His editor of 25 years, David Fickling, says: "He is one of the greatest storytellers of all time, and he's right here among us, writing now. It's like having Thomas Hardy about to write Far From the Madding Crowd. It's just thrilling to be around."
I bet I'm not the only one whose mind wandered down the path to Python …
- Hello, and welcome to Dorchester, where a very good crowd has turned out to watch local boy Thomas Hardy write his new novel, "The Return of the Native", on this very pleasant July morning. This will be his eleventh novel and the fifth of the very popular Wessex novels. And here he comes! Here comes Hardy, walking out towards his desk. He looks confident, he looks relaxed, very much the man in form, as he acknowledges this very good natured bank holiday crowd. And the crowd goes quiet now, as Hardy settles himself down at the desk, body straight, shoulders relaxed, pen held lightly but firmly in the right hand. He dips the pen in the ink, and he's off! It's the first word, but it's not a word — oh, no! — it's a doodle. Way up on the top of the left hand margin is a piece of meaningless scribble and he's signed his name underneath it! Oh dear, what a disappointing start. But his off again — and here he goes — the first word of Thomas Hardy's new novel, at ten thirty-five on this very lovely morning, it's three letters, it's the definite article, and it's "The". Dennis.
- Well, this is true to form, no surprises there. He started five of his eleven novels to date with the definite article. We had two of them with "It", there's been one "But", two "At"s, one "On" and a "Dolores", but that of course was never published.
- I'm sorry to interrupt you there, Dennis, but he's crossed it out. Thomas Hardy, here on the first day of his new novel, has crossed out the only word he has written so far, and he's gazing off into space. Oh, oh, there he signed his name again.
- It looks like "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" all over again.
- But he's...no, he's down again and writing, Dennis, he's written "B" again, he's crossed it out again, and he has written "A" - and there is a second word coming up straight away, and it's "Sat" … "A Sat" — doesn't make sense — "A Satur" … "A Saturday" … it's "A Saturday". And the crowd are loving it. They are really enjoying this novel. And it's "afternoon", it's "A Saturday afternoon", a comfortable beginning, and he's straight on to the next word. It's "in" - "A Saturday afternoon in" … "in" … "in" … "in Nov" … "November". November is spelled wrong, he's left out the second "E", but he's not going back, it looks like he's going for the sentence, and it's the first verb coming up — it's the first verb of the novel — and it's "was", and the crowd are going wild! "A Saturday afternoon in November was", and a long word here … "appro" … "appro" … is it a "approving"? … no, it's "approaching" … "approaching". "A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching". And he's writing fluently, easily, with flowing strokes of the pen, as he comes up to the middle of this first sentence. And with this eleventh novel well underway, and the prospects of a good day's writing ahead, back to the studio.
Python MP3 file from the Thomas Hardy Resource Library.