And so I come, in my delightfully roundabout way, much imitated by other scriveners on these estimable pages (no names, no pack-drill, Mr Watkins!!) to the topical subject of literary envy. Of course, I bring a certain amount of expertise to my knowledge of other areas of the literary life - white wine soirees at My Lord Weidenfeld's bookish little flat just this side of Battersea, sun-drenched late autumn afternoons arm-wrestling at the Pinters in Campden Hill Square, long evenings playing pocket billiards with Woodrow at the Garrick - but I must humbly submit that of envy between the doughty tribe of pen-pushers I know - as my old friend Kingsley (last effort virtually unreadable, alas) would say - BUGGER ALL.
I wonder why it is that I alone among what one might describe as the higher echelons of distinguished authors should be so singularly unencumbered with that most besetting of literary vices? Many moons ago, when I was taking my first, tentative steps up the great staircase of letters, I took the advice of a once-renowned author. He is now, alas, sadly decrepit, unproductive and hopelessly embittered, though somehow he managed to pull off the Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of years ago (heaven only knows why!)
I remember the scene as though it were yesterday. The famous author took me to one side, put his arm - perhaps a little too familiarly - around my shoulder and, with a slightly over-affectionate squeeze, said, "Young man, you have all the hallmarks of immense talent! Never let your energies be dispersed into jealousy or rancour! Remember this: we authors are all toilers in the same vineyard - our shared duty is to the noble service of Literature, not to pretty squabbles, gossip and back-biting!"
And, do you know, I have striven to live by that sage advice ever since, even though it emerged from the ill-shaven lips of a man who, I now hear tell, had been a well-known and promiscuous homosexual in the Fitzrovia of the Thirties, and only managed to get his first two books published by agreeing to what one might euphemistically describe as a "publisher's agreement" with his first (and ostentatiously cravated) editor!
A few years of what one might call "occasional journalism" culminated in my appointment to the prestigious post of Motoring Editor to the immortal Punch magazine, displacing an elderly man - drink-sodden, alas - who had, quite by chance, allowed my youthful pen to spruce up his pages in the months before his departure.
Six times Political Columnist of the Year, five-times Features Writer of the Year, proud holder of the Golden Giggler Lifetime Award from the Humorous Writers of Great Britain, I am now in the happy position of being able to help those who might require a "leg-up".
Once again, I take a fine-tooth comb to my veins, and nowhere find a drop of envy flowing through them. "Dear Mr Arnold" any letter selected at random from my mailbag will begin, "I am a young writer seeking advice on how to write as well as you, and how to get my toe in the door of contemporary journalism. Please advise." Needless to say, I ponder such letters with due seriousness before placing them carefully in the famous Arnold Waste- Paper Basket. I have long believed that the motto "Jolly Well Stand On Your Own Two Feet" is the one which best serves the aspirant young scribbler.
And envy of my contemporaries? Not a bit of it. Frankly, I only want to be of help - but to what avail? Sadly, there is little my abundant charity can do for those of them who are still managing to "churn it out", though I try to send them encouraging missives - "Enjoyed the first few pages of the new book" and so forth - whensoe'er I can.
And as for young - or not-so-very-young!! - Martin Amis, I can only rejoice that his (largely adolescent) readership is still happy to plough its way through yet another of his razor-sharp contemporary satires on urban life. But as to his thesis on envy between writers: well, he was never what one might term a thinker, was he, poor lamb?Reuse content