In a review of a new biography of Thomas De Quincey, Hermione Eyre brilliantly describes him as “broke, pompous, and high as a kite”. Could the same, I wondered, be said of Mr Key? Let us take them in turn.
Broke. Definitely. I have a very limited income, and I lead a very frugal life. I am deeply grateful to my subscribers and those who make one-off donations (you know who you are) who help to alleviate my penury. I did entertain the fantasy, last year, that Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives might become a huge international bestseller and thereby bring the wealth of Croesus showering upon me, but of course this failed to happen. Writing is not a sensible pursuit if one wants to become rich.
Pompous. I try my best to burnish my pomposity. Declaiming and pontificating, particularly upon subjects I know little or nothing about, is a helpful approach in this regard. It is also important not to behave, or even think, as if one is broke (see above). In fact, reduced circumstances can make pomposity easier to achieve. Having little justification to assume an air of grandeur, my attitude of rising high above the riffraff is most surely pompous, and I would have it no other way.
High as a kite. This is where I am unable to compare myself to De Quincey. In the last century, I could have done. An American editor, considering my early work, wondered if I wrote under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. (This is referred to in David Langford’s 1993 article, here.) While I eschewed illegal drugs, I was pretty much perpetually drunk for the last twenty years of the twentieth century, so I suppose it is true that all my early writing was done when I was high as a kite, or pissed as a newt. Eventually, of course, my debauches left me unable to string a coherent sentence together, and I was reduced to bestial grunting on the way to and from the off licence.
I swore off booze in 2001 and haven’t touched a drop since then. At first I did worry that perhaps clear-headed sobriety would scupper my prose, but of course it didn’t. Every so often I toy with the idea of writing one of those booze-memoirs, but the thing about drunks and druggies is that we are very, very boring. Unless, like Thomas De Quincey, we are touched by genius.