“My chosen tools of trade, that is, written words, are fast becoming adjuncts to pictures.” – Pico Iyer in 2009
At the age of 23, a poor, insecure Gabriel García Márquez decided not to earn his living through any means other than writing. At that time, he had shown sparks of brilliance, but was nowhere near the epoch changing author that he would later become. (His first novella, Leaf storm was published five years later.) His earnings from writing were meagre, and he went through tremendous privation and hardship. "There are stories of his collecting bottles in the streets of Paris in order to pay for food." [Gabriel García Márquez - Raymond L. Williams, Twayne Publishers, Boston, p. 10] Marquez says that he could support himself financially only when he was 46! [Living to tell the Tale]
So if you are a young man or woman aspiring to become a writer, relax! It is going to take a while, there is no need to rush.
And for someone like me, who has taken up writing seriously a little late in the day, this significant fact is reassuring. There is no shame in not being able to make a living through writing. If it took a genius like Márquez twenty-three years, I guess if I can hang around for another, say, five hundred years, I will have become a successful writer.
But would I ever become a real writer? Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s begins with a hilarious encounter between an unnamed narrator – presumably the author in his youth – and an attractive young woman, who, in today’s parlance, can be called a freelance sex worker.
The narrator was a struggling author in the 1940s; Holly Golightly lived in the apartment below his in a brownstone building in New York. They hadn’t met each other yet. One night, she entered his bedroom from the outside through the fire escape, and started chatting as if she was an old friend. She explained her inappropriate entry by the presence of a particularly beastly client in her room, who had started biting her after consuming “eight martinis and enough wine to wash an elephant”. Unimpressed by the drab décor of the room, she asked, ‘What do you do here all day?’
Her host said he wrote “things”.
A little later, Holly enquired, ‘… Are you a real writer?’
‘It depends on what you mean by real.’
‘Well, darling, does anyone buy what you write?’
What a charming definition!
If you accept that definition, I might call myself a real writer (albeit of non-fiction) now. Last month, the publisher of my book Who says you cannot learn English? gave me a royalty cheque for all the copies of the first print-run. Yesterday, he delivered some complimentary copies of the second impression.
It is a self-learner’s manual for English written by someone eminently un(?)qualified for the job. I have had no formal training in English since leaving my school, which, incidentally used Bangla as the medium of instruction.
My father had taught me the basics of the language. But that was about all. Later, when I realized that the little English I knew was thoroughly inadequate as a survival tool in my job, I started teaching myself English. And I fell in love with this beautiful language .... But it was a long process, acquiring bits and pieces over a long period of time from authentic sources and from friends / colleagues ... and the process continues to this day. I wish someone had given me the book I have written now when I was 23.
A minor success, but a source of unalloyed joy all the same. I would like to share my happiness with you. The first five readers who wish to use the book and tell me so, will receive a free copy, delivered at their address. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are one of them.
But there is a catch, as is usual. You will have to write a review of the book!