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Stealing from the best

Flamenco dancer

When I was about 16 or 17 I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Failing that, I wanted to spend my afternoons in faded bedrooms making love to matadors (ok, maybe just the one, darkly handsome matador) and lounging about in bars smoking Gitanes and drinking red wine with, well, Ernest Hemingway, who of course would be writing about my fantastically interesting life.

Coming home from school, I would practise flamenco dancing in my bedroom, although I could never rattle my castanets; or dodging imaginary bulls (which, years later, came in very useful when trying to get served in crowded pubs).

I began to write my schoolwork in short, repetitive sentences.

In geography:

Farms are very big in Australia. In Parramatta, Gweea, Cameera, Cadi, and Memel, there is not much water, but they have many sheep. Often the sheep die. That is because of the water problem.

In history:

Napoleon was unlucky that year. He had stomach problems. It was not good to have stomach problems when fighting with Wellington. Wellington did not have stomach problems.

My teachers didn’t care for it much. I went to the staff room a lot in those days. To see my teachers. But I was not persuaded. If only everybody could write like Hemingway. (Stop it now, ed).

But, of course, the madness passed, and I began to develop a taste for other authors, and copied their style shamelessly too. I loved the way John Steinbeck described things, and discovered if I used his clear, step by step method, that I could put over what I meant really effectively. I tried hard to emulate PG Wodehouse’s effortless style and humour and I was completely seduced by the world weariness of Ian Fleming. And, naturally, being a moody pretentious teenager, I spent a lot of time wandering about casually with Dostoevsky, although we never actually got along.

Bit by bit, all these other authors and many more, have taught me how to write. I’ve taken what I liked from them and mixed it all up until I’ve found a method I’m comfortable with; that is my own voice. But I’m still learning. Still reading, still borrowing.

Who are your teachers?


Picture: Flamenco Gold 1998. Finished painting after a series of preparatory studies. Oil and gold leaf on canvas and glass by Fletcher Sibthorp.

From Creative Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Flamenco_Gold.

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