Jenny Diski on Being a Proper Writer


Diski, who has published over fifteen books, wonders what it means to be a writer today @ Berfois. ‘All pens are filled with potential’. So begins an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper for its ‘new idea’. The paper is offering weekend masterclasses in creative writing and publishing, taught by novelists (‘discover the novelist within’), historical fiction writers (‘Historical novels have been riding high in the best-seller lists of late. Fancy writing one of your own?’) and editors (‘Getting your novel published’). Ink, actually, is what my pen is filled with, although the ink has dried up in my best ever pen (a Pilot Decimo, the only fountain pen that has a retractible nib like a biro so doesn’t have a lid to lose), and I need to soak it overnight in water to get it back to having any potential as a pen at all. I don’t write anything other than notes with my pen, but I do have a longstanding writer’s fetish for the objects that might be considered to be relevant to my trade.

My longing for a typewriter began when I was 7 years old, and that’s what I got for Christmas. It was called a Petite Typewriter, and was a toy, which wasn’t really what I wanted. It was supposed to work but it didn’t, not properly, it kept getting stuck, and my disappointment was so palpable that it was the worst Christmas I can remember. I tried to pretend I was happy with it, but my unmissable ingratitude ruined the day. My mother screamed, my father shouted, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Awful. I had to wait until I was sixteen before I got a real working typewriter: one of those sit-up-and-beg, black shiny monsters, a proper machine, which I bought second-hand, and loved as people are supposed to love the person with whom they have their first kiss. All typewriters are filled with potential.

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