This is the reason I write

2012-09-21 10:23

A while ago, I advised anyone who might be considering a career in writing to rethink that aspiration.

The obvious irony is that I am a writer myself and am, admittedly, having the time of my life.

I feel an explanation is owed.

It’s all Gerald Durrell’s fault, you see. He was a fantastic writer and naturalist who died in 1995.

I happened upon his crazy book My Family And Other Animals when I was 10 years old.

Amazon.com describes the book like this: “My Family and Other Animals was intended to embrace the natural history of the Greek island of Corfu, but ended up as a delightful account of his family’s experiences that were, according to him, ‘rather like living in one of the more flamboyant and slapstick comic operas’.”

It was my first discovery of the delicious experience of being in the presence of a truly brilliant comedic author.

The undying pleasure his work evoked in me made me wish to possess the same powers.

Take the following excerpt from the first chapter, in which Durrell describes the various ills that the British winter had brought upon his family: “For my brother Leslie, hunched dark and glowering by the fire, it had inflamed the convolutions in his ears so that they bled delicately but persistently.

“For my sister Margot it had delivered a fresh dappling of acne spots to a face that was already blotched like a red veil. For my mother there was a rich, bubbling cold, and a twinge of rheumatism to season it.”

Reading a book like that at the impressionable age of 10 is a bit like beginner’s luck in golf.

You get bitten by the bug and then devote the rest of your life to the pursuit of perfection, which you never get.

I still hold Durrell’s razor-sharp quill as a mark against which I judge my own copy – to my unending frustration, of course.

There were others that came later, like James Herriot, PJ O’Rourke, Harper Lee and Christopher Hitchens, but Durrell will always stand tall in the pantheon of my personal literary luminaries. The benefits of getting in first, I suppose.

» Sipho Hlongwane is a writer for Daily Maverick, who sadly doesn’t read enough these days.
» Get your iMag with City Press on Sunday


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