ON BECOMING A WRITER: PART ONE

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Truman Capote (above) said:

‘I started to write when I was eight years old. I mean really seriously. So seriously that I dared never mention it to anybody.’ CONVERSATIONS WITH CAPOTE: LAWRENCE GROBEL (NAL BOOKS 1985).

Good for Truman!

He certainly had a head start on me. I came to writing much later. Many writers, like Capote, start making up stories from a young age but I wasn’t one of them. The only story I can remember writing as a child was for a competition set by The Puffin Club. For which I received a notebook with ‘The Posh Puffin Pad’ emblazoned on it in gold letters. I think they gave them to everyone who entered.

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I was well into my twenties before I began writing seriously.  For a long time my dream of becoming a writer absolutely terrified me. And yet in answer to the question: What do you really want to be?  it was always writing that came up and specifically writing fiction.

Why the terror?

Having a respected writer for a father probably had something to do with it. I remember reading a review of his highly acclaimed biography of Disraeli. Harold Macmillan had written of the book:

‘It is outstanding. Robert Blake is a great historian – sympathetic, exhaustive, and with a light touch withal. He has not attacked; he has defended. He has portrayed, with delicacy and penetration, the most exciting and, in a curious way, the most modern of all Victorian statesmen. A great book.’

I felt tremendously proud but also rather alarmed; it seemed like a lot to live up to. It also made me think there must be hidden depths to the shy, courteous man who sent up smoke signals of burnt toast every morning.

I did not enjoy my degree and reading out essays in tutorials was always an embarrassing form of torture.  By the time I left university I was right off writing. I was right off everything.

And so, uncertain how to pursue my dream of writing fiction, I decided to make myself as miserable as possible by training to be a solicitor.

To be continued…

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