I’m currently writing a book for Da Capo, detailing Winston Churchill’s adventures as a young war correspondent from 1895 to 1900. Reporting for various newspapers, he covered wars from the jungles of Cuba, India’s Northwest Frontier against the ancestors of today’s Taliban, the deserts of the Sudan, and the endless veldt of South Africa. His was an action-packed existence. As part of my research, I’ve been gathering his various articles and working my way through his personal correspondence.
One letter in particular recently caught my attention. While stationed in India in 1896, Churchill read Rudyard Kipling’s volume of poetry, The Seven Seas. He was not impressed and, on January 7, 1897, wrote an astute letter to his brother on the finite skills of an author:
Few writers stand the test of success. Rider Haggard – Weyman – Boldrewood are all losing or have already lost their prowess. What happens is this. An author toils away & has many failures. Rejected contributions—books which the publishers won’t publish accumulate. Money does not. One day he writes a book which makes him famous: King Solomon’s Mines, A Gentleman of France or Robbery Under Arms. His name now is on every one’s lips—his books are clamoured for by the public. Out come all the old inferior productions from their receptacles, and his financial fortune is made. Few authors are rich men.
He really nailed it with that last sentence.
Although primarily known as Britain’s iconic wartime leader, Churchill made his living as an author. He wrote countless books and articles during his long life. Indeed, by the age of twenty-five, he had four bestsellers to his name. In 1908, he gave a lecture to the Author’s Club in London. Here is an excerpt, courtesy Richard Langworth’s brilliantly edited Churchill By Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations.
The fortunate people in the world—the only really fortunate people in the world, in my mind—are those whose work is also their pleasure. The class is not a large one, not nearly so large as it is often represented to be; and authors are perhaps one of the most important elements in its composition. They enjoy in this respect at least a real harmony of life. To my mind, to be able to make your work your pleasure is the one class distinction in the world worth striving for . . . To sit at one’s table on a sunny morning, with four clear hours of uninterruptible security, plenty of nice paper, and a [fountain] pen—that is true happiness.
In the first volume of his Second World War memoirs, he described writing a book this way:
Writing a long and substantial book is like having a friend and companion at your side, to whom you can always turn for comfort and amusement, and whose society becomes more attractive as a new and widening field of interest is lighted in the mind.
To write a book about Churchill is to spend time in the company of a most entertaining gentleman.