The question – the recurrent question – asked at those events (after a reading, say, or at a literary festival) when the author is expected to wax lyrical and wise on all manner of subjects is ‘what advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out?’ I asked it myself last Monday of Peter Finch, and he gave a damn good answer – the same answer I always give – which is to read more.
On his blog, Argentinian poet and prizewinning novelist Andrés Neuman (whose fabulous novel, Traveller of the Century will be available in English from February next year) says he was recently asked by a magazine to give six items of advice to beginners, and his perplexed reply was, in my loose translation, as follows:
1. Don’t conform to the patronising attitudes of older writers. They were also young, and in all probability more clueless.
2. Tradition doesn’t weigh on us, but invites us in. We write as we read: writing is a supreme form of re-reading.
3. Try, make mistakes and try again. A bad manuscript is worth far more than a supposed genius who abstains from writing, just to be on the safe side.
4. Keep correcting, to the limits of your patience.
5. Remember that we are all beginners: writing is an inaugural art and lacks experts.
6. Don’t accept six pieces of advice from anyone. One is already too many.
Otherwise – and this is completely unrelated, I was flicking through the cyberworld yesterday, and I discovered that Joseph Hill of the reggae band Culture died five years ago already, when I wasn’t looking. At the risk of going on like an old fart I remember going to see Culture at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, must have been 1977, and being knocked for six, unless that was just from inhaling the fumes from all the people who had been consorting with Mr Bong and Mr Spliff. Anyway, here is a song to remember him by.