Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remember Richard Adams: "My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today."

Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, died Christmas Eve. Here is Henry Bemis' profile for Adams' 96th birthday last April:

"If a rabbit gave advice and the advice wasn't accepted, he immediately forgot it, and so did everyone else."

Richard George Adams (1920-2016 )
Author, civil servant

Another author who hit a home run with his first book, Richard Adams was Permanent Assistant Secretary in HM Government’s Department of Housing and Local Government when he began making up a story to tell his daughters at on the daily drive to school, or at bedtime. “The stories I told in the car had nearly always been shaped and cut and edited by myself for oral narration. When I was lying down to go to sleep in the evening I would think out the bit of story I was going to tell the girls the next day,” he told The Telegraph two years ago. And they were, frequently, rather alarming:

Richard Adams, no stranger to terrifying children with his tales of rabbits being snared or gassed, narrows his eyes and recites, word-perfect, a lengthy passage from an intensely creepy short story by MR James called The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral. The author of Watership Down has been remembering, with some pride, how he used to petrify his children with scary stories at bedtime. “When you’re little,” he says, “you don’t distinguish between fiction and reality. It’s all reality. And thank goodness for that. I do not believe in talking down to children. Readers like to be upset, excited and bowled over. I can remember weeping when I was little at upsetting things that were read to me, but fortunately my mother and father were wise enough to keep going.”

Despite delivering them to school occasionally shaken, Adams’ daughters demanded he make of his tales a book. He spent two years on the project, and agent upon agent and publisher after publisher rejected it. Finally, one publisher took a flyer on Watership Down, the story of a colony of rabbits in mortal peril. The publisher was so small, only 2500 copies were produced, but the reviews were smashing.

The book was an instant success, selling over a million copies in its first couple of years after publication in 1974.

Adams hardly seemed a writer. He read history at Worcester College, Oxford from 1938 to 1940. He spent six years in the Army through World War II, returned to Oxford for his BA in history in 1948 and his MA in 1953 He came close to a first, getting hauled in for a dreaded oral examination by a panel of historians: "I’ve got a great respect for history. I read history at Oxford. Damn nearly got a first. I was viva’d for a first. They viva’d me for 40 or 50 minutes. As somebody said afterwards, 'We gave him a long viva in the hope of pulling him over the line but he wouldn’t really hit the ball’. I couldn’t hit the ball because I didn’t know the answers to a lot of the questions.”

He joined the civil service, and rose in the ranks, and there he seemed destined to stay, until Watership Down. Within a year of publication he won the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; within two he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

His second book, Shardik- tale of a wounded bear who is found by a hunter and believed to be the reincarnation of God- was a critical but not a sales success (“Everyone was expecting more rabbits”). At 55, he retired from the civil service to write, and has produced 22 books- the last published for his 90th birthday. He has remained active in animal rights groups for decades, and served as president of the RSPCA in 1982. In March 2016, he announced the coming publication of his 28th book.

Content that his first book will the only one history remembers, Adams still writes every day, though no longer with publication in mind. He explained two years ago,

So how far has he got with this new novel? 
“Oh, it’s still in my mind.”
Is he confident of finishing it?
“No, I’m not! You don’t understand, I may die at any moment. I’m 94. I’ve got to write or I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Does he fear the end?
“We all do, don’t we? Religious people, clergymen and so on, may look forward to death as coming into another world. But I don’t very much. I don’t want to die. But I try not to let it make me unhappy.”

Having expressed regret that, in the past, that he didn’t know he could be a writer until he was in his fifties, Adams- at 95- figures it all worked out in the end:

Asked for his advice for anyone contemplating writing a novel, he pauses for so long I wonder if he’s heard my question. He says eventually: “You’ll laugh at this. I think they should be discouraged and told to let it alone. Because that means that the ones who really, really must do it, succeed in spite of that discouragement.”

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