Bury my Heart at W.H.Smith's

I made a pact with myself this year that I would read one book on writing a month. It might be a craft book or an autobiography, but I would plough through it. So far I've had three good months of the eight, and the first was cheating because I re-read Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott's wonderful book about being a writer, rather than doing writing.

Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer was my second good month - given that she wrote her excellent text in the 1930s, you can assume it's stood the test of time, although I was more than a little disconcerted to find that several right-brain/left-brain techniques I thought I'd lifted straight from Buzan for my writing students were actually laid out by Brande - who must have been well ahead of her time.

Then I had a rotten few months. I am not fond of most books on writing - finding them either self-indulgent or pedestrian, and from March to August I'd have to say my prejudices have been largely confirmed. So thank all literary Gods for the impressive Brian Aldiss and his collection of thoughts, essays, opinions and ideas entitled Bury my Heart at W.H.Smith's.

I would take issue with him in a few places - I do not believe, for example, that women are less prone to 'ideology as a terrible scourge of the intellect' than men - I just think the publishing industry has tended to publish idealogue men and not idealogue women as a form of gender prejudice (look at Anne Coulter in the USA these days for an example of modern gender equality in this area). I do not always agree with his views on other science-fiction writers (although his scathing attack on Heinlein is worth the admission price alone, as it were), and I don't believe that some of his stated views on creativity and manic-depression are borne out by current research, although others are.

What I most admired about this book was the complete lack of artifice - Mr Aldiss says that 'admirers often find their favourite authors disappointing in the flesh' - and here he makes no attempt to give himself a more appetizing persona, though he could. He delineates the rather obsessive, often reclusive and terminally boring process of 'being' a writer without grace notes or apologies and at least half a dozen times I put down the book to grin ruefully and realise that my own strange behaviours are not personal but professional. Of most note, as far as I was concerned was a bluntly realistic essay on continuing to be a writer, rather than 'becoming' one, which he could have written with me in mind, it so clearly echoes my own concerns about the number of courses and tutors who teach people to 'begin' to write without giving them the tools for a self-reliant, productive, realistic lifetime of writing.

Can't recommend this book too highly, but be prepared for the various buckets of cold water that Aldiss empties over the pretentions of 'literary life' - not for the faint-hearted!

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