The wages of writing

John Carey reviews [£] “The Prose Factory”, DJ Taylor’s study of literature as business:

The hand-to-mouth jobs that indigent writers were reduced to intrigue Taylor. In addition to the usual boltholes (academe, publishing, the BBC) they include selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door (Julian Maclaren-Ross), fight-reporting for Boxing News (Timothy Mo) and dispensing womanly advice as an agony aunt on the Daily Chronicle (Ralph Straus). The straits writers have endured in years of failure are also sympathetically logged. When JG  Farrell won the 1973 Booker Prize with The Siege of Krishnapur, his acceptance speech (criticised as “unmanly” in The Bookseller) recalled his time living in a rented greenhouse at £1 a week.

The roll call of writers that we think of as successful, yet who died destitute or deeply in debt, is alarming. Cyril Connolly, Angus Wilson and John Braine are among them. True, writers do not always husband their resources wisely. Kingsley Amis hired a more dynamic agent in the 1970s and garnered spectacular sums. But, Taylor finds, he spent, in the month of February 1993 alone, £315 on taxis, £432 at the Garrick Club and £1,038 on drink.

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