Back in the early-mid 1980s my life was so very different. It was a time of high unemployment in the UK (a phenomenon we're sadly witnessing again today) and I was in a 'sink or swim' situation. Eventually a lifeline came to me through writing, after I'd bombarded the editor of a provincial Sunday newspaper with so many articles, he eventually invited me to lunch. I suspect this was his way of telling me thanks, but no thanks. However, in the event, he invited me to write a 13 week series that lasted almost two years.
During this time of personal discovery my confidence was at an all-time high. I wrote a stream of letters to various authors and playwrights I admired, often with the inclusion of the request...'would you take a look at my work please?'
Of course I was pretty 'green' then and would have settled for compliments when I should have been looking for constructive criticism. All these years later I know that to produce writing that's worth its salt you have to accept that the percentages are probably in the region of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. You have to GET ON WITH IT!
I was so naïve, but then my naivety was probably the key to my confidence. I was running on that 'have-a-go' spirit that we so often see in our grandchildren. I had no fear of failure. From where I was, what did I have to lose?
Yesterday it was announced that one of those authors I admire had passed away. Keith Waterhouse's reply to a letter I sent him around 1984-85 still resides in my copy of his wonderful 'There is a Happy Land'. It reads as follows:
'Many thanks. I hate to say this but no. I don't have the time – my working day, finishing a book, is about 15 hours at present and you can imagine how much I want to read a MS after that!
But writers are the worst people to show work to – the people who publish writing are publishers. You write the book, you send it on its way, and hope that one of them will take it – that's how it's done, and I don't know of any other way. And if they won't take it, you write another. Hard life, isn't it? But that's how books get published. Good luck.' Keith Waterhouse.
Thanks for the reality-check Keith.
As it was, I denied my natural inclination to continue writing and opted instead for academia, where it dawned upon me, after a decade or so, that I was now, with a few exceptions, surrounded by people who lived in fear of failure.
Since taking early retirement I have been encouraged to write once more, and for the first time in years I feel as though I'm back on track.
What advice would I give my three beautiful granddaughters? Use your talents and be prepared to go wherever they lead you. Don't ever get talked out of that 'have-a-go' spirit.
© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges