Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crispy cream

More thoughts on The Naked Civil Servant. It's a book that's been dwarfed by its adaptation, and by the rentaquote monster that its author became. To an extent, it's also just an excuse to cram in as many bons mots as possible and is rather similar in that respect to Douglas Coupland's JPod; as with Coupland, you can forgive Mr Crisp to an extent because the mots are really rather bons.

Three that I found particularly pertinent, within the space of two pages:

There are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; and the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings.

He missed out "that you want to turn down Oprah" but otherwise, sound advice. Then:

I now know that if you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.

Finally and, to me at least, most pertinently:

Of course the most obvious explanation for my total lack of success was that I was a bad writer. This idea I did not entertain for a moment.

4 comments:

Annie said...

Success is no measure of good writing, though.

Valerie said...

I've long been fond of that last quote. I could identify with the sheer cockiness of it :-). Though in most cases I've found the explanation for my lack of success is that I haven't been sending work out for a while. This is also the explanation for my total lack of success at winning the lottery (never having bought any tickets)...

But I did entertain some fears about my vocal skills after seeing the movie Nashville. I thought, what if I actually stink and everyone is just encouraging me because they like me, or because I'm young. Twenty years later, plump and quite middle aged, I have a bit more confidence that if someone asks me to sing it's because they want to hear it, not because they are wowed by my youth and beauty ;-)

amyonymous said...

unlike Valerie, I never heard that last quote before. I do, however, like it because of course I am not successful as a writer but of course it's not because I am a bad writer!

The Naked Civil Servant - is that a particularly Britishly popular book?

Tim Footman said...

Annie: True. But sometimes success means that more people are able to make a judgement whether the writing's good or not.

Valerie: I'm not sure the don't-give-a-fuck that comes with age is quite the same as confidence. All it means is that the focus of the insecurity is shifted from outsiders to the self. I care less now what other people think about my writing (thus contradicting what I just said to Annie), but I'm far more self-critical - I'm much more prone to writer's block than I was 20 years ago. And my singing's always been shite.

Amy: I'm not sure that the book itself is all that popular these days, but people do love the idea of Quentin Crisp - he's in a beloved tradition of comedy homosexuals, from Oscar Wilde to Julian Clary. It's a bit like the girls I knew at college, who plastered their rooms with James Dean posters, but had never seen his films.