BBC4 has recreated Joe Lampton and all the characters thought up so brilliantly by John Braine. I remember reading all John Braine's books and Room at the Top evokes the 1950s so well in all its greyness. The era when young men ogled young women, every one of them in Joe Lampton's case. It was the time after the second world war when rationing was just ending and nobody had any money. You forget how far back it was and when I watched the tv production I discovered it wasn't something I wanted to go back to however temporarily, this idea of the working class lad and the posh girl and striving to get somewhere and how awful the meals were. Mind you, Maxine Peake was amazing, as she always is.
A l ot of writers however, think the best book Braine wrote was Writing a Novel. I reread it so many times I can still remember whole passages from it and this was Braine's legacy to other writers.
It isn't easy, writing a book of advice for other writers and making it less pedestrian than what to do with grammar, how you try to get an agent and all the other things which are actually of no help at all. I taught creative writing for two years so I do how hard it is to get the messages across.
There are four books I can think of which cover the subject with style. The first is John Braine's book, the second is Stephen King's On Writing, which I've read three times, the third is James N.Frey's How to Write a Damned Good Novel. I will never forget him saying that you will know when you are finished because every time you look at the book you want to throw up!
But the person who taught me and many other writers how to write as well as they were able was the creative writing teacher and novelist Natalie Goldberg. I can't even think of her name without becoming all Americanized because I used to have her Writing Down the Bones on tape in my car. I listened to it endlessly. She has written a couple of novels but her greatest talent is teaching others to write and my God she is good at it. She likened writing to meditation, clearing the mind, one of the hardest things of all. She wrote several books on writing, My friend Leah Fleming used to holiday in America and would bring them back and present them to me for Christmas.
In the publishing world, as in John Braine's book, there is always room at the top. I can't remember who said that for writers ( and presumably in almost every job ) it's ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration. Getting to the top is hard, be it the best seller list or K2 and almost impossible in the fickle world of publishing. Maybe that's why we love to attempt it because the view, like from Everest, is the better the further up you climb and you have the incredible feeling of achievement as you go, in spite of all those teachers who told you as one of mine did,
'Yes, Elizabeth, but when are you going to get a proper job?'
I'm sure my parents felt the same. I never did get a proper job. It's just after six in the morning here and all sensible people who don't have to get up and go to work are still in bed but here I am, drinking early morning tea and thinking about my book.