Filler content with success guaranteed

I think they still have copies of this for sale over at TTA, so here is my review from 2005, exactly as it appeared in The Third Alternative #41, minus any and all of those pesky editorial corrections:-


TTAPress pb, 175pp, £10                                           

Mat Coward’s book is the ideal antidote to all those ‘how to’ manuals that clutter up the bookshelves of every poor sad wannabe who ever put pen to paper for anything more significant than a crossword puzzle (I have at least a dozen), assuring you that if you just do what they say then it’s only a matter of time before your magnum opus tops The NY Times bestseller list, while publishers queue up with their six figure advances and Hollywood comes a knock, knock, knocking at the penthouse door, to which  Coward’s response would appear to be an indignant, ‘Yeah, right!’

Coward’s take on the business of writing for a living, based on twenty plus years in the trenches as a freelancer and copiously illustrated with real life examples, is a tale of constant woe, the never ending battle to pay the bills and meet deadlines, of perfidious editors and proofreaders who think they know how to spell your name better than you do, of no holidays and no health care and no pension plan, of low expectations and hope as a lost cause. It should convince anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together that writing and financial security are inimical concepts, and never mind that Stephen King owns a gem encrusted swimming pool as big as the Overlook Hotel or that John Grisham has a private jet powered by truth, justice and the American way.

And yet this is not a bleak book, or even particularly discouraging to the writer in waiting. Coward tells it with a blackly comedic style that is a delight to read, his acerbic wit akin to that of a doctor who makes you chuckle even as he delivers a fatal prognosis. You simply can’t help laughing, both at Coward’s honesty and the pratfalls of the writing life that he tells with such apparent glee in an attempt to discourage others from following the career path he himself undertook (perhaps this book should be seen as an attempt by a very devious man to nip future competition in the bud).

It is even, all disclaimers to the contrary, an eminently practical book. There is, in among all the ‘negativity’ and clouds of mock despair, a fund of information that’s probably going to be of use to the freelance hopeful, such as join a trade union, cultivate your contacts, never refuse work etc. The writer is the eternal optimist, forever travelling in hope to an unknown destination, and Successis the ideal Baedeker for such a journey. It will not help you write a bestseller or get published in anything more substantial than a magazine that’s read by a couple of hundred other people who’re all wanting to get their stories published too, but it will make you laugh, I guarantee it, and sometimes laughter is just the thing that’s needed.

The book is attractively packaged, with a full colour cover by Edward Noon, while interior illustrations by Rob Kirbyson preface each section, all icing on a mouth watering and very substantial cake.

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