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Certainly, Taylor has managed it so far, writing prolifically, unstoppably: reviews for the Guardian, Independent, TLS, Literary Review, Spectator, Wall Street Journal and Private Eye; collections of short stories; biographies of Thackeray and Orwell; and a half dozen books of criticism and literary and sporting history.

The Prose Factory
is a spirited dash through British literary culture since the end of the First World War. It rarely lags, except perhaps when discussing Cambridge’s impenetrable F.R. Leavis, and that is Leavis’s fault, not Taylor’s. (“He has no ear, no taste, no judgment. How can a man who writes as he does teach anyone English?” was the verdict of publisher Rupert Hart-Davis.)

Each generation is ousted by the next: complacent Bloomsbury by Proles and Pinks; Bright Young Things by Angry Young Men (Iris Murdoch included by virtue of her political fury and, one assumes, her cropped hair); Booker Prize Big Beasts by the experimenters Zadie Smith, David Mitchell and Ali Smith.

In every age the question endures: can I pay the milkmaid/school fees/mortgage/bailiff?

When politeness dictates that we do not ask how much a man earns, there is a prurient pleasure to be had rifling through writers’ account books — and reading of the disobliging jobs they had to do to make ends meet. Julian Maclaren-Ross, for example, selling vacuum cleaners before the war. J.L. Carr, in a fallow period during the 1970s, reckoned he earned just 17 pence an hour. He paid the butcher’s bill in remaindered copies of his novel The Harpole Report.

Evelyn Waugh, mindful of the taxman, negotiated to have half of the $4,000 promised him by the American Good Housekeeping magazine, paid in the form of a new car, to be delivered to his house in Ireland.

His brother Alec Waugh, in a pinch for cash and commissions, took on commercial work: a life of Thomas Lipton, the tea importer, and a history of Gilbey’s, the wine merchants. Deliverance came when Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights to his novel The Sugar Barons for $140,000.

Others had a less lucrative time of it. Cyril Connolly died with an overdraft of £27,000 in 1974 — a fate he had feared in his 1927 diary, when a young man of 24. “Damn life, damn love, damn literature! In other words, damn journalism! Live out of London, drop journalism — yet to quit one made impossible by loneliness, the other by finance. Make £1,000 a year, make pots of money out of a novel! Too soft for journalism, too rough for literature. I should be wretched abroad, bored in the country — what can one do?”

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Bob Driver
March 11th, 2016
5:03 PM
In too many commentaries, the term "writer" ignores the thousands of journalists, copywriters, scriptwriters, editors, paid bloggers,and others who - mostly through their familiarity and skill with words - manage to pay off the milkmaid (and more) every day. Maybe we should scrap the idea of what constitutes a "real writer" and substitute "wordsmith," a term that potentially contains and embraces just as much honor as "writer."

Eric MacDonald
March 9th, 2016
8:03 PM
Interesting review of an obviously very engaging volume. I do not question whether the book lags where FR Leavis is discussed, but I have to take exception to the characterisation of Leavis as having "no ear, no taste, no judgement." In fact, Leavis was a great success in teaching people about literature and why it is important. I can't imagine anyone thinking otherwise.

J.J. Mumm
March 9th, 2016
3:03 PM
Indeed. We're all struggling to make sense of a digitally disrupted world, where the old patterns and protocols of business no longer maintain OR sustain. One response is embodied in a web page I received recently via anonymous email (think about that for a moment) that apparently is a bit of a hit at Berkeley, Oxford and Deep Springs College (the latter for reasons you can deduce from the title of the work). In any case, I think the "writer" is on to something though I'm not sure quite what yet. Judge for yourself: J.J. Mumm

Frank Freeman
March 9th, 2016
11:03 AM
Great review! I'll have to read this book when it comes out over here across the pond. I am not a full-time writer but $2000 last year was not much even for a part-timer. So why do we do it? Sometimes I think it's an illness, other times, what else would one want to do? Thanks for the humorous quotes, too, especially the one about Leavis.

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