An Introduction                                                                                                                                 Posted 8th May 2013  

Sometimes the voice without the distracting performance of the presence can be very revealing.  Several years ago I phoned Sean Connery at his home in the Bahamas.  A woman answered and I asked if that was Micheline – his wife.

No,’ the voice said.  ‘Micheline’s away, I’m afraid.  Would you like to speak to Sir Sean?’

Sir Sean in his own household?  That surprised me a bit.  I said yes and he came on.  It was as simple as that.  Nobody asked who I was or what I wanted.  Of course, it would be assumed that if you knew the number you must have had some prior connection.  Still, it seemed surprisingly easy to get through to a famously guarded star.

As he spoke, I was struck by how vulnerable he sounded, as if he had been caught with his defences down.  The voice seemed more fragile than it usually does.  He didn’t sound at home to visitors, was apparently in some dark place of his own.  I had had a specific purpose in phoning him but I can’t now remember what it was.  When I sensed that he was preoccupied with other things – not very happily, it seemed – we just chatted.  He never did ask about my reason for calling.

I don’t remember much about the conversation except that from within the muted gentleness of his mood the old aggression could still surface.  It was just after he had made ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and at my mention of it his anger ignited suddenly against the director. 

‘If I had him here just now,’ he said, ‘I think I’d fucking kill him.’

‘That might put the blight a bit on the illustrious career.’

‘Oh, I don’t know.  They might think there were reasons.’

‘Just Cause?’

‘Something like that.’

His anger was understandable, if somewhat excessive.  (‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ offers a variant to a landfill site: rubbish consigned to celluloid.)

But that was like one sudden flare going off in the dark.  For the rest he sounded slightly raw.  He had been caught at home to his own thoughts, just being alone with himself and beyond the range of cameras or fame.  He sounded less than delighted with who he was at the moment.  But then no honest man is a hero to himself.

As I talked to him, it struck me how far the man on the phone was from some of the images people have of him but I suppose we all give out mixed messages of who we are.  Like a tortoise, we need a protective shell – in our case a shell of attitudes to cover the vulnerability of what we are.  Often what we see of one another is not what we truly are but the mechanisms we have developed to protect what we truly are.  That makes it hard to know another accurately and eventually sometimes hard to know ourselves.

That was the last time I spoke to him one-to-one.  I was to meet him with Micheline after that at a dinner party to which we had been invited.  He was perfectly polite towards me but then politeness is a distancing mechanism.  I could read the runes to the extent of knowing I had offended him in some way but not to the extent of remembering how.  It was much later that I, being slow of study, realised what I had done.  A woman who had been a mutual friend (at least until I managed to offend her as well) wrote a piece in a newspaper which explained how, at the mention of my name to Connery, he told her that, if she ever repeated that name to him, he would never speak to her again.  Apparently, I had embarrassed him with his agent.  I understood my offence.

I had once written a brief letter to him in which I tentatively floated the idea of writing a biography of him with his involvement.  After some time he phoned back and left a message on my answering machine to say that I was to get in touch with his agent in New York to sort out a deal.  I was hesitant to do that since I thought we should talk further about such matters as the terms of our mutual involvement and how much control I would have over what I wrote.  I felt the immediate involvement of his agent would make it not so much a gentlemen’s agreement as a pair of handcuffs.  I thought he had let very cold air into the womb of an unformed idea.  I let the project lie.  I was in the wrong, of course – not a position to which I am unaccustomed.  My recurrent tendency to vanish for weeks (or months) into my scribbling preoccupations had done it again.

I didn’t think, though, that I had quite merited the anathema he had pronounced on me.  But I let it go at that.  Touchy pride is a game that two can play.

The idea of writing something about him on my own still loitered round the edge of my mind.  Then I heard (after the event was over) that Connery had been conducting interviews in London with a series of prospective ghost-writers to tell his story.  A choice was made and the process was begun.  Within a length of time which could still be conveniently measured in weeks, the deal was off and the ghost was gone to haunt another celebrity.

I found that the abandoned thought of writing about him was still breathing.  I decided to go on with the idea.  But I knew my approach was going to be strange.  To me it seems that an individual life isn’t amenable to continuous and authoritative delineation.  It doesn’t form into a rock of facts.  It’s an endless drift of time and place and circumstance, each sifting into and blurring the other, a burial mound of experience.  Any attempt to understand such a life can’t seek to be definitive.  What it can possibly do is, like archaeology, sink some speculative shafts into those times and, from what it finds, elicit some impression of the nature of the person, arrive perhaps at the salient features of the life.  I wanted it to be an original kind of depiction of a life rather than a story.

Anyway, I worked on it till I had over 90,000 words and stopped.  I thought I had found something of the originality I was after but it was somehow still trapped in the preconceptions of biography, the most obvious sign of this being that the essence of its form remained chronology.  The sense of a story was still too central.  It was a kind of hybrid of what I thought was the new and what was certainly the old.  It wasn’t what I had thought I had set out to write.

Trapped in a confusion of personal responses, I did something I had never done before.  I gave unfinished work to my agent, Jenny Brown, and asked her to show it to some publishers.  I wanted some hard-nosed reactions to it.  I got them:-
            ‘we are not as adventurous as I would have hoped’; ‘book would be too isolated here to be successful’; fascinating, but in the end not one for me’; ‘couldn’t see how I could make it work in a properly mass-market way’; ‘not enough new material here.  Aware of a biography of Sean Connery....which didn’t sell well recently’; ‘a very unusual reading experience – unconventional, uncategorisable.  I can’t actually think of any comparable books’; ‘going to have to pass.  I’m really sorry about this as I think the material is great and it’s clearly going to be a very special book but, as you know, we don’t really do books unless there is support from every part of the team.  And, to my massive surprise, in this instance it didn’t happen.’

Obviously, I liked the last one.  Blessings on the man who wrote it.  It was as if he had seen where I was trying to go, although I hadn’t got there yet.

But I’m still stalled.  I’m going to put some random chapters on this website from time to time.  Maybe I just want my words to see more of life than the inside of a desk-drawer.  Or maybe, if the words are out there in the ether, this moribund project will become more real to me and I can persuade myself to work on it again.

Some chapters will follow.

(To read the next post in this series click here.)