by Ken Gargett.
So, the Lord High Grand Poobah of FoH has requested I provide an occasional contribution on wine or cigars or fishing or whatever it is that springs to mind – actually, he rather insisted it be on cigars but if I set the parameters early, then perhaps I will have some leeway down the track.
You want to do the same? You want to write. Jump on board but beware.
Most of what I do pertains to wine and I know, you are thinking of spending your days travelling around our beautiful wine regions, drinking fabulous wines, meeting great people, going to all sorts of wonderful vertical tastings (I haven’t been to one for at least, well yesterday to be honest, but it was at least a week before that since the last one), getting endless samples of the good, the bad and the ugly (and trust me, some of them are very ugly indeed). In short, a dream life. Okay, it does have its advantages but let me tell you it is not all beer and Bordeaux. Or perhaps a visit to the fields of Cuba? Tossing a line in somewhere exotic? No one really needs to do it but I am glad I am the one who is.
In other words, you want to become a writer. Think carefully. And if you have completely taken leave of your senses, you may decide you want to actually make a living from writing. Sit down, crack a beer and think again.
Perhaps you’ve taken Ray Bradbury’s words to heart, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you”. I think the thoughts of E. L. Doctorow are more to the point, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
First, to take up this madness, assuming you have not just jagged the winning ticket in Gold Lotto, you must have given up any pretence to a financially secure or rewarding life and be prepared for a very grumpy bank manager (this is balanced by the fact the every wine writer has an extremely happy dentist - we are the guys that put their kids through school and send them skiing in Aspen every year). Someone once described a wine writer as the guy lording it up the pointy end of the plane on his or her way home from a vertical tasting of 50 years of Krug, only to be sitting on an overturned wooden wine box, watching his black-and-white tellie and eating microwaved baked beans while at home (half right, sadly not the first half). Think of it as a five star lifestyle on a half a star pay.
Secondly, accept that as much as you might enjoy your new career, no one else thinks it is a real job (take that as a badge of honour, if you like). Think of it this way, you are on a ship and it is sinking. The life raft has places for ten survivors and there are eleven of you. What chance do you think you have of a spot? What skills do you really think you can bring to the desert island? Recommending different coconut milks with the raw fish and berries? Personally, I have absolutely no chance at all of a spot in the life raft – I used to be a lawyer. Well, a small possibility. If one of the other floundering around in the drink makes his quid from flogging cigars...
Then we have the editors and sub-editors with which to deal (though, of course, in this instance, I'm sure that they are all absolutely first class). I once had a sub-editor who also wrote a column. Could never work out why all my best lines never made it into my column, until I saw them appearing in his. Granted, they have deadlines and if we miss ours, they miss theirs. It will come as no surprise that, to the best of my knowledge, Rupert Murdoch is yet to hold over one of his dailies because the wine scribe was late.
It is not all fun. I remember back when I used to ghost write ‘Don’t Buy Wine Without Me’ (nothing like sneaking in a subtle plug). Let me assure you, it involved many, many days of tasting and just as many days chained to the machine (it may have been slightly less if I had not had to ring the dills that think they are a big telco in a big pond, but in reality, would struggle to string two tin cans together with a cord, to get back on-line on a daily basis). It is not easy to come up with several hundred witty, concise, erudite reviews, all subtlely different. And the tasting can be fun but if you think slogging through a large number of casks and enough sauv blanc to fill Queensland’s dwindling dams is a joy on a cold winter’s morning, think again.
Some practical advice from an unknown author, “Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.”
Perhaps the last word should go to Peter De Vries, “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork” or Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Next time, you'll get a real column. Perhaps.