In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, I became fascinated by both the film and the novel of The Exorcist, while I remain so to this day. I could write at enormous length about why this should be, in a way that naturally reflects the learning, the observational skills and the story-telling abilities of William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, but I’ll present an appreciation of some of this great man’s works another time, perhaps.
Meanwhile, I wrote to William Peter Blatty in 1990, as I was effectively at the start of my writing career and in my opinion, he was a towering genius, having produced not only The Exorcist, but also a sequel and yet another mesmerising film, The Ninth Configuration, which was based on his novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. At the time, my mind was a whirling kaleidoscope of barely-formed ideas for films, documentaries and books with a supernatural theme; I had in addition some learning and some proven writing ability, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to proceed, so I penned what I presume was a long, rambling letter to Mr Blatty c/o one of his publishers.
I have no copy of what I wrote and I can’t remember much about it, other than it was undoubtedly the product of one who was wandering in darkness and had yet to see any light at all, let alone a great one. I had met and spoken with another of my literary heroes, the late Anthony Burgess, the year before, so I knew that these people were approachable human beings, made of flesh and blood, but William Peter Blatty seemed to me to be impossibly remote, probably on account of the fact that he lived somewhere in America, I knew not where, and because he occupied the very highest strata of that country’s film-making industry.
And so it was that I was absolutely amazed to receive a reply from him, a few months later, when I’d completely forgotten that I’d written to him. I can remember exactly when this letter landed on the doormat of my home in north London, because it was the morning after two of my music journalist friends, Morat and Neil Jeffries, had taken me to a Deep Purple concert in Hammersmith, and then on to the band’s end of tour party, somewhere in Covent Garden.
Despite the excesses I’d indulged in during my time touring Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, as I was still working on the oft-mentioned mediaeval jousting tournament at the time, I had never been to a party quite like this one. I gather that by the standards of the time, it was a relatively quiet affair, as Deep Purple had been going for over 20 years by then, but I was still stunned by the sight of a banquet that a Roman emperor would have been proud of, while I found it hard to comprehend that there was an inexhaustible supply of alcohol and it was all free.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt very considerably the worse for wear the next day, but I was additionally baffled by the fact that I had an envelope addressed to me bearing a postmark of Yellowstone National Park in America. I had absolutely no idea who on Earth would be writing to me from this place, so I was thunderstruck when I opened the envelope and saw a wonderful, handwritten letter, on personalised notepaper and signed by none other than the world-renowned author of The Exorcist, Mr William Peter Blatty.
I have this letter still and every now and again, I remove it from a drawer in my desk to admire it. It is handwritten and it contains the best advice I’ve ever been given on how to write and what to physically do with my writing efforts, while it also contains some wonderful compliments on my handwriting and various other words designed to instruct and to lift the soul, unmistakable testaments to this great man’s wisdom and sheer generosity of spirit. At the age of 89, his death is perhaps not a tragedy, but it is terribly sad all the same and his loss hurts.
God bless you, Mr Blatty.