One of the first features I had published was about buying a property in Brighton. At the time – 2007 – I didn’t know a great deal about writing features, knew less about Brighton, less still about buying property and even less about buying a property in Brighton. Thankfully I still don’t know about these things.
My brief stated that I was expected to write 1,600 words on buying a property in Brighton. This was worrying. I didn’t want to write one word on buying a property in Brighton (although I did want to write two: Fuck This) let alone 1,600. Luckily I had a plan, and found myself in Waterstones on Gower Street copying into my notebook some 150 words from the introduction to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which I then used as the opening part to my feature. “How relevant is the above? How is today’s Brighton comparable to that of the 1930s?” I (probably) began. “Come on – how? Because I sure as fuck don’t know. I haven’t even been to Brighton. I have absolutely no interest in buying a house. I’m really the wrong person to be writing about this.” And so on.
I didn’t really go on like that. In fact, I was just looking over some old correspondence to see if I could use the exact quote I used in the feature and came across an email from the editor saying that my piece – called (and don’t read this next bit unless you’re already planning on killing yourself in the next few minutes) ‘Brighton Up Your Day!’ – had been passed around the office and was one of the finest the magazine had ever published. The magazine has since closed down, perhaps because the entire staff were clinically insane.
Since then I’ve often used quotes when starting a feature, particularly if that feature is about travel or property – two topics that I’ve written way too much about. Quotes, as Mark Twain famously said, are “a fucking brilliant way” to lead into a feature. They make the writer appear better read and smarter than they probably are, the reader picks something up that they can regurgitate and bore someone with later, and they eat up a bit of space.
I don’t really use famous quotations in features anymore. This is partly because I don’t really write features anymore and I certainly don’t write features on property or travel anymore. But the proposal based on Pitching the World is (at last) being sent off by my agent to publishers at the weekend and I’ve been trying to find a quote to put at the beginning of the book. At first I considered this:
“No great achievement is possible without persistent work.” – Bertrand Russell
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge
Or even this:
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King
But then I thought I don’t really agree with any of the above. And Pitching the World could well turn out to be an anti-achievement book. There’s persistence, but the only real persisting going on is my persistence at not persisting at anything. Does that make sense? Who cares, check this out:
“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you just hang around until you get used to it.” – Charles Schultz
This is I love. Seems pretty accurate too. However, the following may be more appropriate for a book about writing:
“You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.” – Charles Bukowski
Good, isn’t it? Well I think it’s good. But I think the following is the quote that will be going inside the book, assuming it gets picked up.
“You tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” – Homer Simpson
Whose side are you on? Are you with Bertrand “I think I’m a ghost” Russell, Calvin “Who the fuck is Calvin Coolidge” Coolidge and Stephen King? Or do you take the advice of a cartoon character, a woman beating alcoholic and Charles Schultz? Let me know. I reckon you’re somewhere in the middle.