Thursday, October 05, 2006

Biography - so what's 'professional' mean?

A while back I discussed with the biographer Carole Angier what the notion of ‘professional’ means to a biographer. She was quite adamant that it meant going to the ends of the earth to ensure every major source had been thoroughly searched.

I see the logic and the passion of that stance, though am keeping to the more journalistic view of ‘professional’ just now, being one of keeping deadlines. I have trawled the earth for my stock of original J.S.Haldane source materials, to some real success. However, important documents did once exist and have gone missing from all records. Where is Haldane’s own typewritten memoir? Where are the diaries of his daughter Naomi Mitchison, his son JBS Haldane? Where is his correspondence with his colleague C.G.Douglas? I’ve found references to them all, but the documents themselves elude me. Did any of it go up in an Indian bonfire, when JBS Haldane’s widow was ridding herself of her ant-eaten dowry of irreplaceable Haldania?

‘There’s always the paperback,’ my editor at Simon & Schuster, Andrew Gordon, consoles me. It seems the concept of a deadline is quite real to him too.

So I’m steaming away towards a full manuscript by the end of the month. Once that’s achieved any obvious gaps will be apparent, which I’ll plug with more research. 2,000 words a day seems attainable at the moment, with weekends off. V.S.Pritchett used to walk up the stairs to his small writing room seven days a week, but I know that is not sustainable for me. I’m already fighting off the migraines by Friday afternoons, and need my weekends to recharge.

I’m also writing on ‘retreat’ in France. October is proving beautiful here. What a waste not to step outdoors at least some of the time, watch the vines changing colour, and sip their fruits.


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