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10 thoughts on “For Love & Money: A Writing Life 1969-1989

  1. says:

    Jonathan Raban is a multi award winning travel writer, critic and novelist Eland Books has recently released five of his published works including For Love Money, a memoir of sorts made up of articles and reviews that offer a fascinating insight into the author s early life and career First published in 1987 it provides a glimpse of the London literary world before the internet and the subsequent decline of print media.The book is divided into five sections The first introduces Raban as a professional writer with close to two decades experience There is a brief history of his childhood including the burgeoning of his long held desire to become a writer Although privately schooled he does not describe himself as academic He attended Hull University rather than Oxbridge This was in the 1960s when higher education was expanding rapidly Armed with his newly acquired qualifications Raban secured a salaried job as an assistant lecturer at The University College of Wales at Aberystwyth.From Aberystwyth he moved to the University of East Anglia where he worked with Malcolm Bradbury During his time there he encountered students who went on to write best sellers Raban regarded his tenure as a springboard into what he refers to as Grub Street the world of literary hacks who write for hire Bradbury talked to him about the difficulty of freelancing for a living with its need to jump between fiction and journalism, broadcasting and print Raban was not deterred The first section of the book finishes with a story accepted by the London Magazine in 1969 On the back of this, the editor invited Raban to review books for the publication He resigned from his safe, salaried job and moved to London.The second section opens with details of how a writer could earn a living in literary journalism Raban wrote book reviews for magazines, took part in arts and book programmes on radio and TV, and wrote pieces for national newspapers Included is an article he wrote about living in London at this time It offers a window into the business of reviewing and the importance of the literary editor As now, the view expressed was that books were being published yet review space cut Critics were commissioned to produce a set number of words, often fewer than could do a work serious justice The remainder of this section is made up of Raban s reviews of various books about writers, providing a masterclass in the form Several do end quite abruptly, presumably when the word count had been reached.The third section is a short history of Raban s attempts to write plays He saw this as a gateway to sociability after the solitude of a writer s life Television at this time was regarded as the national theatre Money was available to commission scripts than would be used, enabling producers to experiment with untried writers Raban wrote for TV and radio He is self deprecating of his efforts.The fourth section explores the world of the literary magazine where editors value perceived quality over sales figures This is compared to commercial ventures which could send writers to far flung corners, fully financed, for a commissioned article The remainder of the section contains several pieces written by Raban for a number of outlets I was particularly impressed by Christmas In Bournemouth which cuts to the quick an astute, verging on cruel reportage from a hotel which offers time tabled entertainments for those whose family s have inexplicably failed to invite their mostly elderly relatives to join them for the festive season.The fifth and final section looks at travel writing and, in particular, why people travel It is mostly made up of reviews of books by other travel writers and articles written on visits to foreign locations There is also a walk along the banks of the Thames which is a slice of history Raban came to be known best for his travel writing His adventures developed from an early enjoyment of fishing to a point where sailing grants him freedom.Raban has an eye for detail His use of language is concise and rigorous Where he writes about his early family life, his relationship with his parents, the insights are piercing He admits to dramatising facts for effect but suggests all writing does this Reportage and criticism are still performances for the benefit of the reader.A prolific American writer of genre fiction tells him It s a writer s duty to be an observer, not to show a high profile I suspect there are many authors today who wish this was the case.Raban s book is a fascinating history of a freelance writer s life and methods, personal and professional It is witty, at times caustic, but always precise and percipient.


  2. says:

    Lots of people dream of making a living from writing Sadly in the modern world, it is only the authors that sell millions of copies that are able to do this, or who have been fortunate enough to land significant advances Raban started off as a lecturer at The University College of Wales before heading to the University of East Anglia It was there that he was given the chance to write book reviews He resigned the steady job and took the opportunity and waded into the London literary scene.In those days you could earn a reasonable living from being a literary reviewer, those the days that they paid for people to write reviews and there were a lot column inches to fill too He was sent piles of books to read, and it could be quite lucrative too as he could sell them on afterwards He had a particular way of doing things, which suited some editors, but I am sure that he loved the accolade of a troublesome reviewer from one of his editors Book reviews then were much expansive then, often considering the author s wider works and all sorts of other things that took their interest He includes some of his best reviews in this part.Raban then tried to get into writing plays, partly as it was work that was much less solitary than sitting alone in a flat in London and the money could be really good He soon found out that it was a very different discipline than writing a book review and to be perfectly frank, it wasn t very successful Then we are onto the part where he writes about writing for magazines like the New Review, where editorial demands are both high and relaxed, being mostly dedicated to good writing without having a set agenda or a particular axe to grind There look for pieces from contributors that could be taken from any subject that they wanted to write about Raban provides some examples of work that he had published Next is my favourite part of the book, the section on travel writing.He has discovered that the best way to travel is to cast himself adrift in the world and ensure that he has no appointments to make and how a letter of introduction can take you places that you d rather not go The same working conditions for a writer that drives him to drink can also drive him to travel as they would do anything to get away from the typewriter The procrastination with make you think of sunnier climes and of those whose footsteps you wish to follow He revels in the chaos of travel and has a thing for seeing different places from boats He then goes onto review some of his fellow travel writers books and journeys, some of which I have read and some of which I haven t.This was another enjoyable book by Raban His writing style is crisp and efficient when compared to his books as these were pieces for periodicals and not originally intended for a book In this, his infectious enthusiasm for the written word is evident and not just the words he has wrestled onto the page, but the admiration for authors who have done the same.


  3. says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable.His descriptions of the homebound writer s life were hilarious, and sadly accurate his book reviews were insightful and his stories of place were wonderfully sketched I especially liked his piece on Florida.Of interest to anyone who writes, and to anyone who likes books.


  4. says:

    Quite fascinating I had no idea.