Better than working in an asbestos mine


Writing  and illness make common bedfellows. Keats, a doctor, was constantly coughing, Charlotte Bronte claimed to suffer from fits of hypochondria, Joyce and Beckett sat together for hours comparing maladies real and imagined, and don’t even get us started on Marcel Proust.

We do not know if there is some innate link between the two, or if it is the mere fact that writers tend to be great self-examiners (or, as the less charitable may call them, narcissists). Were, however, it found to be true, there would hardly be any surprise in the fact: spending many hours sitting alone in poorly-heated rooms, seeing little daylight, building up levels of anxiety about the correct deployment of a semi-colon or whether to risk using an adverb is not going to be good for anyone’s health, without even thinking about the common vices of alcohol, tobacco or worse. (Here the BDLF hastens to recognise that, on a global scale,  writing is nowhere near as bad for the health as working in an asbestos factory or cobalt mine).


The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Faiure, ed. C.D Rose  (Melville House, 2014). p.32-3

If you find this intriguing, you may also like to read about  Martin Burscough who  failed to make it as a poet due to a constant stream of bus and train holdups and misread timetables that kept him from ever reading his work in public, Jack Ffrench, the first Method crime writer,  Molly Stock, whose search for the perfect place to write led her to spend her entire life in bed, too comfortable and sleepy to write at all, or any of the  52 gallant failures whose histories are given in this useful book.


7 thoughts on “Better than working in an asbestos mine

  1. Sounds like a fantastic catalogue of missed opportunities.
    I remember a popular dictum used to be that writers below a certain age, when they got together, talked about money, (usually the lack of it), and writers over a certain age talked about their bad backs. I used to wonder what I would talk about if I got to the ‘bad back’ age without ever having made any money….

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