Memoir Writing: Better Lucky Than Clever
Writer Maurice Hussey decided to write a memoir, spanning his life from the 1940s through to the late 1980s. Better Lucky Than Clever is a highly relatable recollection of memories and photos of a fascinating life.
After assisting Maurice with producing his book, we wanted to know more about his story.
1. Has writing always been a passion? What has been your writing journey?
My father had a great influence on me. When I was a kid away at school he used to send me the most amusing letters; he also dabbled in journalism, mainly articles in technical journals, which impressed me greatly.He was always ramming home to me the need to keep the writing simple, probably as an overreaction to the journalism of his youth in the Edwardian era when every oyster was ‘a succulent bivalve’.
I found it difficult to manage this without becoming dull but I got the general idea. And I suppose when I got to university it was helpful for my weekly essays, which needed to be clearly and succinctly argued.
I don’t think I could properly use the word journey in regard to my writing career, it’s altogether too purposeful. I worked in London for forty years and for half that time was in a job sufficiently stressful to banish any thoughts of writing. However, I was always interested in the technique of it and developed a taste for published letters – Evelyn Waugh, James Thurber, the Mitfords, Vita Sackville-West – all fine writers.
2. What has inspired you to write?
What was interesting with the published letters was not only the bits those writers did well but also their failures. The practicality of writing in pen and ink meant, if it went wrong, rewriting the whole thing or crossing out and altering the offending passages, so they tended to be given the benefit of the doubt and left in the text, in a way they wouldn’t in a more serious format. I found this made for interesting reading and I think I learnt quite a lot from studying them.
When my wife died two years ago I found some occupational therapy in sending emails to (mainly) my grandchildren who were away from home, using the time I now had to spare, to polish and make them as entertaining as possible. I found this unexpectedly enjoyable, particularly the possibility of editing with an absolute minimum of trouble. All this as well as getting some brownie points as a good grandfather.
There was one further factor. My great-grandfather had published a book of reminiscences in 1903 when he was in his eighties. When I first read it at university I didn’t think much of it. Increasing age and the experience of writing myself did a lot to change my attitude and I even lifted a few bits for my own purposes. Quite a salutary lesson in humility.
3. What was your main reason for writing Better Lucky Than Clever?
Initially the book was intended to be undertaken as something to stop me grumbling about a lack of occupation and as a record of the family history in, say, the previous hundred years. It didn’t work out like that as cheerfulness kept breaking in. I tried to keep some semblance of accuracy and coherence by making a rule only to include events either supported by documents or which had happened to me or had been told directly to me by those involved. Within this rule, the more entertaining the better. So the emphasis inadvertently shifted to become more centred on me and so did the reason for writing it.
4. What inspired the title of the book?
I had used the phrase somewhere in the book and it had a certain ring to it. I don’t really know where it came from – possibly from London – I think it was the slightly pitying comment on some idiot who had done potentially a disastrous deal, which nevertheless turned out all right. In the course of writing I also became aware of the number of occasions where I had escaped death or injury by good fortune – no cleverness involved at all.
5. What was your biggest obstacle with writing and producing the book?
I made one obstacle entirely on my own by beginning the writing on an iPad. It was only after putting down 25,000 words that I discovered that it was only possible to get them onto a computer in editable form by transcribing them, copying from the iPad onto the laptop, which I did. If it is possible to do it otherwise I really don’t want to know.
6. How did your collaboration with author Rebecca Gregson come about and how did it work?
Rebecca is a friend of my daughter. She has written several published novels and helped with mentoring two or three others. We managed to break all the rules about setting up a contractual arrangement and it worked brilliantly. In two respects that hadn’t occurred to me originally, it was invaluable to have someone to bounce ideas off. Firstly, Rebecca was so enthusiastic that I was sensitive to any slight diminution in that respect and would act accordingly. Secondly, if one was trying for humour, testing it on someone else is brilliant. If they don’t get the joke – drop it.
7. Did you have an idea of how you wanted the cover to look? Are you happy with the end result?
I had absolutely no idea about the cover – I left that to Rebecca. Yes, I’m delighted.
8. Although Better Lucky Than Clever has naturally a highly personal subject matter, it has universal appeal. Are there any parts of the book that you think stand out and that readers will particularly enjoy?
There were some bits that seemed to write themselves and naturally one looks on them with special favour, but I suspect that may be just the author talking. In general the pieces about my parents please me, I feel that if they had been here to read them they would have smiled. The other feature is simply due to longevity. As Hartley said “the past is another country, they do things differently there” and quite a lot of what I’ve written about happened a long time ago. Perhaps today’s reader will be surprised and amused.
9. How much knowledge of book production and publishing did you have before starting and how did you find the process?
None at all. I was totally captivated by how personal the service was and its rapidity! One calendar month beginning to end was astonishing.
10. If you could offer some advice to other writers wanting to write a memoir, or any type of book in fact, what would you suggest?
Don’t start with just an iPad and be prepared to be disciplined. I was lucky, I enjoyed it so much that it was no hardship and I even took the iPad on holiday with me in case of a sudden flash of inspiration. Eleven months start to finish (with a little help from the printers) meant there was little scope for boredom.
11. And finally, what would be your ‘desert island’ book?
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman published 1759 by Laurence Sterne. I have read it five or six times, most recently a fortnight or so ago. It’s a tough read but rewarding, the funniest book I know.
Also, If you’re interested in writing and publishing your own book, why not get in contact?