Alan Titchmarsh on words

At school, I loved writing stories. I loved writing them rather more than Miss Weatherall liked reading them, but that’s by the by. And then I grew up. A bit. And I realised, when I grew up, that unless you are an artist, or a composer, or a novelist, you never get to use the one thing that gives so much pleasure as a child – your imagination. – Alan Titchmarsh

Phil: I don’t really do biographies. The phrase “History is written by the victors”, attributed to Churchill, could be re-worked as, “Biographies are written by lucky sods.” In many spheres, especially the biz called show, success is as much about being in the right place at the right time. As one who always manages not to do this, I’m not that interested in filling my days reading about those who did.

Yes I am bitter.

Anyway, Alan Titchmarsh’s biog , “Knave of Spades” came to me with the suggestion that I ought to read it because his writing style is similar to mine. Fair enough, it’s not a fat book and I wanted some easy reading so I gave it a go.

So far so good. There is an element of right place, right time with his post-Kew Gardens career but it’s amiably written and kept me turning pages. The bit that sparked my interest starts on P277 in the chapter entitled “Words…”

At this point, our hero decides to have a go at writing a novel. He sends off three query letters and gets rejection, mild interest and offer of lunch.

Hold on, A rejection letter? For Tichmarsh? The man who is considered some sort of sex God by the HRT patch crowd?

That must have been an interesting meeting for someone.

“So, you turned down Titchmarsh’s book.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s not about wearing jumpers or doing gardens. Some sort of novel about a lighthouse keeper I think.”

“ARE YOU NUTS!!!! I DON’T CARE WHAT HE’S WRITTEN. TITCHMARSH WILL SELL BY THE TON!!!!! YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS INDUSTRY AGAIN !!!”

And so it proved. Number 2 in the Times Bestseller list.

By the point he wrote his first novel, Alan had produced 40 books on gardening and stuff. I’m told that these are informative and easy to read without talking down to the reader. He understands that he’s not writing great fiction, that the literary world is desperately snobby. The point is made that JK Rowling was lauded as the successor to Roald Dahl until she started selling by the barrow-load and then faced a backlash from the establishment.

I think he puts it well when he says:

It is up to all authors to plough their own furrow – whether it be light fiction or prose laden with scholarly substance – and to write well, within their genre.

Which is pretty much what we are trying to do. Maybe it’s all bluff but he doesn’t come accross as someone who took acceptance for granted. It’s reasonable (if anoying) to expect that if you are a “name” you are a lot less likely to end up in the slush pile. Publishing is a business and celebrity sells. I like that he understands what he’s writing. It’s light fiction. Feel-good stuff to be read, “on the bus or the train, in a book-lined study or on a lilio, by butcher, baker, computer-maker or housewife.”

Which is all we aspire to. Kate vs the Dirtboffins isn’t high art. It is fun to read. It will make you laugh. We wrote it because writing it was fun. To sum it up in Alan’s words:

Provided that they can give the reader a day or two of escapism, and a fraction of the pleasure that they give me to write, I ask no more.

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