City of Laughter

Vic Gatrell, recently awarded the PEN/Hessell-Tiltman History Book of the Year award 2006 for his book on the satire of 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, explains what impels his writing.

Writing big history books is hard and isolating work – a test, every author knows, of one’s capacities for optimism, endurance and self-discipline. Most writers in darker moments can wonder what their effort is ‘for’ and whether the world really needs another book. ‘All writers are vain, selfish and lazy,’ George Orwell wrote in 1946, ‘and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’  


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