“But starvation, unfortunately, didn’t improve art. It only hindered it. A man’s soul was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much better after eating a porterhouse steak and drinking a pint of whiskey than he could ever write after eating a nickel candy bar. The myth of the starving artist was a hoax.”
I have read my fair share of self-help books over the years. You find them, you buy them and you genuinely feel like the answer to all your problems is contained in those very pages. Sometimes, you can find inspiration but usually it is just a hard slog through each chapter. Bullshit advice and promise of publication if you put your quartz crystal in the south-west? No. Just no.
As a writer, I have always been interested in the lives of other writers. I am probably still on my journey when it comes to finding great stories about writers but for now, I want to talk about Charles Bukowski and his novel Factotum. Never did I imagine this would be the very novel that would pick me up when I felt I was in the literary gutter. I first read this about 12 years ago and have read it many times. Each time I feel like my job is getting me down, I pick this up and I find myself reaching for my notebook.
So, what is this all about then? Henry Chinaski is making his way from job to job. He is a drinker and a writer and we follow his struggle for publication and the pain that is the menial job. Sound familiar?
What is so wonderful about this book is its honesty and brutality, there isn’t a sense of romanticising the writing life but it is just a case of sitting down and writing; getting the work done.
His economy of words, humour, and gritty realism oozes from the pages and although the general opinion is that this is highly autobiographical, the Chinaski character is just what he is, a character. If you are a writer then you know that a little piece of you soaks into your pages. If my novel has some parallels to me but my main character is a man-hating junkie killer from hell, does that mean I am too? Probably not. I also laugh about the harsh words used on various review sites about this book, one of the words that constantly crops up is “repulsive”, yes I know reading is subjective and I think certain “classics” are a crock of shit but the fact he has repulsed you means he has done a damn good job.