As an encouragement to all the potential authors we’ve talked to over the years who haven’t yet finished (or perhaps even started) their promised book – have a look at Anthony Trollope. Not for him the excuse that he didn’t have time!
Aside from inventing the pillar box – it hadn’t occurred to me that it was the sort of thing that needed inventing until I learned that he did just that – and working full time, Anthony Trollope was a highly prolific author, and one that makes me blush at my own inadequacies. (I love writing and I find that the discipline I need to fit time in for writing is sometimes lacking – it didn’t happen with Anthony.)
My own research was on the works of George Eliot and so understanding Trollope and his position in 19th Century literature was a significant if subsidiary area. (The two could be more different I guess – but it’s hard to see how, because there is an obvious and superficial idea that there is a huge amount of rural and town life in each. This, however, disguises the complete difference in their interests.) I was fascinated by Trollope’s output, but of course he got up at something after 4.00 am every day and wrote his number of words, before having breakfast and slipping along to the General Post Office, as it was then, or Royal Mail. That is really quite daunting – and I have tried doing something similar – though not quite so early – and it is hard to sustain. Having servants did make a big difference no doubt – as did where he was living which wasn’t always in London, but in Ireland too.
I must have read twenty or so of his novels, some more than once – and what one discovers is that they are quite variable. I love the first three Barchester Chronicles – who doesn’t just wallow in loving Septimus Harding? The Way We Live Now is actually really hard hitting (I plagiarised the title for my own on the corruption in the UK Civil Service,because I liked the book so much) and uncharacteristic of his novels and really worthwhile, but some of the Palliser novels (originally known as the Parliamentary Novels before the BBC produced an interesting series) feel a bit tired – as though those early morning starts had worn him down. It does contain that Irish character, Phineas Finn, so not all bad.
There is – as a warning or perhaps a note to the casual reader – a point about his writing methods that explains something about the novels. In later life he developed some sort of problem with his hands – rheumatism I seem to remember – and instead of writing the novels out long hand, he began to dictate the novels every morning. As a result the novels became more prolix, far more expansive, and they can become a bit tedious – which is a fascinating insight into the man and a warning to all people who see themselves as writers if and when dictation into the computer becomes much more effective. (I think that will be about 2025 at the current rate of progress in technology and speech recognition.)
So the answer is self-discipline – partly instigated by necessity to earn more money than his Post Office salary – and that’s quite an answer. And I’ve just imagined the prospect of re-reading The Warden.
Yes – that’s a lovely thought.