Peter Bromhead: A writer's work is never done

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Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

I will not be attending the 2012 Writers and Readers Festival this week.

The reason is simple. I'm entrapped, as usual, slaving at the coalface.

Hemingway would approve.

He had little time for the peripheral niceties of literature, believing writers should be home writing rather than wallowing in the narcissistic puffery that permeates the book world.

I'm not a Hemingway fan, but I enjoy some of the amusing mythology surrounding the author, such as sending a note to a deeply shocked saloon-bar patron in Spain, who'd just witnessed his drinking companion being shot dead. "Papa doesn't care for people who blink", the communique supposedly stated.

With a deadline from my international publishers to produce 40,000 words by August, I am fast approaching that neurotic stage where I'm wondering if I shouldn't refund my advances and just quietly slip away into a nursing home for the bewildered.

The trouble is, I had no idea when I enthusiastically accepted the commission - after the usual fat lunch and too many glasses of Bordeaux - that uncovering the activities of an obscure Polish academic, who lead a murky double-life in wartime Europe, would involve so much painstaking research scrutinising government and private records.

On the credit side, the process has been educational for me.

Studying declassified documents from World War II has been a revelation.

Previously, I had no idea that when the Nazi Deputy Leader Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland in 1941, he carried a secret peace proposal seeking a 25-year alliance with the Reich, in exchange for an attitude of "benevolent neutrality' towards Germany, while Russia was invaded. Equally, I had no knowledge that Gruinard Island in the Hebrides, close to where I briefly resided as a youngster, had been taken over in 1942 by government scientists and was completely desecrated by virulent biological weapon experiments.

The island was so badly contaminated, it was 1990 before it was again declared a low risk area to visit.

Although I now have had 10 books published, I still don't consider myself "an author". This is simply because I'm yet to make a meagre living from my work.

At this late stage, I remain drolly cynical about future success, but if something quirky or unusual happened in the literary jungle that increased my personal standing, my words of wisdom to budding scribblers would be the same as Hemingway's advice: "If you wanna be writers, why aren't you home writing?"

- NZ Herald

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