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Pete Scott

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The late humorist Peter Cook was cornered by a bore at a party one night who told him: “I’m writing a novel”. “Neither am I”, replied Cook.

This response from the legendary wit reveals a real understanding of the creative process and the attitude some people have towards it. His erstwhile companion (I imagine he moved on looking for softer targets after this encounter) was obviously not writing a novel. He was at a party, talking about writing a novel.

You can talk about writing a novel anywhere, anytime, and you can get seriously shit-faced doing it. Set beside grinding out a thousand words a day, every day, while the debts mount alongside the doubts, you can see the attractions of the former over the latter - at least in the short term. A novelist of my acquaintance, no stranger to running creative writing courses which help ease the debt end of the deal, often complains: “They want to be writers, but they don’t want to write!”

This was to me, at first, as impenetrable as Mr. Cook’s reply to the party bore, but I began to see what she meant. Some people like the idea of being “a writer.” The money, the fame, interviews in posh papers and so on. It’s the other side, the grind side which, quite understandably, they don’t fancy. “This was not in the brochure and not what I paid all this money to come on the course for”. I’ve put that in quotes because that’s what it is.

Songwriting is completely different to novel writing, and exactly the same (why let dead humorists and contemporary novelists have sole rights to impenetrable statements?).

It’s different in that songs are much shorter and they generally need more than one skill - an ear for music and a gift for making rhyme. They are the same in that you can talk about writing songs while getting drunk. So far, so negative.

But suppose the party bore really was writing a novel. Maybe he had got so far with it and simply lacked the experience or technique to take it on. No doubt he had commitments, personal and financial, and he probably had no one else to give him advice. And so he was reduced to cornering fellow guests at social and not-so-social gatherings and telling them of his plight. His mistake was to pick on Peter Cook! “Eftsoons ! Unhand me, greybeard loon” is the line that comes to mind .

The message is this: don’t let that unfinished novel or that catchy chorus you wrote three years ago and never did anything with, hang around your neck like an albatross (Albert who?). Get some help. If you are serious, you don’t mind a bit of hard work, and you’re not so precious you can’t take a bit of constructive criticism, get on a course, listen to people who have been there and done it, and most importantly, mix with others in the same position.

In this country, we've tended to look down on creative writing courses. Not so in the US. Their attitude is very practical. “I want to know how to do this, so I will put myself next to someone who can show me.”

Don’t go expecting to make a million - you might get lucky, you might not. But I can give you one guarantee: you will find that you’re not the only person in the world who hates bad lyrics, and that you’re not alone in your appreciation of a clever chord progression.

In a group I ran recently, a guy called Dave (a television sound engineer who had initially struggled to get his ideas out of his head and on to the page) came out with these lines:

    “made up my mind
    burnt my bridges
    my heart’s as cold
    as a butcher’s fridge is”

The rest of the group gave him a big round of applause. Dave’s song, and that of other people I’ve worked with, confirms what I have thought for a while: The first sign of songwriting talent is the desire to do it.

So, next time you’re invited to a party, be careful who you speak to - especially those you meet in the kitchen.

Sounds like a good idea for a song.

Pete's latest album:

CD - Sweet Dreams Of Contentment

CD - Songs To Sing & Jokes To Tell

Songs To Sing & Jokes To Tell
available online from:

    CD Baby

Hear tracks from the album

CD - Why Sing Goodbye Songs

Why Sing Goodbye Songs
available online from:

    CD Baby

Hear tracks from the album

Read the album launch review

Watch Pete on YouTube:

    He Said She Said Yeah
    Eddie's Dead
    William Smith and Pauline Jones
    Fantastic Pasty
    Pity The Poor Baritone

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