Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A writing lesson from Winston Churchill

This story is quoted from the English novelist Geoffrey Bocca’s “Best seller : a nostalgic celebration of the less-than-great books you have always been afraid to admit you loved “ (pages 16-19)

"All at once I found myself with a chance not to be missed, and moreover with the courage to ask the question. I spoke up. 'Sir Winston, I am a writer, and I want to be a better writer. I know how much you were influenced by Gibbon and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have read this too, with great profit. Have you another writer you especially recommend?'
"He said on word to me....The word he said was, 'Kinglake'.
"I had to wait until I returned to London to look up Kinglake. This is what one of the encyclopedias says.
While a student in 1835 he travelled Throughout the East, and the impression made on him was so powerful that he was seized with a desire to record it. "Eothen", a sensitive and witty record of impressions keenly felt and remembered was published in 1844 and enjoyed considerable reputation. In 1854, he went to Crimea and was present as a spectator at the Battle of Alma. He made the acquaintance of Lord Raglan, the British commander, whose widow subsequently placed all of the commander’s papers at the writer’s disposal. For the rest of his life Kinglake was engaged in the task of completing this monumental and largely ignored history. Thirty-two years elapsed between its commencement and publication of the last volume and nine volumes appeared in all.
"Churchill’s guideline to me was clear. forget the lifework, read ‘Eothen’, a title already familiar to me.
"I read Eothen with joy and with love possessed, and put it down saying, 'Thanks, Winnie.' I knew one of Winston Churchill’s unpublished secrets.
"A couple of years later I found myself alone with Churchill after dinner at La Capponchina. I reminded him of our earlier conversation, told him how much I felt enriched by Eothen, and asked him to recommend other reading. Churchill’s first leson had been concluded in a single word. This time he was twice as expansive. What he said was, ‘More Kinglake‘.
I said, ‘B-but, sir Winston, the only other thing Kinglake ever wrote was his nine-volume history of the invasion of the Crimea. It is completely unread.’
"Churchill’s eyes twinkled the way they so often did in wartime propaganda photographs. He pushed a thumb into my dress shirt. ‘Read it, my boy.’ he said. ‘as you say, nobody reads it. so no one can accuse you of plagiarism, can they?’ "

This story continues on;

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