BOOKS: Ask anyone who is a successful writer for the secret of their success and they will tell you it is reading

The biggest pain in the tail in any newspaper office is the reporter who considers himself to be a writer …

So said a literary hero of mine, Joseph Mitchell, who was a crime reporter in New York and an author who wrote great books, including The Bottom of the Harbour and My Ears are Bent.

Reporters usually report the bare facts and leave the descriptive stuff to the sub editors.

This includes the punctuation which a politician, who once asked me to write a press release for him, called “the wee curly bits”.

Having been a journalist for 55 years and worked in all of these disciplines, reporter, columnist and sub editor, I have now turned my hand at last to writing.

It’s a lonely business which involves just me and my laptop, tucked away in my little office on the half-landing of the house.

Ask anyone who is a successful writer for the secret of their success and they will tell you it is reading.

If you don’t read you can’t write and so, to this end, my office is lined with bookshelves filled with an eclectic mix of hardbacks, paperbacks and softbacks, a welcome 21st century innovation.

I have just produced a softback called How Are Things in Connemara? And I am pleased to report it is selling well in the West of Ireland.

It is the story of Mary Ward, a Dumbarton woman who was sent to the back of the back of beyond, to take care of her dying grandparents.

And for whom a match was made with the son of a neighbour so that their two “farms” could be merged to create a 16-acre croft, which was barely sufficient to support a family.

In Dumbarton and Vale of Leven, a substantial number of books have been sold at The Hub in the Artizan Centre, M&M Stores in Bonhill Road and Jimmy’s Card Shop at the Fountain in Alexandria.

I have expressed my regrets and dismay here previously – long before I turned my hand to writing – about the fact that there isn’t a bookshop between Clydebank and Helensburgh.

Still, we have good libraries here in Dunbartonshire, although for some reason – I wonder why? – the council has shown little interest in my own book.

Perhaps however they will take a closer look at All Our Yesterdays, which is about to be published by Valeman Paul Murdoch’s Neetah book company based in Alexandria.

That book looks back at the Lennox, Scotland’s old red rose county, and the life and work of the people here, the places they worked in and the lifestyles they led in the 20th century.

It covers everything from fashion to football and fishing and is packed with photographs of local people and places.

It comes out on November 15 just in time for the Christmas market and is aimed at older people and exiles, who will hopefully enjoy seeing old places and faces linked with Dumbarton, the Vale and Loch Lomondside.

Maybe our schoolchildren who want to learn about local history will find it interesting.

Finding inspiration for yet another book for next year, possibly come Easter, will not be easy I don’t imagine.

However, others who have looked out of their window for inspiration here have done so with considerable success.

They include Tobias Smollett, of Renton, who wrote some of the first novels and in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker said “As for the liberty of the press, like every other privilege, it must be restrained within certain bounds; for if it is carried to a breach of law, religion, and charity, it becomes one of the greatest evils that ever annoyed the community.

“If the lowest ruffian may stab your good-name with impunity … to what purpose is our property secured, if our moral character is left defenceless?”

Tobias was obviously very careful when it came to his dealings with the press, but I have never written fiction – a few politicians may wish to dispute this – and have yet to fall foul of the courts.

A. J. Cronin, who was brought up in Round Riding Road, the street where I now live, became a Switzerland-based millionaire, writing best-sellers including Hatter’s Castle, The Stars Look Down, the Citadel and Dr Findlay’s Casebook.

Others who have written books include Agnes Owens, Roy Humble, Tom Gallacher, Brian Osborne, John Walker, Arthur Jones, Ronnie Armstrong, Mike Taylor, Joe Donnelly and Joseph McLoughlin, whose entertaining Dumbarton Childhood biography is not long out and reportedly selling well.

  • You can order copies on-line of All Our Yesterdays – A Look Back at Life in the Lennox from Neetah Books in Alexandria (http://www.neetahbooks.com/), where UK deliveries are free of charge, and How Are Things in Connemara from Kennys Bookshop, Galway, Ireland (http://www.kennys.ie) who offer free delivery worldwide.

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