BLACK SPRING PRESS £9.95 (352PP) (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897
Selected Letters, by Julian Maclaren-Ross, edited by Paul Willetts
Belated cheers for a low life devoted to high art
Friday 11 July 2008
Julian Maclaren-Ross epitomises the traditional idea of a writer. Permanently out of funds, permanently hungry, living out of a suitcase and rushing from hotel to bed-sitter to girlfriend's flat to station waiting room, spending the days in bars and the nights on amphetamines, writing till the dawn – this was pretty much his life. And it is really to his credit that even though these letters consist mainly of pleas for money, or attention, they can still make such utterly compelling reading.
First in this splendid collection are a pitiful series of letters to his friends, desperately asking them to help him get out of the army in the 1940s. Once out, with a brilliant novel under his belt – Of Love and Hunger – and having briefly earned a living, along with Dylan Thomas, writing government propaganda films, he swiftly found himself on his uppers. To Anthony Powell he wrote that "things are absolutely desperate with us: we've been living for the last few days selling books, pawning clothes, and only getting a limited number of shillings in the process of these activities. Now my laundry has been impounded because I couldn't raise the requisite number of shillings, and the hotel bill itself impends".
When he's not begging, he's raging at his publishers, who clearly dread receiving envelopes from Ross. "I have called you several times on the phone – passed by but you were not in". "If you would ring me up in reply I should be obliged, as an extra day means a lot to me whereas two minutes cannot mean so much to you."
An editor at Hamish Hamitlon wrote in answer to an enquiry about him: "The last time he called on us he demanded his taxi-fare home before he would leave and when a guileless editor called a cab and gave him a few shilling to cover the fare, Ross threw the money in his face, ran off and never came to see us again. A great pity, as he wrote brilliantly".
He was a pub bore and wasted a lot of good writing time on furious or desperate letters, but all the time he was producing short stories for Horizon, fragments of autobiography, and film and book reviews. But despite Evelyn Waugh giving him a rave review for the Royal Literary Society, to which he applied for funds, he never got on his feet financially, and it's only recently that his talent has been properly recognised. Typically, he died drinking a bottle of whisky, celebrating the arrival of a royalty cheque.
V irginia Ironside's 'No! I don't want to join a bookclub' is published by Penguin
Arts & Ents blogs
St Patrick’s Day 2014: The worst Irish accents in film history
Under The Skin, film review: Scarlett Johansson is full-blooded as femme fatale alien
Grace Dent on TV: EDL Girls: Don’t Call Me Racist BBC 3
Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
Chalkie Davies' stunning rock photographs: The Clash, Springsteen, Bowie and more
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
- 3 Istanbul protesters take 'Ellen selfie' from the back of a police van
- 4 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Jet ‘hi-jacking’ began soon after take-off
- 5 Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set