Take this business of autobiography. A man or woman gets to a certain age, a certain prominence, if one dare use the word, and a publisher asks them to put down the story of their life in book form. The newly commissioned author comes up with a memoir that takes them only as far as their late teens, because their childhood was one chock full of scandal and sauciness: school expulsions, emotional explosions, erotic disasters, amatory obsession, the distressing nature of dawning sexuality, credit card fraud, trial, imprisonment and suchlike. They give the book some obvious and straightforward title like – oh, I don’t know – Over Edom Shall I Cast Out My Shoe and life rolls on.
The publishers, being pleased that this childhood memoir sold pretty well, ask the author if they might have another autobiography up his or her sleeve. Off the author goes for a quantity of months to try to hack into shape the story of how the unfortunate young person we left at the end of the first memoir transformed themselves into someone lucky enough to go to a good university, meet stunningly talented and influential people and find work and a measure of success in the wonderful business called show. It is a story of close friendships and lucky accidents and the author might call it, for example, The Seymour Chronicles — if their name happened to be Seymour that is.
Then we come to part three. The very idea of a person who isn’t a Field Marshall or ex-President writing a third volume of autobiography might seem more than a little hubristic, but this person does have more to tell, they really do.
But here is the problem — and I might as well come clean now and let you into the secret that the hypothetical unknown author we have been talking about is me. I. Fry — the problem is that the third story in this saga concerns a rather messy subject. A subject like so many in the world, especially the world of publicly known people, that is both over-exposed and over-discussed and under-exposed and under-discussed. The subject is drugs and dependency.
I hope I am not a paranoid person, but I do know there will be many absolutely revolted by an autobiography that reveals the sordid details of a young man who should know better partying himself almost to a stupor and playing chicken with fate in so futile, predictable and clichaic a way. No matter how many times I say in the book that I am not proud of myself, no matter how many times I berate myself, despite the title of the book being More Fool Me, there will be those who choose to believe that I am a) pathetically hand-wringing and begging for sympathy or b) even more pathetically boasting about wild Soho BoHo days, stories of which are ten a penny and so vieux jeu.
The only point of writing an autobiography, or so at least it seems to me, is to be honest. And in this book I have been utterly candid about a period of my life in which I spent an enormous amount of time and money on cocaine powder. I know how stupid that is, but I also know better people than me have found themselves on the same path. The late, glorious and hugely missed Robin Williams was particularly brilliant on the subject of what he called the Devil’s Dandruff or the Peruvian Marching Powder, which he also was slave to for a number of years. “A drug that makes you paranoid and impotent? Oh goodie, I’ll have more of that, please!”
How to tread the path then between sensationalism, self-pity, braggadocio and mimsy evasion? I hope I have managed truthfully to tell the story of those days, but to have done so in an entirely earnest and po faced manner is contrary to my every instinct and also, I think, unfaithful to the truth of life. Making light of something heavy makes it easier to bear. It is not always the right thing to do, but unending gravity is as tedious as unending levity. Facetiousness in the face of suicidal impulses and insane bravado would not be wise or apt I think, but I know there will be those who will only ever believe such a subject can be written about in the literary equivalent of hushed medical or clerical whispers. Confessional tones, with bowed head and supplicant hands — no self-pity, but not too much self-laceration either and certainly no self-justification. I have tried to avoid all those self- faults, but heaven knows a spiteful sprite determined to make me look bad could fillet some passages and misrepresent the book as a crowing recommendation of coke or an unacceptably weaselly and greasy plea for understanding.
It is not supposed to be any of those things. It is meant to tell the story of a foolish period in the life of an often very foolish man.
I have a feeling that the honesty of some parts of the book will attract the unwelcome attention of certain columnists and commentators. I do not read newspapers as I think is pretty well known, but I expect that Peter Hitchens or Judy Burchill or some other slug will be tweezered out of the little crack of rock they inhabit and told to slime over me, which is a thing they apparently like to do. Well, whatever keeps the little darlings happy. To be hated by the hateful is one of the great achievements in life. What the eye doesn’t see the stomach doesn’t heave over.
I will at one and the same time be hunkering down, drawing up the blankets and turning off the lights and going round Britain and Scotland doing what publishers call “events”: one and a half hour talks and readings followed by signings. Which all sounds rather hypocritical I suppose. Though I think ‘ambiguous’ or ‘equivocal’ or ‘interestingly complex’ sound much better and more apt, don’t you?
I shall almost certainly be off the guest lists of the mighty as a result of some of the confessional in the book and I should imagine I have entirely dished my chances of being granted the Order of the Thistle or a life peerage, but I can probably soldier on with the knowledge that the truth will set me free.
Or will it imprison me? Every time I am out in public and need to go for a pee, will people be saying as they see me disappear into the Gents, “Uh-oh! Stephen’s back on the coke again…’?
Only time and Volume Four will tell.