My Mentor: Giles Coren on Alan Coren

'When I write my columns, I think, "Is that how my dad would do it?"'
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The Independent Online

My dad is the best and funniest newspaper columnist. There is nobody anywhere near as good. But when I was at university, I used to say (and people remember this), "I don't care what I do with my life, as long as I don't end up a humourous columnist. As long as I don't end up writing 1,000 words a week in a broadsheet, I'll be happy". And this is what I end up doing.

The first thing I remember is that my dad had a big iron Olivetti typewriter and he worked all night. He was a staffer at Punch but in the evening he wrote columns for the Evening Standard and The Times. I'd fall asleep to the sound of his typing, so that put the association in my mind between writing for newspapers and providing for your family.

When I was about 11 and doing creative writing at school, I would always go to my dad and say, "What shall I write?". He would always say, "Whatever the first thing is that comes into your head, don't write that because that's what everyone will write. When the second idea comes into your head, don't write that either because that's what the bright kids will write. Wait for the third idea, because that's the one that only you will do".

When I write columns, I think, "Is that how my dad would do it? Would he think it's funny?". He defined the modern newspaper humour column. I'll never be as good as him, so I'm relaxed about it. No one can say, "You'll never be as good as your dad", because everybody else is just a pale imitation.

Where my dad taught me everything about writing, Graham Paterson, who gave me my first job at The Times, taught me everything about journalism, which is that it's no big deal, and it's more important to have a glass of wine. His straightforward approach was inspiring. Life's a laugh and journalism is fun, not rocket science. That's exactly how I treat it now.

Giles Coren is a Times columnist, a restaurant critic and the author of Winkler (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)

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