Once Upon A Writer

Once upon a time I was a writer… No, not once – thrice upon a time.

First time: in second or third class the teacher directed us to write a composition. We did as we were told. I enjoyed writing. My composition was chosen and read to the class. I was a writer and one year later, when the Melbourne ‘Age’ published a little piece, I was a published writer.

Second time: at medical school, achieving mediocrity in exams, I found relief editing and writing for a paper. I published what I wrote.

Third time: with a family now grown up and my own parents failing, I was a writer heavily charged with material. I wrote and my friends and family responded. Among the responders one friend in particular responded decisively. Often enough she responded derisively; and not just often enough but more often than enough.

I had good reason to pay attention to my critic friend. She had been an adult reader for many more years than I had been an adult writer. Further my critic was trained in criticism while I was untrained in writing.

Curiously my early vulgarity didn’t trouble her much. My sentimentality (an abiding tendency) excited little reproof. And even the structural shambles, the way narrative fell upon narrative by accident into a happy enough heap, provoked no rebuke.

The problem with my writing was the writer. Contrary to my critic’s command I did not write of Howard the way Howard should write of Howard. In truth this was not willful delinquency (another abiding tendency) but incomprehension. So stratospheric is my critic’s sophistication, her principles eluded me.

The pages of my first two books are Howard-haunted. Howard Bloody Goldenberg is to be found in the middle of every page or in its margin or inescapably behind every page, pages that can never be thick enough to disguise Howard. This drove my critic mad. It was not that Howard was full of himself (he is that) but that Howard was represented without precisely the ‘self-reflexivity’ (my critic’s term) that she demanded. ‘Howard’, she wagged her finger imperiously, ‘Howard, you are refusing to become the writer Howard should be. Your subject, your great subject, is Howard…’

This criticism, emphatic and oft-repeated, merely increased my self-consciousness. Eventually it would drive Howard from the page. Thus, in book number three (‘Carrots and Jaffas’) there exists a character who resembles Howard but is not Howard. Although that character is a male in his sixties, a compulsive storyteller, an outback doctor with a large nose and lavatorial obsessions, he is not Jewish, not Howard per se. In truth I no longer trusted Howard to create Howard. My critic had achieved something worthwhile; she had demolished a formerly impregnable exhibitionist. This was surely to the good, for Howard the person showed an objectionable and retrograde refusal to adopt my critic’s view of the world. (The critic started adult life as a social activist, becoming a member of a commune, a welfare worker, resolutely a conscious and conscientious proletarian. In time she learned the profound error of her ways and unlearned her early amused tolerance of Howard’s political softheadedness.)

Meanwhile Howard had become a blogger and my critic became my bloggee. I would write, my daughter would post and my critic would criticise. More and more my critic criticised Howard for not being my critic’s faithful disciple. At one stage, in outraged surprise, she accused me of being ‘green’.

Given this blog’s unrepentant diarising of Howard’s life, his thought, his memories and stories – in short this blog being Howard on the virtual page – my critic found the entire exercise personally provoking. Possibly intentionally so. Her criticisms of Howard were now unrelenting, and of course, public.

It is timely here to remind my reader that my critic is a friend, that she certainly wishes for nothing more than my improvement. She has in mind my ascension into a literary realm which exists clearly in her sight and quite outside my powers of vision. In her private love of Howard this friend is staunch. In public she is an attack dog. At first puzzled, later a little hurt, eventually wryly amused that such a thing might be, I accepted her blank rebuttal of my private objection to her tone. ‘Howard’, she wrote (publicly of course), ‘Once your writing emerges into the public sphere you cannot expect criticism to remain private.’ Fair enough. Perfectly logical, fully consistent with literary purity. And perfectly blind to the imperatives of friendship.

I came to accept a painful reality:

The moving finger writes,

And having writ, moves on;

Nor all thy piety nor wit

Can lure it back

Nor cancel half a word of it

(From the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam)

Eventually the moderator of this blog published guidelines of the limits to decent blogly conduct; and the critic, declaring herself to be my ‘troll’ (to me a new concept), banished herself from these pages.

My critic helped me immensely. She forced me to examine every self-syllable I wrote. She required of me an intensification of my self-consciousness. To this day she shadows every line I write, shaping my writing to conceal my thought, as she peers through the ether for Howard malignancy, stimulating me to a meticulous attention to some standard I never grasped but for which I blindly reach. Of course the cost is a friend who, in the name of friendship, has shat upon friendship.

16 thoughts on “Once Upon A Writer

  1. I love your blogs because they are an extension of you. So keep yourself in it dear Howie and don’t listen to that wayward woman. Even though you credit her with value in improving your writing you are made of sterner stuff. Have a look at the movie Whiplash and tell us what you think


    • Continued

      The term relates to a stalker, one who is obsessed and invested to an unnatural degree in the other

      The trollstalker is a reader who cares more about my writing than I do

      I hope she is well and enjoying her reading of something/someone else

      Meanwhile, that movie you recommend- whiplash: a prequel to Goulash,a horror flick?




  2. I could never be, nor want to be a critic of Doc. Howards writings, I would like to say this that I had no interest nor knowledge to comment on the last blog! so didn’t, I like Howards writing, I like his thoughts, I like his personality, and manner with other humans, IF I don’t like the way another human writes I won’t read! I like reading Docs. blogs as I also like some of the comments written, and in this case I’m going to say it, I particularly like what hilarycustancegreen says and the way she says it! I don’t particularly care IF some human who considers themselves worthy of being named a critic doesn’t like what I write, but I’m too sensitive to be a writer. I do love some humans! xx


  3. I have a friend by inheritance (i.e she came attached to my marital family), who never fails in her aim to cut me down to size as a writer. I ought, she believes to be able to write like A.S Byatt or at the very least not publish writing which is below standard. I will confess, since this is now a confessional page, that I have not sent her the free copy (that she expects) of my last book, nor have I mentioned its publication and when it comes up, as it will, I will say it is not worth her trouble to read it.

    Every writer comes with their own voice, sometimes that voice is aligned with the writer’s own spirit (such as yours) and at other times with the writer’s free ranging imagination of other’s spirits (more like mine). I cannot see that one is intrinsically better than the other. Incidentally, I loved the structure of your memoir. I enjoy hearing your expertise and your personality coming through the fiction.

    You only have to please one other person – any reader – other than yourself, to make it worthwhile to have written a story. I have friends who write stuff I would not want to read, because of its subject matter or even the quality of their writing, but knowing where my own writing started, I either keep quiet, or talk about what works.

    It is better to write about your distress, as you have above, than ruminate about this problem that will, like mine above, never go away. I am a perpetual student and happily absorb, even crave, feedback, often learning most when it is negative. However, when the axis tilts towards bullying, then it is no longer useful or kind, and defeats the object. Sorry I have written too much.

    In the market-place, one
    Dusk of day,
    I watch’d the Potter thumping
    his wet clay:
    And with its all obliterated
    It murmur’d – “Gently,
    Bother,gently, pray!”


    • Gently, brother, gently – might well be your mantra,HCG, your hallmark

      It expresses the patient and tactful way you have in trading out a strand of argument, it describes nicely the sweet gait of your writing (Which I am enjoying so much at present in your earlier novel, unseen unsung)

      As for the pigcritic , I believe you should offer her a cup of tea

      I will elaborate on this means of subtly vanquishing the foe in a forthcoming blog post

      Until soon HCG


      Sent from my iPhone



    • Wondrous, jan, the way stray spars of thought of others, or feeling or memory, find parallels with our own

      Wonderful too, liberating really, to reach the age or stage when mockery makes me chuckle



      Sent from my iPhone



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