The Early Years of Alec Waugh

The Early Years of Alec Waugh

The Early Years of Alec Waugh

The Early Years of Alec Waugh

Excerpt

Ralph Straus was the first professional author to become my friend. I met him in the spring of 1917 when I was a cadet at Sandhurst with my first novel in the press. Straus was then nearly forty. He gave me this advice: 'Never choose a novelist for your hero.' He developed his theme, avuncularly. In the 1930s, when as chief fiction reviewer on the Sunday Times, he was a man of influence, he was known affectionately as 'Uncle Ralph'.

Certain axioms, he asserted, are laid down in the manual of the craft of fiction. One of them concerns the hero. He must be positive. He must stand for something, strive for something. It is not until he has been shown in terms of his ambition that the reader is prepared to be interested in his domestic trials. If not actually heroic he must show resolution in a crisis. A boardroom can be as ruthless as a battlefield, the floating of a company as hazardous as the launching of a frigate, a group of directors in lounge-suits watching the ticking of the tapemachine can be shown as the twentieth-century equivalent of the last Spartans at Thermopylae.

The novelist's life, so the homily continued, provided no such drama. Flaubert's picture of himself seated at a window in a dressing-gown watching the Seine flow past, waiting for the inevitable word, is a caricature of the average author, but it bears a recognizable resemblance. No career could be less dramatic than the novelist's. His problems are worked out in privacy; they involve no personal relationships; there are no directors to be conciliated, exposed or shouldered out of office; no refractory cabinets to be cajoled or overridden. His interviews with publishers and editors are of a social nature. His battles are fought out in his own mind.

The novelist is a favoured person. He can work where he likes, when he likes, under conditions of his own choosing; no . . .

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