Writers love literary spats, says Julie Burchill in UnHerd. I’ve certainly had my fair share. When I gave Martin Amis a scathing review, he wrote that he felt “a kind of generalised species shame that I belong to the same breed as her”. Flannery O’Connor said Ayn Rand made “Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky”; Mary McCarthy accused Lillian Hellman of being so dishonest that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’”. But Gore Vidal was perhaps “the worst/best”. He hated nearly everyone – especially Truman Capote. He claimed that when they first met, he wasn’t wearing his glasses and mistook Capote for a “colourful ottoman”. “When I sat down on it, it squealed.” When he learnt of Capote’s death in 1984, Vidal called it “a wise career move”.
Why do we do it? Attention and guilt, mostly. “When you consider the world of work, and the boring, arduous things people do eight hours a day, perhaps we writers appreciate how easy our lives are.” Creating trouble allows us to feel our lives are “harder than they are”. And writers love procrastinating. “If you’re engaged in a war of words, you’re still actually writing; it’s still helping you avoid Your Novel.” Perhaps we should follow F Scott Fitzgerald’s advice. “I avoided writers very carefully,” he wrote during his nervous breakdown, “because they can perpetuate trouble as no one else can.”