Clive James wrote me a poem
God the writer

This strange compulsion

Clive James - of all the things that made him famous, he preferred to be known as a writer


TUMBY BAY - I’m not sure about the antecedents of Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media platforms but it is easy to trace the ancestry of the modern day blog.

The first blogs appeared in the mid-1600s as a product of the debate leading to the English Civil War.

They arrived in the form of pamphlets, simple one or two page articles printed on paper that sold for a few pennies each. They were a very cheap means for the broad distribution of different sorts of information.

They became a primary means of communication for people interested in political, religious and social issues.

By and large they were partisan, confined to a single subject and aimed at both informing and convincing the reader of the veracity of their content. Sound familiar?

Pamphlets had morphed into magazine and newspaper articles by the mid-nineteenth century and remained that way until the advent of the internet. Forms of pamphleteering that have survived are now usually devoted to the commercial advertising that gets stuffed into our letter boxes as junk mail.

Many important politicians, philosophers, clergy, poets and authors began their careers as pamphleteers. Nowadays blogs are just as fecund when it comes to producing these sorts of people.

The term ‘blog’ is a truncation of ‘web log’ and refers to their chronological nature. Most blogs carry advertising as a substitute for the collection of the pennies that once occurred. A few blogs maintain their integrity by not carrying advertising, just as some pamphlets were distributed free of charge.

The interesting thing about blogs, both then and now, is the diversity of writers who contribute to them. This diversity is a reflection of the broad definition of what makes up a writer.

Earlier in the week I was listening to a podcast of a 2006 conversation between Phillip Adams, a famous Australian raconteur of many shades, and the recently deceased writer Clive James.

James did many things in his long life. He was a poet, memoirist, playwright, television star and all-round celebrity among other things, but he was at pains to point out to Adams that in essence he had always been a writer.

Of all those many things that he had done writing always lay at the base of his endeavours.

As a writer he enjoyed considerable longevity. He was composing poems right up until the day he died. He told Adams that he always had a knack with words and that is what sustained his long career.

He also pointed out that he was lucky because writing defies age and decrepitude. Whereas many professions cannot be sustained in old age writing is an exception. You don’t find many 80 year old professional tennis players or bricklayers for instance.

In fact, as old age approaches, many worker’s abilities decrease whereas most writers just get better and better.

I can relate to Clive James’ claim about always being a writer. I think it was something I’d known but it was interesting to hear him articulate the idea so succinctly.

In just about everything I’ve done, from working in a bank, being a kiap, dabbling in anthropology, archaeology and history, and writing, editing and publishing books, writing has been the key element.

Contributing to PNG Attitude and other blogs has been a natural extension of this strange ability and compulsion that I seem to have acquired without apparent effort and through no fault of my own.

Sometimes I wonder whether it came out of some ancient Irish bog or some windswept coast in Celtic Britain or whether it was simply a random virus that I inadvertently picked up in 1950s Australia.

In any event, the point I am trying to make about pamphleteers and bloggers and people like Clive James is the difficulty of defining actually what makes a writer.

Writers don’t just write books. They do a myriad of other things that lie across just about every facet of life.

That teacher standing in front of a classroom of noisy kids is a writer and so too is that annoying individual who keeps producing the crap that appears in our letter boxes despite the ‘no junk mail’ signs.

The real estate agent who strings together all those laboured clichés about magnificent views and renovator’s delights is a writer and so is the copper down at the station laboriously writing up the report about the latest crash on the highway.

Despite all the technological marvels available in this modern age writing is still the foundation that it has always been.

If you want to be a writer blogging is a great way to start. And finish, for that matter.


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Richard Jones

Like you, Phil, I think I've always been a writer.

From keeping a diary from the age of about 9 or 10 to today's activities of reporting on local footy for the under-the-pump regional daily newspaper, I keep on writing.

Even though the diary-writing (which was carried on during 13 years of PNG life) and similar activities are now done on a laptop

I expanded back in the nineties to film reviews.

You mightn't get too many art house movies in Tumby Bay but in our large regional city (115,000 folks) not only do we have a multiplex cinema but also a lovely little art house place. Based in a now not-needed 19th century Town Hall.

So movie write-ups feature prominently in my writing. My wife and I see about 30 movies a year, in Melbourne as well as locally. No NetFlix or Stan or similar for us.

As you succinctly state, writing encompasses just about every facet of life. So it's been great to see how you and Keith (and others) have successfully encouraged Papua New Guineans to take up the writing craft.

And once hooked, they'll continue on for life.

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