How many successful writers have children who also become successful writers?

Amis authors, father & son at the right. Photograph: Daniel Farson/Getty Images

“One of the perks of being the son of a writer is not that you come automatically equipped to write novels, it’s that you don’t bother much about praise. Kingsley never bothered much about praise and dispraise. My stepmother did care. She was desperate for praise, and very much wanted it from me.” Thus Martin Amis in The Guardian. No doubt such insouciance can be passed on.

Abe Books brings us a list of ten examples of father-son writing continuity. Of course lots of people will write a book: and with self publishing now well established more of course than one could previously ever have imagined, but by writer don’t we want to mean more than just someone who writes? I think we imagine the term to imply “able to make a decent living by book writing”. Now I have no idea what monies Charles Dickens junior was able to pull down; it sounds like they were earnings rather than royalties. Alexandre Dumas Père et Fils leave everyone else in the dust in a listing of successful father and son authors. Some combination of the Waugh dynasty looks pretty good too, but notable inter-generational success is a bit of a rarity isn’t it? Not included on the list, Leslie Stephen/Virginia Wolff, and John Cheever/Susan Cheever would probably qualify. Anthony Trollope’s mother wrote novels which are not much read nowadays: three of them are available at Project Gutenberg. His brother Thomas wrote sixty books which seem to have quietly drifted into obscurity, though four do survive at Project Gutenberg. Trollope’s sister-in-law (Thomas’ second wife: the first had been a poet) was also a novelist: two of her books are also at Project Gutenberg. And her younger sister was Dickens senior’s mistress, keeping up the family’s literary activities.

Here’s the announcement of Joe Hill’s dad’s first big break.

This family seems to be as well established in the book-writing business as the Trollopes. Here’s Owen King writing at The Guardian about the difficulties of collaborating with Dad.

Of course following in your father’s profession is by no means unusual: many a weaver has sons who become weavers. My granddaughter is following in her Mum’s footsteps and studying medicine. And lots of children inherit the family business. Such succession is far from unusual: what’s rarer is the talent needed to make a success of the enterprise. Often the second or third generations who took on woolen mills in the Borders ran into difficulties. Of course business conditions had changed since patriarchal times, but there did appear to be a shortage of magic touch. My school-friend Charlie Stewart is a conspicuous exception. The Buddenbrooks trap all too often seems to catch us out. (Erika, Klaus, Golo and Monika, Thomas Mann’s children, were all successful writers however. I don’t mean to imply any aspersion here on the third generation: I know nothing of them.)

How many footballers have sons who grow up to be footballers? More I suspect than writers. Being familiar with the business helps, as well, I imagine, as being able to internalize at an early age that such a life is actually possible. Of course there is the problem of the very public inter-generational comparisons which you’d have to have the intestinal fortitude to put up with: is Kasper Schmeichel as good as his dad? Still I suppose that sort of intestinal fortitude would have to come with any form of celebrity: whether you are being compared with a family member or a stranger, you still risk an unpleasant shock.

Of course there is the concern that authors make terrible parents. The Walrus tackles this. Czeslaw Milosz said, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” If you don’t want your quirks coming up for excoriation in some future novel, be sure to discourage writing in your offspring. The Walrus article quotes William Faulkner’s response when his daughter tried to intervene in his alcoholism: “Nobody remembers Shakespeare’s children.” Obviously a writing parent will need space and quiet to commune with the muse: rambunctious kids are doubtless about as incompatible with such a state as it’s possible to get. Maybe habits of silence predispose a child to internalization, reading, and mental story-telling preparing them for one kind of life only.

Interesting Literature has 10 of the Best Poems about Fathers. For fairness’ sake I point out that they link there to their previous post of poems about mothers.

Here for a little balance is a Lit Hub gallery of photos of authors with their mothers.