Thursday, August 26, 2010

Once upon a life

Entertaining essay written by Justin Cartwright about how he 'became' a writer. Involves drugging cats, soft porn and losing first chapters. In the end he describes the transformation "as if a cloud that I hadn't really been aware of had lifted".

Once upon a life: Justin Cartwright

He started out as a copywriter, became the crown prince of pet-food commercials then directed a soft-porn film no one wants to remember. But finally he put pen to paper and wrote his first novel. It was a moment that changed his life forever

When I came back to London I found work as a copywriter in a big ad agency. It was an exciting time. Within a few weeks I had written my first television campaign for Pal dog food. It took me about 20 minutes. The basic premise was that the stuff was almost too good for dogs and in each commercial humans looked on jealously before eating their baked beans. The campaign won awards, including a Lion d'Or at Cannes. Somewhere I have the statuette, a winged lion with bronze effect. This seemed to me to be almost ludicrously easy and pretty glamorous besides. I was offered a job in a production company as a director of commercials, although to tell the truth I knew very little about the mechanics of film. But the pay was good and I accepted.

Somehow my pet food reputation followed me and the only jobs I was given were filming dogs and cats eating the stuff. To this day I can't bear the smell of pet food. And worse, I was violently allergic to cats. But there was one cat I absolutely loved. No matter what the task, Bonzo would come confidently and curiously out of the box in which he had been transported to the set, look around knowingly and – once he had got to know me – wait near me for his orders. He was about 99% motivated by greed, but we both understood the deal: he did what he was told, and then he was given some food. I felt such a strong affection for Bonzo that I wanted to acquire him; I felt we were colleagues, troupers. Sadly the owner refused: she saw that she was on to a good little earner with Bonzo.
- Justin Cartwright, for the Observer. Posted on

Read the rest of the essay here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Drink Till He's Witty: The Reader's Drinking Game

A recent essay in the Times points out that "rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing." If that's true, then clearly famous literary stars need their own drinking games
 Geoff Nicholson extrapolates from writing-workshop maxims to create these drinking rules: "Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand." But why stick with what you know when you can challenge yourself — and your liver — with a game of William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway? You can play these games in groups — by, say, having one person read aloud (this will probably get even more fun as the reader's voice slurs and his/her eyes lose focus). However, they are perhaps best attempted — like great writing — alone with your secret fantasies, your thwarted desires, and your gnawing fear that you will never really amount to anything in this bleak, meaningless life.

Thomas Pynchon: Drink every time someone has a stupid name, like "Eigenvalue."

David Foster Wallace: Drink every time a sentence has three or more conjunctions.

William Faulkner:
Every time a sentence goes on for more than a page, drink the entire bottle. Then make out with your sister.

Joyce Carol Oates: Drink every time there is a home invasion.

Jane Austen: Drink every time someone plays whist, goes riding, or gets married.
J.D. Salinger: Every time there is a symbol of lost innocence, drink a highball. Then spit it all over someone you love.
Emily Bronte: Drink every time you see the word "heath" (Heathcliff counts).

Gabriel García Márquez
: Drink every time someone's name is "Aureliano." (Note: this only works for A Hundred Years of Solitude)

Virginia Woolf: First, go buy some flowers. Then, if you have time left over, drink.

Sappho: Drink every time you can't tell if something is hot or disgusting.

Ernest Hemingway: Drink every time Ernest Hemingway is boring and overrated. Man, I am so wasted right now.

Raymond Chandler: Drink every time someone drinks.

Dashiell Hammett:
Drink every time someone drinks.

Drink every time someone drinks gross diluted wine.

Stephenie Meyer: Drink every time someone drinks blood.

Dylan Thomas: Drink until you are in a coma.

- Anna North,