Skip to main content

Review: How to be a Writer - Marcus Beckman ****

There seem to be three obvious markets for this book - people who are interested in what writers do, people who would like to be professional writers but aren't, and writers themselves. That last category may seem an unlikely one - if you are already a writer, why would you need a book called 'How to be a writer'? But the reality is I spent some of my cash, hard-earned from writing, on this book.

The reason the book appealed, I think, is the familiar concept of readers liking to identify with a book. This has led to much more diversity, for example, in fictional characters - but it is also engaging to read about someone who does a similar job and their experiences, especially when the narrative is handled in such a light and entertaining way as Marcus Berkmann does here.

I can certainly identify with much of Berkmann's working life - both the highs and lows of being a freelance writer. What's particularly fun is that Berkmann has written a whole range of columns and reviews, from off-the-wall observations on life to sometimes astringent reviews of books, music and films. Obeying one of the essential rules of being a freelance - always reuse material if you can - Berkmann peppers the book with examples of his writing from his long-running career, including pieces that have appeared in both national newspapers and familiar magazines. He's always prepared to indulge in some humorous self-criticism, which works particularly well in this context.

There is one aspect of the trade that I don’t think Berkmann has got a handle on: the difference between being a London-based writer and the rest of us. He tells us that lots of writers he knows don’t drive - try that if you live in the country. Similarly, he seems to spend a lot of time at publisher parties and book launches. When I get invited to something like that (because they’re always in London) I have to factor in half a day’s travel and hefty transport costs. So I rarely do it for the distinctly limited benefits that accrue.

This minor point aside, How to be a Writer is a very entertaining little book, ideal, as I used it, as a non-taxing holiday read. Recommended.

See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here

How to be a Writer is available from Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com and Bookshop.org.


Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou