Literary envy is certainly not my style, Martin

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
MY SPIES inform me that Amis fils - or Amis fillings as we must now learn to call him (I jest!) - has just published another thick tome, full to the brim with his own highly "off-beat" view of the world. Five hundred pages long, 16 crisp oncers to the bookbuyer, his own slot with my old friend and quiffing partner Melvyn on the dread gogglebox! Good for little Martin, says Arnold, who has never been one to show a trace of literary envy, even towards lesser writers.

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?

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