6 MAY 1972, Page 26

Great English genius

Sir: God forbid that "the great English genius," to quote Mr Auberon Waugh's mordantly malicious description of me, should become the great English hero by attacking book critics, but I write obviously in sorrow having just read Mr Waugh's crushing review of my novel The Distant Laughter.

Curiously enough I occupied Mr Waugh's chair at The Spectator for a period in the 'fifties and can recall with no pride whatsoever how easy and tempting it was to devastate whole areas of first novelists.

I was surprised to learn that Mr Waugh detected no evidence that I have ever read any English novels, for I read many, including his own and even his last. What is more to the point I have stocked his novels in my bookshop, though I cannot claim to have sold many of them, which is unfortunate for both of us. I can list my influences and Mr Waugh is very wide of the mark. I was influenced by Huxley, Bates. Aldington and (somewhat obviously I would have thought) Graham Greene, and that most English of foreign novelists, Ford Madox Ford. Alas, Conrad is not one of my gods and I find the Germans impossible in translation, and care mostly for the French. In fact, the " clumsy wretch" that Mr Waugh sought to identify was Mauriac.

The hero of my novel is a director not a producer as Mr Waugh would have it, which indicates that he didn't do his basic homework. Taking isolated sentences out of context in order to dilute his already faint praise, Mr Waugh then manages to misquote two of them. In any event the exercise of quoting isolated passages in order to bolster some critical bed of flowers is of course the first and last resort of the muddled reviewer.

Perhaps in my own defence, I might be permitted one quote from the political correspondent of Private Eye, who recently wrote and then reviewed one of his own novels. It brilliantly illustrates, I think, what Mr Waugh would like to have found in my first effort, revealing as it does a depth of imagination and a mastery of style. " So when Snowman returned one day about two weeks after the visit of Daniel Pisspot and announced dramatically that he had found two letters in the box, he caused a major sensation." I can see now where I went wrong. Mr Waugh, like the fictional heroes he admires, really must stop masturbating among his pots in the past historic . . . though as he proudly proclaims on his dust jacket, he was an English exhibitioner, and we all know what eventually happens to them.

Bryan. Forbes The Bookshop, Virginia Water, Surrey