand you may have issues and experiences that are entirely personal and private which the world does not have a right to know about, if you prefer that. It's only a personal view, but in FESS I have been scrupulously honest in what I have written about (with the exception of where I have, unknowingly, simply got things wrong), but also created no-go areas which I have deliberately not explored at all. For example, FESS has almost no coverage of my marriages and why they foundered. This does create a vacuum in the heart of the book, but I judged it to be unfair on my former partners - and even more so on the children. It was a sacrifice but a necessary one.
So when I had written most of it, I had a read-through to get an overview, to see whether it needed any reorganisation, extra bits or deletions, and to generally get a feel for how the whole thing would seem to a reader. I surprised myself with its diversity, the sheer number of topics I'd given some sort of coverage to, and wondered if it was just 'too much'. I started to note them down, and here they are in A-Z form:
Andi O, arson, Bristol, Brown Clee Hill, beauty, criminals, CND, Davids, doctorate, dumped, East Enders, football, friendships, George Harrison, girls and women, Harvard, Israel, Jewishness, John Hurt, Kosovo, Lower East Side, masturbation, May 1968, murder, music, NYC, orphans, paedophilia, police, politics, PreRaphaelites, protest, racism, Romania, sex education (absence of), sadists, Shropshire, snogging, teachers, Special Branch, The Suit, Tottenham Hotspur, Udarnik, University of Westminster, vicissitudes of fortune, wasps, Xistentialism, yoghourt, zero breathing, a.k.a.death.
It's nothing like a complete list, but even from this sample it's clear that there is no common theme they could be structured round. Commonplace as it is, they just cannot be organised in any way other than chronologically. Some people liked the idea of making them completely random, but my Welsh influences insisted that they be very, very tidy. Random presentation provides a nice element of surprise and variety but also brings some confusion through things happening in the 'wrong' order. Time's arrow probably hits the target.