Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Morrissey

I was invited by the singers manager to the concert where he donned the notorious T-shirt, says feature writer Joshua Surtees

Back in June, I wrote a piece for the Guardian recounting how Morrissey had once been my greatest inspiration. As one of his very few black fans, I described how, after years of giving him the benefit of the doubt, buying every record he ever made, and leaping on stage to kiss him at shows, I felt personally betrayed by his repeated demonstrations of intolerance.

Fast-forward a few months, and on Sunday I woke to friends sending me pictures of Morrissey wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words Fuck the Guardian. One message was accompanied by expletives, another by the eye-roll emoji. Another simply said, You did this.

Now, I cant take sole credit for Morrisseys hostility towards this newspaper. Many colleagues have spoken out about his outbursts. But given that I was publicly invited by Morrisseys manager to the Hollywood Bowl concert where he donned the sweary garment, and then refused an interview when I tried to take him up on the offer, the T-shirt does feel like it was aimed at me.

The invitation was set in motion the day after my article was published in June, when his manager, Peter Katsis, posted on Morrisseys official Facebook page asking me to join his autumn tour of America, all expenses paid, to see for myself that (in block capitals) MORRISSEY IS NOT RACIST.

Was this a genuine offer? Many of Morrisseys 1.3 million Facebook followers thought so and encouraged me to take the gig. What an opportunity to finally get answers to all the questions Id had since my teens. I was genuinely excited.

I emailed Katsis at his offices in Beverly Hills, accepting the invitation and his one proviso to find a better paper than the Guardian to sell it to, since they have the absolute lowest circulation of all the major dailies in the UK.

I explained that the Guardian had shaped my identity from an early age as much as Morrissey had, because it stood up for marginalised people as he once did sought to uncover truths and spoke its mind.

To get across how much this invite meant to me, I told Morrisseys team that I was prepared to break my boycott of Trumps America, which I havent visited since 2015. Katsis and I talked on the phone, and he seemed pleasant enough, even if I had to bite my tongue at some of his more cringeworthy defences of Morrissey: that he had people of colour over to his house for dinner all the time, that hed never heard him say anything racist; that he was simply a provocateur who had never voted for a political party in his life.

Later, he sent me a picture of the soul singer Thelma Houston with Morrissey in a studio where theyd just cut a track, as if to say, Look, look! Shes black! As I say, he was nice enough, but also a bit like an out-of-touch uncle who didnt really get it and thought I could be swayed into writing a sympathetic piece on his wayward star. Regardless, I spent the whole summer pitching the story to editors of various publications. Every approach was met with a similar response. They were all intrigued by the idea a tour diary, on the road with Morrissey through Trumps America but despite giving it some thought, said it wasnt right for their periodical. You see, Moz, your T-shirt should really say Fuck all press as, sadly, thats what you will end up with.

Then, finally, a breakthrough came. GQ, the well-respected, glossy mens mag, said that if Morrissey agreed to a full interview, it would publish it. It seemed the perfect fit. Everything was in place. I got my US work visa, agreed to Morrisseys amended timetable not the first week of the tour as first promised, but the final date at the Hollywood Bowl.

And then? Morrissey refused to grant an interview.

The reasons given were that he didnt trust journalists, used his own website to put out communiques, and hadnt done an interview since one with Der Spiegel two years ago, which ended badly.

Im left feeling that the invitation was intended to garner good publicity, and that there was never any intention of confronting my questions head on. I was supposed to meet Morrissey to see for myself that hes not racist. Sadly, he declined the opportunity to prove it.

Joshua Surtees is a columnist, feature writer and reporter based in London and Trinidad

Read more:

Former Smiths frontman and supporter of far-right party For Britain has criticised the UK newspaper in the past

Morrissey has performed in Los Angeles wearing a vest with the slogan Fuck the Guardian.

The former Smiths frontman wore the top during a concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, weeks after he described this newspaper as the voice of all that is wrong and sad about modern Britain.

The 60-year-old singer, who has repeatedly expressed support for the far-right party For Britain, has increasingly been lashing out at the Guardian in recent months.

Writing on his personal website in May, Morrissey claimed he was the victim of an inexhaustible hate campaign by the Guardian, imploring his supporters: Please do not buy this wretched hate-paper, whose every 2019 utterance echoes the late Mary Whitehouse.

During a May performance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Morrissey decided to wear a For Britain badge. In June, he reaffirmed his support for the party in an interview with his nephew, published again on his own website.

Earlier this month he ejected an anti-far-right protester from his concert in Portland. The protester had been carrying two posters, one which depicted the logo of For Britain struck through by a red line, while the other read: Bigmouth indeed.

Writing in the Guardian in July, comedian and former Morrissey fan Stewart Lee said he found the best way to deal with the singer was to simply stop listening to him. Suddenly, I just didnt want Morrissey in my home any more. And I couldnt imagine any circumstances under which I would ever listen to him again, he wrote.

The same month, Billy Bragg condemned Morrissey for sharing a video from a YouTube channel that argued that the British establishment was using Stormzy to promote multiculturalism at the expense of white culture.

Read more:

A handful of great Smiths songs cant disguise the fact that the blustering 80s idol is in irreversible decline

It doesnt take long, on this freezing night in Birmingham, before Morrissey makes one of his pronouncements. Somewhere between the dying notes of the opening Elvis Presley cover, Youll Be Gone licked by exotic flamenco heat and the opening anglo jangle of Suedehead, from Morrisseys solo debut, Viva Hate, released 30 years ago this month, the singer flicks the mic lead like a whip and declares: Bring back free speech!

Ah, free speech: you do feel a certain nostalgia for the idea, as you might for the younger, 80s Morrissey. Formerly uncontroversial, the liberty to air ideas and openly criticise authority is enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution of Morrisseys adopted US.

Over the past few years, however, the goalposts of political engagement have shifted drastically. Now the most ardent advocates of free speech tend to be figures who have something ugly to say.

The quip, halfway through this tour for his latest album, Low in High School, suggests Morrissey is still smarting from his run-in with the German newspaper Der Spiegel last year. Briefly, the paper reported Morrisseys view that Kevin Spacey accused of serious sexual misconduct had been unnecessarily attacked, only for Morrissey to claim he was misquoted. In response, the newspaper put its audio of the disputed interview online and Morrissey vowed never to speak to print media again.

For a lapsed believer such as myself, Morrissey utterances like these tend to induce full-body cringes, the kind that have punctuated the veteran fans experience over the years. A sense of chagrin percolates anew: I am a grownup. I realise many of my idols probably have feet of clay.

And yet the disappointment gnaws. The 80s Morrissey was the standard-bearer for everything brave, beautiful and idiosyncratic. His was not the snarl of punk, nor the machine-sulk of post-punk, but a call to affective and moral arms that differed in substance and style from everything that preceded and surrounded it. Here was despair, arrogance, lust, grandeur, self-pity, vegetarianism and waspishness, all delivered with the florid commitment of a true original. In recent days, it was announced that the Smiths formative years will be the subject of a soon-to-be-published graphic biography by Greek-Australian artist Con Chrisoulis, reiterating the huge sway Morrisseys artistic output still has on generations of music fans.

Morrissey gave British pop new hues on the emotional spectrum. But since 1992, when he supported Madness in north Londons Finsbury Park wrapped in a union jack, the singers pronouncements have tended towards the controversial. In 2010, Morrissey called Chinese people a subspecies because of their cruelty to animals. In 2013, he stated that he liked Nigel Farage a great deal. Last year, he seemed to criticise the Ukip leadership election election process on 6 Music, wondering whether it had been rigged to prevent an anti-Islamic candidate, Anne Marie Waters, winning. Last week, at a gig in Glasgow, he threw shade on Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon (Those hands will be in anybodys pocket). The word bell-end tends to appear in the comments section under reports of his antics on this organisations website.

Watch the video for Morrisseys Suedehead.

In song, he appears to believe that voting in democratic elections endorses police brutality. Every time you vote you support the process, runs the lyrics to World Peace Is None of Your Business a theme updated by Low in High Schools Who Will Protect Us from the Police?. It begins tonight with penetrating electronics and guitars that sound like a malevolent didgeridoo, and ends with a flourish, but grinds on inelegantly in between. Police brutality is terrible. You just want the song to be better than this.

Similarly, the rest of Morrisseys set veers from moments of musical serendipity and great showmanship to churning mid-tempo bluster. A tremendous pre-gig montage of film clips and vintage performances serves as tonights support act, and finds room for performances by James Brown and speeches by James Baldwin. A clip of Dionne Warwick singing the magnificent Dont Make Me Over echoes around the comfortably full-enough arena. Reading the runes, it seems Morrissey would like to signal that he feels some kinship with African Americans.

Morrissey retains an intriguingly complex relationship with Hispanic culture, too, having found a home in LA and an unexpectedly enthusiastic fanbase in Mexican Americans. Spanish inflections illuminate a number of songs tonight, not least When You Open Your Legs, a cut from Low in High School that is among Morrisseys most ribald (and persuasive) recent tunes. Of Spain itself, though, he would prefer to say nothing, as he puts it, before launching into The Bullfighter Dies, a righteous takedown of Spanish bullfighting. This heartfelt plea for the underdog to come out on top for once has, in recent times, taken the place in Morrisseys set once reserved for Meat Is Murder, complete with gory scenes of the blood sport.

Over a number of tracks tonight, Morrissey and his tour-honed band prove themselves adept at channelling not only those Spanish influences, but electronic inflections and Smiths-era classics alike. Low in High School divided critics cautiously hailed in some quarters, but panned by others as yet more evidence of Morrisseys decline. The writer Stephen Trouss in Uncut summed up Low in High School as a series of memorable bullet points: Fake news, the world burns. But I have discovered oral sex and did I mention I received the Freedom of Tel Aviv?

Many of the new songs leave the crowd attentive, but physically unmoved. One stands out, though, as strong a 21st-century Morrissey cut as you could wish for. Spent the Day in Bed is as musically light-footed tonight as it is lyrically breezy. The respite from politics is helpful.

A splendid cover of the Pretenders Back on the Chain Gang points up a little connection between Chrissie Hyndes ohhhhh in Chain Gang and the Ah-ah-ah-ah of Im so sorry from Morrisseys Suedehead. The Smiths How Soon Is Now remains magnificent, as does Every Day Is Like Sunday. After Hold On to Your Friends, a terrace chant of Morrisseys name goes up and the singer seems genuinely touched. You dont have to, he says. Youre here. Thats all that matters. Im still struck by the songs words:A bond of trust has been abused, it goes. Something of value may be lost.

Read more:

You can hardly blame Lorde for getting in a diplomatic brouhaha, celebrity singers are too young and too busy to be political sages. So heres a cheat sheet, says Guardian writer Hannah Jane Parkinson

Give us today our daily outrage: the pop star Lorde has decided after much consideration to cancel her concert in Israel after a letter from BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) supporters. Cut to a rightwing American rabbi taking out a full-page advert in the Washington Post to denounce her as antisemitic, and also hold her responsible for New Zealands entire foreign policy.

All of this seems a bit harsh expecting a 21-year-old to have a fully formed opinion on something she readily admitted to not knowing much about. This is a woman who sang on her first album about never having been on a plane. This is a woman who also made one of the best albums of 2017, so probably didnt have a lot of time to refresh her news app every time something happened in global politics (and that would have been a lot of times). This is a woman who thought about something for a while, sought some advice, and then made a decision she thought was best.

I am not sure Lorde should be the flashpoint for peoples anger here. And yet popsters seem to get it in the neck a lot of the time. So here are some tips for besieged entertainers who enter the arena of geopolitical or social issues.

Middle Eastern conflicts

The Middle East in itself is a weird term because thats not even where it is on a map (BRITISH EMPIRE KLAXON), but when the US president is referring to a country called Nambia, the bar for geographic accuracy has been set low. Firstly theres the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is best avoided if you dont know too much about it. Do not, as Vox once did, write an explainer of the conflict that got virtually everything wrong and invented a non-existent bridge.

Then theres the situation in Syria and neighbouring states. There are a lot of factions and sub-factions across territories: PKK, YPG, SDF, PYD, KCK, pretty much the entire alphabet is covered, and sometimes it is hard to keep track of the good guys and the bad guys. This is because, you know, this conflict is more complex than that and quite difficult to make a slogan out of for some tour merchandise.


Kanye West performs onstage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Photograph: John Shearer/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

So many pop stars seem to have a blind spot when it comes to agreeing to perform at birthday parties, weddings, ket raves (maybe not that last one) of the relatives of dictators. Out-and-out dictators. Not even low-key dictators, but full-on unmitigated tyrants. I have no idea why singers are so drawn to the equivalent of, say, jumping out of a cake at Pol Pots summer bash, but they are. Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Sting and Kanye West (serial offender) have all performed for dubious characters. If you mess up, do the decent thing and donate the proceeds to charity. (As Beyonc, Usher, Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtado all said they did when they performed for the Gaddafi family).

Party politics

One of the most glaring discrepancies between the Obama and Trump presidential inaugurations, except, obviously for crowd size, was the quality of the performing talent. Obama had: Beyonc, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Usher and too many others to mention. Trump had some dude in a cowboy hat I had never heard of. Theres actually been a cheering number of pop stars calling out politicians for using their tracks without permission at events, but I also rather enjoy the pop stars who take the Brenda from Bristol approach (theres too much politics!). See Girls Aloud, one of the best girl groups of all time:

David Cameron said he fancied me. He was just trying to be cool … Do I fancy him? No! Politicians should stop trying to be cool and get on with running the country. Exactly, Cheryl.


Remember when Ariana Grande, a then 23-year-old pop star, became a target for opprobrium after her concert was hit by a terrorist attack? Because apparently going home for a few days to spend time with family was not the done thing after being caught up in a terrifying bombing, even though she had already made a statement about how devastated she was?

Those people (Piers Morgan, obviously) quickly had to bite their tongue when Grande organised a free benefit concert two weeks later. Too soon! others said. Its funny that Grande attracted so much negative attention for handling it all as well as one could, while the Eagles of Death Metal lead singers comments about Muslims celebrating in the streets and Bataclan employees being in cahoots with the terrorists went under the radar. Either way, I cant offer much advice on this one, because its all just horrible.

Sexual politics

Your role model here (and in all things) is Beyonc. Beyonc who sampled a feminist essay from the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Flawless, and performed that song at an awards ceremony with a huge neon FEMINIST sign behind her. She did all this and was still criticised for wearing a skimpy outfit, because, men. In 2017, Taylor Swift took a break from recording the musical equivalent of a voodoo doll to bring a douche who groped her to justice, suing him for a symbolic $1. This is good too.

When it comes to LGBT stances, early allies such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper provide good examples; also the rapper Macklemore who, though straight, has been a consistent LGBT rights campaigner, and wrote the quite lovely same-sex marriage anthem Same Love, performing it in Australia just before a postal vote on that issue.

Race issues

Taylor Swift arrives at the iHeartRadio Music Awards at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Photograph: Richard Shotwell/AP

Taylor Swift is a great example of a pop star who is particularly woke in one area and less so in another (unlike Beyonc, who as well as her FEMINIST sign inserted a Black Panthers vignette into her Super Bowl performance, watched by an audience of millions). Swift got into hot water when she defensively reacted to a Nicki Minaj tweet which accurately pointed out the lack of black women nominated for music video awards. Swift took it as a personal insult, but the two have since made up. In truth the whole thing was blown out of all proportion, but is a good example of white people panicking during discussions about race.

Someone who goes out of their way to learn is Katy Perry, who, after some real clangers, went on a journey to educate herself. She hasnt always got it right (see also: model Bella Hadid talking about sneakers, which remains one of the funniest things), but at least she is trying. NB to pop stars: racism does still exist, as Sam Smith was shocked to find out in 2016. Its not like it has been around for centuries and society is built on it though, so can you really blame him for not knowing?


Are you even a pop star if you dont have a charitable foundation bearing your name? The best are celebs who make it to number 19 in the charts once, and assume Grimsbys comps are crying out for their help funding bongo drums. The main advice here is to avoid the sort of poverty porn that Ed Sheeran and Tom Hardy were recently criticised for, which was de rigueur in the 80s. As for charity singles, please, please, can we have videos other than the finger-clicking stars in sound booths. Be like George Michael, who used to organise free concerts for NHS nurses. In fact, be like George Michael in everything.


Ringo Starr, just knighted, came out for Brexit, which apparently is a popular position among mega-rich people who dont actually live in the UK. See also: Morrissey. In fact, the best piece of overall advice to give to pop stars on political issues is that whatever Morrisseys position on it, take the opposite. (This advice works from about 2000 onwards).

  • Hannah Jane Parkinson is a Guardian writer

Read more:

Controversial singer says MPs remain remote while public bear the brunt of the threat from extremists

The Manchester-born singer Morrissey has hit out at politicians for their reaction to the bombing in his hometown that has killed 22 people and hospitalised 59 more.

In his statement, the former Smiths frontman claimed that politicians are safe from attacks, while the rest of the country is left vulnerable. The MP Jo Cox was murdered by a rightwing extremist last June.

Morrissey cited government immigration policy among his complaints saying the prime minister would never change her immigration policy in the light of the attacks. It is believed that the bomber named by police, Salman Abedi, was British-born and from Manchester.

Morrissey also appeared to suggest that politicians were afraid to refer to Abedi as an Islamist extremist.

Read more:

A tardy Morrissey cruised through a setlist that all but ignored the Smiths, while the reformed horror punks provided a flickering jolt of energy

Booking Morrissey to end your festival is the same as betting on George Jones or Axl Rose or Lauryn Hill or any other artist from both the past and present known for not owning a wristwatch. For them, time is an illusion, to paraphrase Einstein. The audience, hapless chumps.

It turns out that Morrissey did show up at Riot Fest in Chicago on Saturday, but the audience was held in suspension. Thirty-five minutes of videos were broadcast on the big screen featuring Morrissey favorites the Sex Pistols, Clash, New York Dolls, as well as Anne Sexton reading a suicide poem and some mild gay erotica. The booing started 10 minutes in, followed by groans each time a new video started. When the singer did appear, the videos had sucked up about a third of his scheduled set-time, leaving a brisk 70 minutes. That would have to do.

Morrisseys 17-song set drew heavily on his solo work of the last 10 years. He sang, not as if his life depended on it nor as if, in light of a recent cancer scare, they promised any new revelations. Instead the singer cruised through the setlist, his voice solid but not robust. He nodded to his Latino audience with a Spanish version of Speedway and, maybe just a habit now, ending every song with gracias.

Then, midway through the set, he offered a tour through international relations. In England, we have a new prime minister who nobody voted for, he said before launching into Irish Blood, English Heart. Then, in introducing World Peace is None of Your Business, he chided the failure of the Bernie Sanders campaign, saying the Democratic presidential nominee was the only one who said no more war. Finally, during The World is Full of Crushing Bores a comic stock photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton sat overhead with the inscription, The United King-Dumb.

His five-member band, powered by Chicagoan Matt Walker on drums, played with drive and ferocity but their singer, aside from one or two lassoings of the microphone cord, seemed not as charged up as the material. A single Smiths song (What She Said) was reserved for the closer but only after he assured the audience that a time restriction forced him to end his set after the next song. Not taking responsibility for holding things up? This guy could run for US president.

Omitted from the set was Meat is Murder, the Smiths signature that he continues to revive in support of his avowed veganism. Maybe playing the song in Chicago, once home to the Union Stock Yards for nearly a century, would have hit too close to home. The people here like their sausage. But then again, Morrissey did demand that all food vendors end meat sales for two hours during his scheduled performance, which meant food lines were swelled up to his set by people not wanting to go home hungry.

The focus of Riot Fest, which is held in Douglas Park on the citys Southwest Side, is punk: old punk bands, new ones, bands with punk sensibilities, punk veterans gone solo, and artists who simply have a peak level of insurgency in their music. The annual festival, also held in Denver, is now the bookend to Chicagos summer music season and deserves credit for finding new ways to stay true to its unifying theme. This year, about 45,000 people attended the three-day festival that, unlike most, was filled with bands that mostly operate outside the charts but instead have achieved success by grooming loyal audiences for years.

Earlier on Saturday were tighter, leaner sets, most notably by Bob Mould who fired through his catalog, ranging from his recent album to five Hsker D tracks, a total of 18 songs in an hour. Dressed in a checkerboard suit, Pelle Almqvist of the Hives suggested a kind of Swedish Iggy Pop as he strutted, jumped and crouched low, bringing high theater to such minimal rock. The band that easily complemented the wide-open parkland environment was New Yorks Brand New. The band played against expectations as an emo originator and instead emerged as a mixture of U2 and Modest Mouse due to anthems that sounded tailored to the masses but with still enough idiosyncrasies to keep the music shifting through different moods and time signatures.

Sundays headliner was billed as the Original Misfits surely a name thought up by a legal team as the band featured only Misfits lead singer Glenn Danzig, original bassist Jerry Only and later guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. The horror punk originators have dealt with decades of incarnations and legal battles, which gives this final phase a sense of closure, even though it was a strange one.

For their first seven years, the Misfits were an underground band that played adolescent punk about UFOs, alienation, the Kennedy family and fantasy violence while dressed as ghouls straight out of Universal horror films. Now as men hovering around 60, they still dressed as ghouls, with Danzig encased in black leather, but there was creakiness in the music. Despite long pauses between songs that gave the band a chance to regroup, the band ran through a crisp 26 songs in just 75 minutes, each one a jolt of manic energy. Two giant-sized pumpkins flanked the band as they ripped through classics Horror Business, We Are 138 and Skulls that reflected not just why this band created its own subgenre back in the day, but how they set the stage for Metallica and others to bring it into the stadiums.

Read more:

In our self-help age, shyness can seem like an obstacle to be overcome. But as Agatha Christie, Alan Bennett, Morrissey and others have shown, being tongue-tied can spur writers and artists on to greatness

Shyness seems an obvious theme for a writer. Writers are often natural introverts and onlookers, and the printed word allows them to convey meaning to others independently of their bodily presence. For Sigmund Freud, writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person: it let us transcend the limitations of our mumbling, blushing selves. And yet, as I have found when trying to write about my own shyness, as a subject it poses problems. It is a low-level, lingering, nebulous feeling, hard to turn into a story or drama. It has none of the pathos or narrative momentum of major life events like love, loss, illness and grief. Shy characters are not born protagonists; they are too passive to propel stories along. And shyness is tricky to write about autobiographically without succumbing to the hectoring self-pity that is the death of good prose.

Shyness, often seen merely as a wish to withdraw from others, can also amount to an undue interest in them, a desire for human closeness which defeats itself through fear and doubt. For me, it has less to do with simple timidity than a kind of social deafness, a tin ear for non-verbal cues, a sense that I have failed to grasp some invisible thread that holds communal life together. The shy author often overcompensates for this problem by becoming a field biologist of humanity, a close reader of the semiotics of the social world.

The English fiction writer Elizabeth Taylor certainly fits this profile. She would spend days on end just walking around Buckinghamshire market towns, sitting on her own in the Tudor tearooms, public gardens and pubs, listening in. And then she would pour into her novels and stories all her interest in social ineptitude and her hatred of fake sociability. Awkwardness and embarrassment are, Meg and Patrick in The Soul of Kindness (1964) agree, underrated forms of suffering. I never think embarrassment is a trivial emotion, says Beatrice in Taylors story Hester Lilly (1954). Taylors characters live lives of stockbrokerish comfort and silent anguish, baking sponges for coffee mornings, hosting bridge evenings and enduring formula luncheons that always start with sherry and end with fool. One of her opening sentences beautifully condenses the way that people steel themselves to join in with these rituals: In the morning, Charles went down the garden to practise calling for three cheers.

Shyness is nice Morrissey, left, on stage with Johnny Marr and the Smiths. Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

The New Zealand writer Janet Frame also nails perfectly these unseen dramas of shyness. Her narrators are full of hidden fire and verve, the opposite of the fearful self they present to others. As a child, Frames innate introversion was aggravated by her embarrassment at her wild frizz of red hair and her rotten teeth, which led her to cover her mouth when talking. She began to invest everything in her writing, retreating into a parallel world she called the Mirror City. This city came to seem more real to her than the real world she floated through like a silent, timorous ghost. She was loath to spend the one currency of hers that might have any worth in this real world talking about her life in the Mirror City for fear its magic would be disenchanted. She would not even divulge the titles of her books to people she met. What she called her primitive shyness about her writing made her unwilling to reduce or drain into speech the power supply of the named.

All writers have this sense of a split between their literary and actual selves; for Frame, the split was full-blown and blighted her life. In conversation I am bedevilled, she wrote in 1955. In written expression an angel will visit. Her muteness or incoherence in the flesh meant that many who met her took her for an idiot. She had channelled all the clever and lucid parts of her character into the self that sat alone at a writing desk, waiting for an angel to appear.

Frames fictional alter egos are tongue-tied women who think that the babble and prattle of the spoken word can never match the depth and nuance of writing. What is the use of speech? the unspeaking Erlene reflects in Frames novel Scented Gardens for the Blind (1963). On and on, saying nothing, the tattered bargain-price words, the great red-flagged sale of trivialities, the shutdown sellout of the mind? In another Frame novel, Towards Another Summer, Grace Cleave, an excruciatingly shy writer, has rashly accepted Philip Thirkettles invitation to spend the weekend with him and his young family. (The book was published posthumously because it is based on a real weekend that Frame spent at the home of the Guardian writer Geoffrey Moorhouse.) For Grace, the weekend is hell. She rehearses platitudinous lines in her head I do like cheese on toast, Ive so enjoyed your cooking and sometimes manages to say them. But mostly her words scuttle to the sheltering foliage of incoherence. She longs to sit in her London bedsit at her Olivetti typewriter, with the warm light of the Anglepoise shining over the keys, sending out noisy signals to herself. Frame, like many shy writers, has a sobering sense that language always, in the end, sells us short. Words are a compromise, aimed at reaching fleetingly across the unbridgeable divide between us all. We are all tongue-tied; some of us are just more aware of it than others.

Agatha Christie, like Frame, avoided social gatherings for fear of seeming, as she put it, imbecile with shyness. She, too, made amends for her inarticulacy in the flesh with fluency on the page. In her case this resulted in almost 100 books, millions of words to act as counter-ballast to her real-life reticence. But Christies solution was quite different to Frames. It was to create characters who were starkly her opposite like the nosy and fearless Miss Marple, or the hyper-confident Hercule Poirot, an actor manqu who sees the apprehending of the villain as an occasion for bravura intellectual display. If you are doubly burdened, first by acute shyness, and secondly by only seeing the right thing to do or say 24 hours later, what can you do? Christie wrote in the Daily Mail in 1938. Only write about quick-witted men and resourceful girls whose reactions are like greased lightning. She confided to her diary that she thought Poirot an egocentric creep.

Writers find all kinds of indirect ways of writing about their shyness. Another of these oblique strategies is to conjure up an imaginary world in which shyness is a common feeling one that, rather than just alienating people from each other, unites them in their fears and vulnerabilities. For Garrison Keillor, who grew up a gangly, awkward boy with a powerful wish to be invisible, the fictional prairie town of Lake Wobegon serves this role. Here, in a shyness-cultivating part of the world somewhere north-west of Minneapolis, even close friends stand an arms length apart, romantic passion is voiced as mild interest and the Norwegian bachelor farmers all eat shy-busting Powdermilk biscuits.

Upper-midwest diffidence A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), based on Charles Schulzs Peanuts comic strip. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

Charles Schulzs Peanuts comic strip, of which Keillor is a lifelong fan, taps into the same mood of upper-midwest diffidence. Charlie Brown is Schulzs own shyness in cartoon form. With his anonymous round head, Charlie suffers that familiar seesawing between feeling horribly invisible most of the time and horribly visible some of the time. Schulzs virtuosic twist is to give him a dog, Snoopy, who is a brilliant wordless communicator, and whose role is to make his master feel even more inadequate.

When it appeared on a page of noisy comic strips all jostling for attention, Peanuts drew the eye with its clean lines and white spaces, the boldness with which it said so little. The mood music of Minnesotan weather the softly falling snowflakes, the frozen ponds on which the characters skate silently and the stone-faced snowmen they build and befriend, only for them to melt away adds to the general ambience of stillness and quiet. In Peanuts, problems remain unresolved and words unspoken. Its signature note is the bathetic non-ending, a final panel with Charlie Brown exhaling a *sigh*, smiling wonkily with sweat beads shooting off his face or blushing in a way that fills his face with diagonal lines. Schulz knew that shyness has no narrative arc: the shy just have to carry on being shy. A daily comic strip was his way of dealing with this, communicating with the world remotely by creating his own world with a few bold pen strokes, and signing his name at the end.

Schulz came to believe, with classically midwest self-deprecation, that his own inhibitions were just inverted narcissism. Shyness, he wrote, is the overtly self-conscious thinking that you are the only person in the world; that how you look and what you do is of any importance. But the lesson of Peanuts is quite the reverse. Who, after all, is a better model of humanity: Lucy van Pelt, who shouts at the world with bone-shuddering and misplaced conviction, or Charlie Brown, a gentle, fair-minded stoic?

Tove Janssons Moomins books are also full of introverts, shrewish animals who hide under sinks or wander around the world in search of the horizon, never saying a word. Janssons scraperboard illustrations scratch these characters out of a background of black India ink, as if they are emerging warily out of the gloom. With only the thinnest pen line a tiny widening of the eye pupil, a downturned eyebrow or the sole of a foot treading charily through snow she conveys their fear. But the Moomins themselves are more successful role models for the shy. They like to wander in the forest alone, enjoying its silence and stillness, or to burrow into warm, private spaces. But they sulk and skulk only fleetingly. Mostly they retreat so as to think deeply and make something a painting, a poem or a boat carved out of bark as a way of whittling meaning out of a frightening world. Janssons lesson is not that shy people should come out of their shells; it is that they should embrace that shyness and put it to artful use.

Read more: