I first fell in love with Peter Ustinov when I was maybe ten years old.
I did it again yesterday while watching an interview with him from 1965, which I was too young to see at the time, and, besides, my parents didn’t have a television.
Among the things Mr Ustinov said, and he sounded incredibly contemporary and very sensible and enlightened on most of the subjects he tackled, was a sentence or two on culture and how important it is to be aware of all artistic endeavours and disciplines.
I am a snob. I know that I am, and I’m not afraid to say it.
I am an intellectual snob, of a sort, without being any sort of intellectual. I’m a snob about stupidity, and in particular, about stupid people pretending to be much cleverer than they are.
I have long been a sucker for a clever man, hence the childhood crush on Peter Ustinov, who was probably fifty at the time. He had a striking face, but he probably wasn’t the most prepossessing physical specimen. It would not have mattered to me, because clever is sexy.
I’m a fast study and a light one. I skim the surfaces and know a little about quite a lot of things. That’s probably something to do with the impatience that I talked about yesterday, and it’s probably one of the reasons why it took me so long to begin to write long stories: novels. I do have an English degree, though, with secondary studies in History, and I have half a Fine Art degree; I suspended my studies when the husband was taken ill, but I still paint (badly) most weeks, and we collect prints.
The husband, on the other hand, is interested in and learned on any number of subjects, because he’s the sort of person who immerses himself in the things he’s interested in, and has done since he was a small child. He still knows more about dinosaurs than anyone I know (except perhaps for Steve White at Titan books, who is another clever man), and he began to take an interest in them before he started primary school.
When it comes to the arts, the husband might just as easily have been a musician (classical guitar, and he has a great singing voice), an artist (the man draws almost as well as his artist mother), or an actor (he continued to act right through university). As it was, he studied English at Oxford, which, I think, speaks for itself.
My point is this: If you want to be a writer, it’s not just about having the stamina to produce strings of words. When I’m asked how to become a writer, I always advise people to read a lot and to write a lot.
What I mean when I say read a lot is, ‘Get an education!’
That’s it, I’ve said it, and frankly it’s a huge relief.
There is no short cut to becoming a writer. For most writers there isn’t much money, and only a very few ever become well-known. Fewer than that will have books in print, or any other format for that matter, in two decades, never-mind two centuries.
If you’re in it for the long game, if you’re in it because you simply have no choice but to write, I wish you good luck, but it won’t be enough on its own; so, while I also pray to the gods of good fortune, I’m very glad I got an education.
Now, go check the biographies of your favourite writers and tell me I’m wrong.
Obviously I can’t count, because this is my 99th blog, and I was going to recommend a blog a day until my hundredth. I like blogs, so I’m going to continue this little feature until I run out of people I want to celebrate. Today it is the turn of Jane Alexander and her blog. Jane has a huge heart and a quick wit, and she talks on many subjects with conviction. She was also the first person ever to read “Naming Names”.
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