Writing to 10 of My Greatest Influences

Regular readers will know that a few months ago, I wrote a letter to Kazuo Ishiguro after reading his book Never Let Me Go. I did it because his publisher didn’t provide anything but a postal address for its authors.

To date, Ishiguro has not replied, but I was itching to repeat the experiment with others I admire. It’s a slower and more laborious process that makes you think about every word you write. Yet the sealed envelope is far more difficult to ignore, and your words don’t become just another comment on another social media page.

With this in mind, I’ve tried to emulate the pre-Internet and pre-fax era as much as possible, a time when celebrities felt more removed from their audiences. I’m lucky enough to have mutual friends with a few popular performance poets who influence me. I’ve excluded them because they feel too ‘close’, even though we don’t know each other directly.

There’s one important concession to the old-school vibe: it would create a lot of hassle to find out the postal address of agents, management companies or publishers in an offline manner. I therefore set a rule that I was allowed to use the Web for the task, but I wasn’t permitted to contact anyone to ask for the correct details. I instead used the most likely addresses I could find.

So who are the top 10? I’ve listed them in no special order:

  1. Andrea Gibson – performance poet
  2. Peter Doherty – musician and poet
  3. Marshall Mathers – rapper, aka Eminem
  4. Mike Skinner – rapper
  5. David Nicholls – novelist
  6. Tracey Thorn – musician in Everything but the Girl
  7. Jasper Carrott – comedian
  8. Billy Joel – musician
  9. & 10. Harley Alexander-Sule & Jordan Stephens – musicians in Rizzle Kicks

It took under an hour to collate most of the addresses. However, I counted six contacts for Marshall Mathers alone as he has a number of specialist managers, so I settled for writing to his agent. Conversely, Peter Doherty proved über-difficult to pin down. My initial searches pulled up a management company in the West of Scotland; later searches provided a much more likely address.

But finding the contact details was only the start. Before I uncapped my Biro, there were other issues I wanted to iron out.

  • Firstly, should I use my pen name? A pen name would allow the recipients to look me up online should they choose, whereas using my legal name would ensure that any reply is correctly delivered. I decided from the start I wouldn’t include an e-mail address to maintain the pre-Internet feel – though I can be easily contacted via this site – so I’ve compromised by including my legal name in the address, but explaining in the body of the letter that I write as Gavin Cameron.
  • Secondly, what about the content of the letters? Naturally, this had to be customised to the recipient, but the text can be broadly divided into three sections. In the first, what I enjoy about their work or views; the second explains why I’m writing by hand rather than doing it online; the third is a summing-up and best wishes. I haven’t asked for an autograph, a photo, or even a reply; I wanted the letters to be mainly about the recipient and his or her influence, without me being too much of a fangirl.
  • Thirdly, do I publish any replies? I quickly decided that would be a negatory, rubber duck, other than to provide a brief summary in a future blog entry. It’s not that I think any of the recipients would mind, but because personal letter-writing is an inherently private activity, I would rather the recipients kept my correspondence confidential, although there is a sample in the picture and it’s ultimately their decision as I haven’t specified I want it kept secret.

    Notebook with tear-out pages for writing to celebrities
    Notebook with tear-out pages for writing to celebrities

So how did I feel when I put pen to paper? I knew I would have to develop a template of sorts as it’s far easier than starting from a blank page. I first drafted the Marshall Mathers letter (pictured), then copied it onto writing paper in pen. Even with my preparations, I found it difficult at first to place my thoughts in a flowing order.

Probably the easiest letter to write was that to Andrea Gibson, which ran to three A5 pages with my signature on the fourth. I found once I’d started that I had loads I wanted to say, and I acknowledged at the end that if I’d been using a PC, I would have edited much of the ramble. I could have started a new letter, but I felt it wouldn’t have been so candid as it was in that first form.

If I did make a mistake in a word, I would simply cross it out and write it again. It didn’t occur to me until I’d sealed the envelopes that Tippex still exists. I’m glad I didn’t realise this, though, as it wouldn’t have looked pretty on the cream page.

The hardest letters were probably those to Jasper Carrott and Billy Joel. I imagine it’s because they influenced me more in my childhood than they currently do. But I’m glad I still wrote to them because I might not repeat this experiment, and none of us will be around forever.

The one thing I didn’t find intimidating at all was the level of fame my recipients enjoy. I’m currently taking the MLitt course at the University of Dundee. There, I was introduced to the concept of thinking about where I fit in with other writers and poets, including those who are well-known. So rather than considering yourself to be lower down the food chain, you’re encouraged to ponder whether you’re producing your own work to an equal standard, and how you can raise your standard if you’re not. Or in Internet jargon, MIND=BLOWN.

Thinking in those terms helped to relieve the pressure. I know I can produce work to the same standard of some of the folks I’ve contacted, and I also know I can pick holes in their work just as much as they could potentially rip mine apart. So in that respect, I’m a person doing one creative activity who’s writing to a person who does another creative activity, not a ‘civilian’ writing to a ‘celebrity’.

If I receive no replies, I won’t cry into my notebook, as I’ve said what I have to say. I’ll be happy if I attract one response; I’ll be ecstatic if I receive two; goodness knows what I’ll be like if three or more come back.

Now all I need to do is what writers do best: wait.

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Where in the World?

On Friday, WordPress told me my viewing stats were going through the roof, with 30 views in one hour. A closer inspection showed that these views came from Pakistan; what’s more they all appeared to originate from the same person.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was formed in 1947 and has a population of 199,000,000. Its official language is Urdu, with more than a dozen recognised regional languages, none of which are English.

So I’m curious to know what someone from this country would gain from my writings, when I speak only English and come from a culture with such different values. Or perhaps my mystery visitor is a British expat, or simply wanted an insight into my world.

If you are, or you know, the person in question, do leave a comment below or e-mail purple@gavincameron.co.uk.

Pepto-Dismal.

My Stats page tells me that hardly anyone reads blogs on a Saturday or in the morning, but it scarcely matters as I’ve nothing to say.

This week, I’ve been flat out in bed with sickness, and I’ve been unable to think of a topic, let alone write an entry.

I aim to be back on track by next week. In the meantime, as it’s Independent Booksellers’ Week, I encourage you visit your nearest one and buy something.

The End of Days.

I know you can’t see me, but I’m blowing a whistle as we speak, indicating the final dying minutes of National Novel Writing Month. I breached the 50,000-word target by only 29 words; that’s 13 less than my very first novel in 2010.

Last year’s total was 60,000 and I’d barely scratched the surface, but this time around, I don’t have the material to go much higher, so I’m happy with my haul. Many congratulations if you’ve also hit the benchmark.

My aim is for this to be the last time I bore you with this subject for the next eleven months.

I’ve been to a number of literary events this week, including a fiction writing and a life writing class, and I’m pleased to say I’m enrolled in the continuation class for the latter.

On Thursday, I attended a literary salon where I heard current English students read out their best pieces. Then on Friday, a poetry and cabaret event. A number of pieces were in the Dundee dialect, which must have confused the last act, a songwriter from New Orleans.

I’ve lived in the city most of my life and understand most of the vernacular, yet I’ve never naturally spoken it. It inspired me to write a poem exploring the theme, and I completed it before the event ended. I’m not known as a poet, and I’m not at the stage where I would describe myself as one, but I have been dabbling in the form.

I’ve also been working on another piece, but I need to give you a bit of background. If you didn’t know, I’ve only been a writer since October 2010. To put that in context, I was 27 when I wrote a fictional story for the first time since high school. The piece was that first NaNo novel.

However, when I was at school, I fancied myself as a singer-songwriter, not to mention an actor. I’d tried to write song lyrics, and I recently rediscovered a four-line fragment with two internal rhymes. Moreover, I can still remember the tune, and the words still resonate as much now as they did then.

At the time, I tried to expand it by writing extra verses, but nothing seemed to work until I turned to Google+ earlier this week. With the help of a community, I preserved the rhyme scheme but expanded the number of syllables, and I’ve now squeezed nearly four verses out of it. If I keep making progress, I finally hope to perform it on December 9th after all these years.

After a conversation with my former NaNo Municipal Liaison a couple of weeks ago, I raked out my school qualifications. I’d correctly remembered I’d earned only a C for English, although I have criticisms about the way it was taught. Perhaps that’s why I never pursued it, or perhaps I was too fixated on music to realise my strength was in words, not instruments.

I’ve got to make up for the time I wasted setting up blogs writing factual events without realising that I was able to write fiction. I kick myself every day about my late start, although I take some comfort from the careers of Barbara Taylor Bradford and Richard Adams. Their first books weren’t published until they were over 40 and over 50 respectively.

But I need to work fast if I want to reach a state of parity. I want to reach the point where I’ve produced as much work as if I’d started as a teenager. I have around 200 pieces in total, but that could have been 1,000 if I’d begun at age 15.

I won’t rest until I’m satisfied I’ve made up for every minute of wasted time.