Thursday, January 24, 2008

I wouldn't have got where I am today without tuberculosis

The book currently keeping me from filling my noggin each morning with Metro’s bite-size newschunks is about a group of young writers who burst onto the literary scene in the 1950’s. The beery, brawling antics of Kingsley Amis, John Osborne, Philip Larkin and their contemporaries gained them such notoriety the austere post-war media dubbed them The Angry Young Men. And when they weren’t outraging The Daily Mail with their shenanigans they still found time to knock out legendary stuff like Look Back in Anger, Room at the Top and Lucky Jim. I’ve only just started reading it, and already I’m hooked. Hardly a surprise though, as anything with booze, fisticuffs and writing is okay in my book. But it’s not all hell-raising and rabble-rousing. In an early chapter it mentions how as a child John Osborne contracted rheumatic fever and was bedridden for 10 months. For 10 months all he did was read and listen to classical music on the wireless. He also subscribed to a correspondence course on how to write fiction. He made himself clever. If he had been healthy as a kid he may not have become the writer he became. It could just be that he owes some of his success to his illness? And he’s not alone. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson began writing comedy sketches together whilst in the same hospital with tuberculosis. After being given a clean bill of health and released from incarceration they then went on to write Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe & Son. They’re arguably two of the finest sitcom writers Britain has ever produced. But would that be the case if they’d breezed through adolescence without so much as a sniffle? It makes you wonder. Take Alan Sillitoe. Another TB victim and incidentally also one of the Angry Young Men. He began writing to combat the tedium of life in a hospital bed. His first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is one of my favourite books. I’ve got four copies. I’m sure there are loads more examples, not just of writers, where illness has acted as a catalyst. Not that I’m saying one of the side effects of illness is success. For the most part being poorly is just plain miserable, but maybe, just maybe, with the right sort of attitude something good can come out of something bad? It might be a healthier way to deal with being sick?