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Kingsley Amis, despite earning £822,000 in the last five years of life, died with a relatively modest estate. What he earned, he spent: £315 on taxis, £432 at the Garrick Club, £1,038 on drink — and that just in one month in February 1993.

Amis had a bulldog agent. Others weren’t so lucky. Penelope Fitzgerald’s first novel The Golden Child (1977) was taken on by Duckworth for £200. Was this acceptable?, asked the managing director. “No,” wrote Fitzgerald, “but I haven’t the courage to say no.”

George Gissing, who had painted the hack trade in rough colours in New Grub Street (1891), used to ask of young writers talked up as the next big thing: “But has he starved?”

Better, many writers have concluded, to take on lucrative work for the lowbrow mags despised by literary London, than to starve in the TLS and LRB. Martin Amis and Ian McEwan picked up cheques for short stories in the adult magazines Penthouse and Club International.

Taylor’s admiration for the men and women who have scraped — or raked — a living by their pens springs from every page of this energetic, affectionate, galvanising book. It sends you hurrying to order all the novels, memoirs and collected letters you haven’t read and to re-read the ones you have. May editors commission a sequel, may Hollywood buy the film rights, and may he never flounder in garret despair.


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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: www.ghostwrit.net 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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