SOME FORTUNATE PEOPLE HAVE THE EYE
MY TALENTED PHOTOGRAPHER SISTER, LUCY, IS ONE OF THEM
LUCY TOOK THIS FROM THE TOP OF A BUS WITH HER CELL. IT’S A RATHER DIFFERENT SLANT ON LONDON
I was in business before I opted for a career in the creative arts—not that I wish to suggest that business cannot be creative. But, the underlying ethos of business is to make money—in many cases regardless of the means—whereas, although you need enough money to survive in the creative arts too, your main priority is the work itself. Your mission is to create—which means to change things in some way—however small or significant. You are a disruptor of the status quo.
Why are some of us like that—and most so accepting, willing to toe the line? I don’t think any of us know with any precision. I tend towards the view that all of us are born creative in some way or other, but that society’s relentless pressure to conform—typically starting off with one’s parents (assuming you have two—which is an assumption I shouldn’t make) or parent, and closely followed by school—beats it out of you (sometimes literally).
Sir Ken Robinson is the man to hear on this important subject.
Society calls crushing creativity ‘socialization’ and regards it as a worthy cause.
I regard as a truly staggering waste of latent talent which we should be encouraging.
But why do some people resist the socialization process, and go on to be creative?
I can only conclude that the reasons are both genetic and environmental.. In my case, I have always had an unusually inquiring mind—and I was certainly brought up in a creative environment. I was abused both physically and emotionally for many years, but even some of that was creative (albeit derivative).
At one stage, having foolishly confessed my secret fear of being roasted to another boy in boarding school (the incident actually features in the book Tom Brown’s Schooldays—and was my mother’s only guide to how to treat boys) he responded by spreading the story to the point where I was roasted. Now how many people does that happen to?
Let me tell you that being spread-eagled in font of a roaring open fire by four boys—all bigger, stronger, and older—is not fun. Frankly, I doubt I would have felt much better if they had been girls—but it was a boy’s only boarding school. It actually happened in the library of St. Gerard’s School, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. I was about eight.
I remember it well!
My eventual response to being bullied was to learn how to fight creatively—and that I certainly did. I learned how to hit and hurt—mainly from books. I was very cold-blooded about it. I wanted my victims to remember the pain—and to leave me alone. I didn’t particularly enjoy hurting people—but I guess I did enjoy the tactical side. I became an advocate of surprise, maneuver, unpredictability—and execution. Bluffing was not an option. If I attacked somebody, I wanted them to remember rather more than a simple punch. This wasn’t boxing. It wasn’t a sport. I had no interest at all in fighting fairly. I wanted to induce enough fear so that they would back off in the future.
The bullying stopped. Creativity was clearly a good thing. Funnily enough, that experience of having to fight creatively—because I was virtually always outnumbered—is an asset I still draw upon to this day—and it is particularly useful when writing action sequences in my books. I don’t just imagine them. I live them—and, of course, I have actually done that when the stakes were decidedly higher than bullying at school.
Such war stories apart, my dangerous, but charismatic, mother was a writer and painter, my much loved step-father astonishingly creative across the board—and, when I was at home—not so often given boarding school, and that I tended to be farmed out to stay with my grandmother or aunts—we were immersed in the arts—not to mention a constant stream of writers, artists, musicians, and movie and theater people. Lawyers and accountants scarcely featured. My mother, who was the social magnet, and who had a real talent for finding interesting people, never ceased hauling them in—and she ran a very social house, where glasses were filled full and re-filled often.
I should know. One of my first chores as a kid—even when I was quite small—was to fill glasses and empty ashtrays at parties. Since I was never taught otherwise, I tended to pour with a generous hand. When I encountered the social norm in other houses, I was initially quite shocked at such meanness. I still tend to be generous when I pour a drink.
We had one family friend who was an architect—an actual professional—but he became an honorary creative because he was the father of a school friend of mine. His brother went on to become the Irish prime minister (called the Taoiseach in Ireland—sounds like a sneeze).
I was always very fond of the Fitzgerald family and rather fancied the two daughters—Katherine and Caroline, if memory serves.
Sometimes I wonder why I ever went into business. There were actually quite a number of reasons.
- Back in 1964—the year I graduated from university—there were very few jobs of any kind available in Ireland, and creative jobs paid a pittance. I had this unpleasant truth rammed home again and again because both my sister and a girlfriend were actresses, As stated, I had numerous other movie and theatrical connections, and other friends were writers and photographers. They all lived a decidedly marginal existence.
- My mother—an extremely forceful personality—was keen that I go into business and re-build the family fortunes.
- My talents were well suited for business in many ways—a fact that I have demonstrated repeatedly over the years (although I have had my failures too).
- There is a great deal about business I like—from the people to the creative aspects. I am also gifted with a strong strategic sense, so again and again I have identified trends and developments years before they became generally accepted.
All in all, I guess I was behaving quite rationally when I opted for business in the initial years of my working life—though I was undoubtedly seriously conflicted.
Then came my epiphany, and the blinding and truly wonderful insight that I didn’t want to live a sensible rational life—but needed to create and have adventures.
It was an imperative.
I have endured great difficulties throughout my creative life, but have never regretted my decision to chose this direction.
I also rather enjoy the irony that at this stage of my life, at the age of 70, both my creative and business talents are coming together.
If I succeed, it will make for an extremely neat ending.
If I fail, be confident that I’ll still be trying until the moment I die. As with writing itself, the struggle is the thing—because you never write quite as well as you want. If you do, you raise the bar.
I feel much blessed—and downright amused.
VOR words 1,183.