Hemingway has said, ‘I certainly do not think of writing as a type of self-destruction, though journalism, after a point has been reached, can be a daily self-destruction for a serious creative writer.’ Pretentious, perhaps, to quote this. But only someone who has practised journalism for a few years will understand the true terror felt about news reporting. Destruction, absolutely. The fear can be so overwhelming that even reading a news report, you think, could infect you again. It’s taken over two years to shed that mentality, that way of thinking and writing. Two years of pain & agony & loss. And it still creeps back occasionally when I’m not looking. It is not, as Hemingway says, simply a problem for a serious creative writer. It’s a problem for anyone interested in truth, life, death, humanity and the mind. Anyone who has any real interest in the total human experience – not the apparent slice – will be slaughtered and driven to the bin by journalism. Of that, I have no doubt. None whatsoever. Just the word journalism makes me shudder these days. It’s damn ugly. I blame it largely on the j, but the entire combination of vowels and consonants produces a clumsy, clumping, thudding sound. Journalism. You’ll notice every time you say it now.
Hemingway also said, ‘Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.’ I’ve never been a full time newspaper writer, so I can’t comment with authority. My hunch, though, is that he’s right. Learning the trade on a paper is good. I fear, though, that radio – for all its many strengths – is not good practice if you want to write properly. Pompous, again. Well, sod it: I mean it. Write properly. Don’t get angry. Admit it yourselves. An editor, a successful editor, said to me a year and a half ago that in his experience radio journalists always struggle the most to write good books. ‘They’ve lost the art of writing a decent sentence, and sometimes they can never rekindle or discover that skill.’ I can vouch for that. Learning to write has been an entire experience. It hasn’t simply been about researching the right material, and being disciplined. I’ve done masses of research and have buckets of discipline. But the writing – the actual writing – has been an act in daily, hourly, minute-by-minute therapy. Deconstructing the mind, the way I was trained by the Beeb to look at the world. Pulling all that stuff out, burning it, and then daring to experience the freedom of my own thoughts and responses and trying to write them as I observe them. I look back on my life as a reporter and news-programme-maker and it is as if I am looking back on a life in a mental institution which began with lobotomy and was followed up with a lot of drugs and regular doses of electro-convulsive therapy. No wonder I’m going a little grey. (The ones who don’t look grey – the journalists you see on telly who are chubby and smiling and merry – they’re the ones who deserve to be doing the job, so have no sympathy).
I end with a thought on cunts. A friend, M, sent me an email, in response to one I’d sent him, in which he informed me, ‘… actually I think there’s a Face Book group that is dedicated to reclaiming the word cunt. I’m not sure for what purpose though…’. I had said, you see, that I’m trying to reclaim the word cunt after an inspiring conversation 18 months ago with a woman who was shocked by my dislike of the word. I’ve even been taught the Afrikaans for cunt, and it’s unfortunate I forgot it so quickly. There’s a good piece on all this by Jenny Diski in the LRB, a review she wrote a few years back. (She has another review in this current edition of the LRB about ugliness which is also very good).