There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
The best way to find out if you can trust anybody is to trust them.
All you have to do is write a true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
The first draft of anything is shit.
This isn’t my stuff, you know.
These are Hemingway quotes. And maybe like a lot of people, he’s been one of those writers you sort of know for so long that you can’t decide if he’s any good or not.
I read Fiesta when I was about twenty-four, only a bit younger than the character with the mysterious wound would probably have been, if it was set in the 1920s and he’d got shot wherever he’d got shot (Vimy Ridge, if you’ll pardon the expression?) in the Great War. Just to clarify, it was alternatively titled The Sun Also Rises, about a man who keeps coming across some English posh totty in Paris. Except he can’t seem to actually do that. And she isn’t sure she wants him to either, but she’s also not really sure she doesn’t and they sort of go on holiday with their friends except she’s not really with him you know, you do know that, I mean we had this talk, didn’t we? We said. And all the usual blah that anyone in their early twenties who drinks too much in a city can relate to. I loved that book.
At school I’d found a copy of something Hemingway did about a fish and an old man, and got through something he wrote about the Italian campaign in WWI, parts of which I recycled for O Level History which as nobody else even knew there was any fighting in Italy in WWI except probably Gino Petrillo and he was in a different class made me seem particularly knowledgeable.
I liked that whisky and guns and typewriters things, the more so because I was hugely into Hunter Thompson to the extent that I tracked him to his lair in Woody Creek. Depressingly, that’s actually true, but this isn’t the time for my Hunter Thompson and me party piece. Later.
I didn’t like the fact that like Richard Brautigan who lived in the same place, like Thompson who also once lived up on the California coast, all three of them shot themselves to death coincidentally or by design. In Thompson’s case, I’d suspect by design.
But that huge big gun big life thing, I didn’t really get off on that a lot. Nor did someone I used to know. She had to write about Hemingway at university and what with drinking and shagging and all the other things to do she couldn’t quite bring herself to read about a fat old man who hated himself, or anything he’d written. The day of the exam she skimmed through the covers of a few Hemingway titles and read no more than about twenty pages, at random. And blagged it. She’d got the gist of the plot and did much the same as I did in History O Level – stuck stuff in that was tangential and vaguely relevant. Whenever she got stuck she’d introduce a “Hemingway quote.”
The inverted commas are because she made it up. She couldn’t remember any real Hemingway quotes so she made up a bullshit, sparse, macho one instead. “That is the way it is in the mountains.” Sometimes with a comma, but more often not.
You bleed, writing about a bank manager taking a long time catching a fish on holiday. You write the truest thing you know about someone cadging doughnuts in a MidWest coffeeshop. OK. That’s probably why she got hugely good marks for her paper and something of a reputation of a Hemingway scholar for the rest of the term.
That is the way it is, in the mountains.