“Using quotes to beef up copy is good. Sometimes reading quotes to give your mood a lift is okay too. Fuck, this one’s not going to make it into a book is it?” – Benjamin Disraeli

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 

Or this:

“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.


17 responses to ““Using quotes to beef up copy is good. Sometimes reading quotes to give your mood a lift is okay too. Fuck, this one’s not going to make it into a book is it?” – Benjamin Disraeli

  1. Why you wouldn’t use “fuck this I’m off”, which ties in perfectly with you, from some “hatchet man” scally on a 5-a-side pitch under big buildings is beyond me. Still, I’ll definitely read the book.


  2. That britoned up my bus ride to football…where i’ve always thought composure was a cover for waiting for things to happen.

  3. L: I do have a soft spot for “Fuck this, I’m off” but am not entirely convinced of the relevance. I’m very much enjoying your optimism about the book.
    run: How did you (we) get on at football? I stared at your spelling of ‘brightened’ for about two months until I realised that you were doing a joke.

  4. Relevance? I’ll give you relevance!

    Homeless in Clapton – fuck this I’m off – moved to Boscombe
    Chain smoking in your nan’s garden in Boscombe – fuck this I’m off – Mallorca
    Not enjoying Mallorca so much – fuck this I’m off – Paris
    Paris full of middle class American twats – fuck this I’m off – back to Mallorca

    The chronology may be out but you get the idea.

    The book is going to be ace.

  5. Hahahahahaha – that made me laugh. That ‘Hahahahahaha’ looks sarcastic, as does that ‘that made me laugh’, but I’m serious.
    You failed to include – between Clapton and Boscombe – Dubai and East Horsley, but otherwise spot on in terms of chronology and spirit. Thanks.

  6. I’m with Coolidge. And I’ll tell you why. Because… oh, fuck this. I’m off.

  7. Pitchbloke, bless you! You’ve suggested two life-forming quotes;

    a. “I stared at life for 64 years before I realised some omnipitent fucker is doing a joke”

    b. I might earmark this for my headstone – “Fuck this, I’m off”

  8. How about finishing your book with a quote from the film Shattered Glass? “Stop pitching, Steve. It’s over.” If you haven’t seen the film, trust me, that’s a real quote. And pretty stunningly apt too.

  9. You are with Coolidge, Karl? You massive square. Perhaps you should change your name to Karl Coolidge. Or even Cool Karlidge, to, you know, cover up your squareness.
    ‘Fuck this, I’m off’ would make for a remarkable headstone Oldbloke. Do it. But please leave the fucking off for another few decades if you don’t mind.
    I haven’t seen Shattered Glass Scarlett. Is it about a really incompetent window cleaner? I have a feeling that, ‘Stop pitching, Steve. It’s over.’ is what my agent will be telling me in a couple of weeks time once a raft of publishers have all given my book a big thumbs down.

  10. From today’s search engine terms:

    ‘I want to get a boat and fuck off’

    I think I love whoever wrote that.

  11. Another stunning quote Pitchboy.
    Living next to the river I might be tempted to use it when asked “What’s the matter dear?” by my lady friend as she catches me gazing at the water

  12. Quotes, they’re cheap and nasty. The only one worth hearing is “make mine a large one”, and I don’t even know who invented it. Quotes? Just make ’em up as you go.

  13. Your website is just “Quote after sickening quote.” You’ve been hanging around with Phil ‘Filthy Animal’ Taylor too long, you pork-barrelling fuck.

  14. Doesn’t your special lady friend occasionally read this thing – and it is a thing – from time to time rantingoldblokedbloke? Marvellous name, by the way.
    thirstymurphy: You’re right, they are cheap and nasty. Mine are always large ones.
    Alan. Alan, Alan, Alan. Whilst I may appreciate opaque references to our working together several years ago when we turned a non-smoking office in Battersea into a smoking office in Battersea and kind of just spent all our time capering around, going to the pub and listening to Cake, I’m not sure my readers do. Jesus, that was like one of your meandering sentences. Send me your bank details please, and I’ll pay you that money I owe you. Say hi to C-Hole. X

  15. Is this a Nigerian banking scam? Are you Nigerian? You look Nigerian. Has this whole enterprise been leading up to you fucking over my bank account? If so, that’s probably the smallest return for your time and effort you’re likely to find in any venture.

  16. I wish I could believe that Alan, but I fear that the advance for a book based on Pitching the World will be a far smaller return for all my time and effort.

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