LowryI have recently read two articles on the theme of writers and families and writers and drink. In Sins of the Father in The New Yorker, James Wood asks the basic question ‘Do great novelists make bad parents?’ Put another way, ‘Can a man or a woman fulfil a sacred devotion to thought, or music, or art, or literature, while fulfilling a proper devotion to spouse or children?’ However, as Wood’s article describes, one of the frequent reasons why authors make bad parents is because they get into dependent relationships with the demon drink. The relationship between (certain) authors and drink is the subject of Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring, extracts of which were published in today’s Observer. I am not convinced by these writers’ respective theses, although they are of course onto something. Artists frequently put so much into their art that they neglect their families. But the argument could be put the other way around: egoistical people of artistic bent might tend to do better because they are so self-centred. As to drink, Laing has deliberately chosen drinkers, so her theory is self-fulfilling. But there are great authors who have never drank and authors who once drank but stopped (Cormac McCarthy springs to mind). At least one of her subjects, Ernest Hemingway, drank like a fish but argued that he worked best when sober. And what to make of Malcolm Lowry, who was both a stupendous (indeed, suicidal) drinker and an author (Laing doesn’t mention his case)? Indeed, a distinction should be made between drinkers who wrote (Lowry, surely) and writers who drak (Hemingway, just as surely). These articles caught my eye because I am currently reading Langston Moffett’s Devil By The Tail, which is a largely autobiographical literary of the travails of an alcoholic would-be writer. According to his son, Langston Moffett was everything that he himself describes with such brutal veracity in his book: a self-indulgent fantasist; a dangerously dependent alcoholic; and a would-be writer whose best literary work, ironically, was his own written description of why he never wrote.