4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Lots of people dream of making a living from writing. Sadly in the modern world, it is only the authors that sell millions of copies that are able to do this, or who have been fortunate enough to land significant advances. Raban started off as a lecturer at The University College of Wales before heading to the University of East Anglia. It was there that he was given the chance to write book reviews. He resigned the steady job and took the opportunity and waded into the London literary scene.

In those days you could earn a reasonable living from being a literary reviewer,  those the days that they paid for people to write reviews and there were a lot more column inches to fill too. He was sent piles of books to read, and it could be quite lucrative too as he could sell them on afterwards. He had a particular way of doing things, which suited some editors, but I am sure that he loved the accolade of a ‘troublesome reviewer’ from one of his editors. Book reviews then were much more expansive then, often considering the author’s wider works and all sorts of other things that took their interest. He includes some of his best reviews in this part.

Raban then tried to get into writing plays, partly as it was work that was much less solitary than sitting alone in a flat in London and the money could be really good. He soon found out that it was a very different discipline than writing a book review and to be perfectly frank, it wasn’t very successful…

Then we are onto the part where he writes about writing for magazines like the New Review, where editorial demands are both high and relaxed, being mostly dedicated to good writing without having a set agenda or a particular axe to grind. There look for pieces from contributors that could be taken from any subject that they wanted to write about. Raban provides some examples of work that he had published. Next is my favourite part of the book, the section on travel writing.

He has discovered that the best way to travel is to cast himself adrift in the world and ensure that he has no appointments to make and how a letter of introduction can take you places that you’d rather not go. The same working conditions for a writer that drives him to drink can also drive him to travel as they would do anything to get away from the typewriter. The procrastination with make you think of sunnier climes and of those whose footsteps you wish to follow. He revels in the chaos of travel and has a thing for seeing different places from boats. He then goes onto review some of his fellow travel writers books and journeys, some of which I have read and some of which I haven’t.

This was another enjoyable book by Raban. His writing style is more crisp and efficient when compared to his books as these were pieces for periodicals and not originally intended for a book. In this, his infectious enthusiasm for the written word is evident and not just the words he has wrestled onto the page, but the admiration for authors who have done the same.


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