Skip to Content

The Editor's View October 06


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

Free offer (UK only)


Do it your way as a writer. . . millions of books on Google. . . remember Cold War thrillers?

WHEN I first began earning a living from a keyboard (it seems so long ago I ought to say quill and parchment) there were no books about the craft of writing. One or two on journalism and freelance writing came from the National Union of JournalistsRepresents British journalists and photographers. Has a useful list of links to media resources. site links to a NUJ freelance fees site and a few from the United States.

How times have changed. Not a week goes by without receiving another in the ever growing library of "how-to" write. How many people, I often wonder, have taught themselves to speak Russian, understand calculus, play the piano, or master golf from a self instruction set.

Are slimming magazines any better? If you have half a grapefruit and a slice of Ryvita for breakfast, a bowl of cabbage soup for lunch and a shredded lettuce leaf for dinner you can look like Liz Hurley.

Fortunately I do not want to look like Liz Hurley so I’ll stick to porridge, a prawn sandwich and steak and kidney pud.

There is no doubt that a good instruction book can short circuit your improvement as a writer. But really you teach yourself. You write something every day. You make a conscious effort to improve and you read the best in the field you have chosen to enter.

You need stamina, guts and the ability to treat rejection as a challenge. Take two incredible author success stories we report in this issue.

One concerns Marisha Pressl who would rival Russian tennis players Kournokova or Sharapova for looks and has hit the jackpot apparently effortlessly, and the other is Michael Cox, a 56-year-old former OUP editor forced into early retirement and who survived two operations to remove cancerous brain tumours.

Writers come in all shapes and sizes. From all backgrounds and by a thousand different routes.

By all means learn from the how-to books and the masters but remember this: in the end you will do it your way.

* * *

WE HAVE to keep up with IT and Google is putting 15 million titles on its site at a cost of £100million.

Google hopes, (and Google hopes are usually realised) that it will turn a profit from adverts on the search page. Soon you will be able to read any work by Dickens, one of the selected authors.

"It’s a rip-off however you look at it," said Bloomsbury's chief executive. "The flower of human civilisation is being hijacked to provide window dressing for a search engine."

Anybody like to bet how soon Bloomsbury, which could be re-named Rowling's to reflect its new-found prosperity, moves into electronic publishing?

Good wishes go with Mary

MARY HOGARTH, known to thousands of Writers’ Forum readers, left us in August to take up a senior lecturing post at Solent University. Their gain will be our loss.

For more than seven years, since this company acquired the magazine, she has been a vital member of our team.

Many of the innovations produced in that period came from her never- ending box of ideas.

She passionately believed in encouraging young writers and third parties. Shewas totally responsible for this important part of the magazine. That was just one of many ideas she introduced.

In the every day perils of publishing things go wrong – once we lost three-quarters of a magazine ready for press through a thunderstorm destroying a hard drive – but she was always ready to go the extra mile to put things right.

We wish her every good fortune in the future and thank her for helping to make Writers’ Forum the magazine that it is. Laura Fennimore takes over her chair and we wish her well.

* * *

SHOWBIZ and sporting biographies are frequently nothing but tosh but I’m looking forward to the Helen Mirren story, which is due out in a year’s time. After a stunning performance as Queen Elizabeth II and a career which has embraced every role from glamour tart to frosty frump she has always come across as having depth and intelligence.

Interesting how Meryl Streep, another fine actress, has bemoaned the fact that women of a certain age are only offered roles as gargoyles.

Not the kind of talk you hear from Judi Dench, who until Mirren’s latest role seemed to have a monopoly on British queens.

Two repeat television events brought reminders of masters of spy thrillers. John le Carre’s Tinker Taylor was given another outing and Len Deighton of the Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin was interviewed from his home in southern California.

Is there anybody writing such convincing thrillers today? Or did the end of the Cold War draw a line under that topic?


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


Read the article about setting up WritersServices which was originally published in Writers' Forum magazine.

© Writers International Ltd 2006. Reproduced from Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.