The Real Life of Anthony Burgess

Extracts from Andrew Biswell’s The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005)

[Burgess] engaged in a good deal of public and private fantasising…laying down an alarming number of false trails.

…harmless tendency to misremember the events of his own past for comic or dramatic effect.

This was the order of a typical Burgess day in Etchingham in the 1960s. He would get up between seven and eight in the morning – ‘grudgingly’, he said – and bring himself to full wakefulness by blasting out William Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture or the Crown Imperial March on the record-player downstairs. Then he would kick his dog, a border collie named Hajji….Breakfast would be followed by…jokes and conversation with Lynne. She would open the morning’s post while he went through the newspapers (the Times and the Daily Mirror). Around ten o’clock he would go upstairs to his study, a large room with a south-facing window, looking out on to a long garden where caged guinea-pigs chewed the grass to save the trouble of having to mow it. He would settle down at the typewriter with a pint-mug of strong tea – ‘stepmother’s tea’ is what F.X. Enderby calls it – made with ‘no fewer than five Twinings Irish Breakfast tea-bags’. He would remain at his desk for at least eight hours every day, weekends included, smoking excessively (his regular intake was eighty cigarettes per day) and rising occasionally – because he suffered from haemorrhoids, which he called the Writer’s Evil – to pace around the study….When his concentration failed, he would take three Dexedrine tablets, washing them down with a pint of iced gin-and-tonic before returning to the typewriter. Piles of books for review…covered the floor of his study and overflowed…onto the landing and down the stairs. (He reviewed more than 350 novels in just over two years for the Yorkshire Post, and there were always other freelance writing jobs on the go….) Apart from the work, of which there was obviously a great deal, there was also the drinking to get done. Burgess and Lynne would get through a couple of bottles of wine over dinner, and a dozen bottles of Gordon’s gin were delivered to the house every week….

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