Leslie Tate

Author and Poet

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David Guest

I invited David Guest to write about the media and creativity. As a lifetime journalist and editor, David knows the field well having ‘worked for every publishing company in London once’. His piece is satirical, literary and full of critical insights. In 2002 David: ‘bought into a small, local publishing company, and found to my surprise that it was an ideal introduction to the online world and social media’. He is currently editing his first novel.

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work – Flaubert

David Writes:

‘Creativity’ is one of the growing group of words to have been devalued by contact with the marketing industry. The dire consequences of this brush with contemporary capitalism are apparent from the casual grammatical misuse that ensues. Any muppet capable of switching on an Apple Macintosh is apt to describe him or herself as ‘a creative’. A creative what? Well, at a minimum, a creative muppet.

On a slightly more elevated level in this happily self-satisfied hierarchy you will find individuals who characterise themselves as ‘ideas people’. This implies creativity of a high order. It often indicates a correspondingly high reluctance to actually do anything. A committed ideas man will always find others to do the work. Nonetheless, he will consider his bank statement every month and reflect: “Because I’m worth it.” He has found his happy.

I work alongside creatives and have often picked up scraps from the tables of ideas people. A journalist, I am regarded as something of a drone in this company – hence, no doubt, my tone, which may mistakenly be regarded as embittered. It is, however, nothing of the kind. Regular contact with creatives (the singular form of which Microsoft Word, bless it, insists on treating as an adjective) reinforces my sense of the value of work and prevents me getting ideas above my station. On the contrary, it prompts me to look twice at anything I produce that at first glance could be construed as an idea at all.

Genuine creativity in journalism is rare. All writing consists in putting one word after another and any activity that involves repetition tends towards drudgery. Where the reader can sense drudgery, the writer has failed. The challenge is to find the right word, every time and in every context, to do justice to the original idea.

I haven’t the time to stop after every word and search my memory (or Roget or Google) for the mot juste or the ideal allusion. I have to hope that the brain, on auto-pilot, will supply something good enough for the moment. If, in a later revision, extended reflection yields something else, so much the better.

The only way for most of us drones to make this haphazard process work is to read fine writing. If ideas are to be communicated through the medium of words, good writing can only enhance our appreciation of the possibilities. And since fine writing is stimulating, it’s reasonable to hope that creativity will be improved at the same time.

Does the remorseless, repetitive nature of journalism tend to stifle creativity? It’s easy to see how a journalist might be at a disadvantage as a creative writer. Features are often commissioned purely to attract advertising, in which case the writers may have no more than a passing interest in their subjects. It can hardly lubricate any synapses to have to address on a regular basis such topics as fitted kitchens, uninterruptible power supplies for computers or advances in glazing technology.

On the other hand… the list of people who have combined the roles of journalist and writer includes some very distinguished names: Dickens, Orwell and, more recently, Martin Amis and Will Self. My own favourites are both American – Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe. Berkhamsted’s favourite son Graham Greene often gets a mention in this context, having begun his career on The Times; but Greene was a sub-editor, and the words are already in some sort of order by the time they reach the subs’ desk.

David Guest

Some wonderful writers also worked in advertising and would fully merit the job title ‘creatives’: Salman Rushdie (‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero), Dorothy L Sayers (who worked on the Guinness account and is sometimes credited with the ‘is good for you’ line), Fay Weldon and her eggs, Emile Zola and many others.

Perhaps the individuality of great creative artists makes any generalisation void. Perhaps a routine, easily characterised as crushing to the imagination, is not without its benefits. As Flaubert said: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

In next week’s blog KATIE WILLIS writes about how her early life as a ballerina was redirected by ME into being an author.


  1. Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
    • A signed copy of Love’s Register is available in pounds sterling here.
    • The paperback in other currencies is available here.                                                 
    • Ebook for Kindle in £s here and in $s here.                                                           
    • For other ebook reading devices here (all currencies). 
  2. Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
  3. The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here



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