Beauty is the Creator of the Universe
As a kid, one of my favourite things was watching the pop stars I loved perform on television, and, one evening, slumped in the suburbs, it must have occurred to me that being paid to wear what you like and lark around forever was probably one the greatest pleasures on earth. A gas, gas, gas in fact. That’s where I must have conceived the idea of becoming a writer. And when I heard somewhere that an artist receives his or her best inspiration while relaxing, I felt I’d come home.
Naivety, then, along with a good dose of sheer ignorance, has served me very well in my so-called career. If I’d known how rare it was for a mixed-race, more-or-less uneducated, semi-delinquent and inordinately lazy kid from the suburbs to become a professional writer, I might have striven to do something useful with my life, like becoming a plumber or rent boy. As it was, I carried on blindly believing it was possible to make a living at telling stories, until one day it did become possible.
I am in no doubt that the most difficult period of any writer’s life is the beginning, where although you yourself may have faith and confidence in what you’re doing, it will become clear that no one else gives a damn, and its highly possible that they could laugh at your ambitions. There will be rejections and humiliations you believe you will never survive. It will be then that you will need friends and good readers to help you through, along with a large portion of bloody-mindedness. Success is never guaranteed, but neither is failure.
What any writing teacher looks for in her students, and the thing any reader craves and loves, is that instantly recognisable thing – the stamp of individuality. To write as oneself, in one’s own voice, and to never mind about pleasing others, is the only way forward, however much one is messed about with by the system.
Unfortunately the virtues which will make you successful are the ones that cannot be taught. They are oddly rare, even in people who are convinced they can make art. But these qualities can be encouraged.
Fearlessness; passion, eccentricity, sensuality, originality and the unity of voice and subject matter. Be bold with a disciplined madness, bringing new news to jaded people. Magic is hard work to make, but pleasure is an energy; creativity is its own party, and every day should bring a new experiment. If you have that, you should be on your way. Otherwise you might have to consider working for a living.
Hanif Kureishi grew up in Kent and studied philosophy at King’s College London. His novels include The Buddha of Suburbia, which won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel, The Black Album, Intimacy, and The Last Word. His screenplays include My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and Le Week-End. He has also published several collections of short stories. Kureishi has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the PEN/Pinter Prize, and is a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. His work has been translated into 36 languages. He is professor of Creative Writing at Kingston University.
This article is part of a series of experienced writers and authors sharing what they wish they had known when they first started writing.