Today, as I lunched on the waterfront, I overheard a fisherman explain to his mates why the ship in the distance wasn’t coming any closer.
‘It’s waiting for a pilot,’ he said. ‘They can’t come up the river without one.’
Writing is a lot like sailing; any number of authors have navigated unknown waters with the help of an experienced hand.
Allen Ginsberg had William Carlos Williams, the poet. Thornton Wilder had Gertrude Stein, whom he called his ‘toasted ice-cream‘. And Margaret Drabble had her ‘hero‘, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Doris Lessing.
I’ve only ever had one true writing mentor: the wonderful woman who first encouraged me to write. Since then I’ve been sailing solo, rowing around in circles and running into rocks.
In 1975, an unpiloted ship sank in the River Derwent, having collided with a bridge.
Maybe it’s time I found a mentor.
What’s in a word? A lot, maybe, if it’s the wrong one.
Yesterday a friend found a typo on an author’s website. Not just any author but one whose works are ‘critically acclaimed’. (That’s good, right?)
And not just any typo but one that would make a ten-year-old wince. (‘An writer’?)
Our reactions were different. Concerned, my friend sent an email to the publicist. I was merely amused – ‘schadenfreude’ is too hard to spell – so I made a joke about authors being writers not readers.
Several literary lions, though, struggled with spelling. Jane Orsten, Agatha Kristie and E. Scott Fitzgerald – none of them could spell to save themselves.
As for Earliest Hemingway, possibly the worst orthographer of all, he would remind his editors that it was their job to get his spelling right.
Which is why, I suppose, writers are ‘authors’ and not ‘orthors’.