Tag Archives: autobiography

Book Review – My Alphabet: A Life from A to Z by Nick Hewer

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471167062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471167065

If you are aware of Nick Hewer you probably know him from either The Apprentice or Countdown. If you aren’t from the UK you probably don’t know him at all.

I saw the book last Thursday when browsing in “The Works” whilst waiting to meet my sister for lunch. It was a perfect combination of interesting and cheap.

Cut into 26 chapters, each one themed around a letter of the alphabet (to emphasise his work on Countdown, I suppose), it builds into an interesting story of his life, though always with the feeling that he was holding quite a lot back. This isn’t really a problem if you are reading for entertainment, but could be a problem if you were expecting a detailed and structured autobiography.

He’s been to a Jesuit boarding school, run a successful PR business, been on TV, lived in France and driven from France to Mongolia in a Renault 4. In answer to your questions – for charity, and no, I don’t know why he used a Renault 4 either.

So, as an entertaining read, for £3, it can’t be beaten. If you want an insightful biography, or it’s full price (£20), I would advise saving your money.

The Story of My Life

I was searching through old files in the Documents File and found one I’d started about a year ago – “Life Story”. I’d started it, inspired by various blogs, but had let it drop and forgotten all about it.

I will quote it.

Chapter One

That was all there was. I can’t tell you if there was ever more than that as I just don’t remember.

Let’s be clear – I always have trouble starting things, and the style of a chapter heading takes thought. I’m never sure whether to go for Chapter One, Chapter 1 or simply 1. It all depends on the measure of gravitas you are aiming for. What works for a modern novel isn’t necessarily going to convey the full depth of dignity required for the autobiography of a middle-aged man with a beard and a fountain pen. However, even by my standards, writing a chapter heading and calling it a day is very lazy.

I mention the fountain pen because writing, in my imagination, always features a fountain pen. It also features a big desk in a library, a summer’s day and open French windows. There would be fruit trees in the garden and pen stand on the desk.

A book I once read told me that if I really wanted something I should visualise it in minute detail. It doesn’t seem to be working. I can imagine it, but apart from the fountain pen I’m having trouble putting the rest together. We do have a temperamental plum tree and a few small trees in pots (apple, damson and fig) but I can’t actually see them when I sit down to write.

Anyway, the story of my life. I think I’ve already summed it up – good intentions, unfinished projects and poor visualisation skills.

One of the reasons, apart from idleness, I didn’t go any further is that I haven’t really done anything interesting enough to merit a book. To make it more interesting I would have to delve into my subconscious and try to make it into the misery memoir section. Unfortunately my parents, by failing to either beat or abandon me, didn’t do me any favours there.

If I had my time again I’d be much more irritating as a child and see if I could build up some misery for future use. Failing that I’d have to do something notable and become a celebrity.

In 1968 I won a prize in the Brooke Bond essay writing competition, but I’m not sure it’s enough of an achievement to hang a set of memoirs on. I noticed from a quick search of the internet that Janet Street-Porter won an earlier Brooke Bond competition. She gets 50 words out of it. Even if I pad it out that would leave me around 79,900 words short. She, however, has done quite a lot more than me, so has plenty to fill her book.

The obvious answer is to make something up, but even the fraudulent memoir market seems to be overcrowded. As they seem to have missed Grey Owl out, it could be even more congested than the link suggests.

I’m faced with two possibilities here – one being to do something energetic and outlandish like cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats on a Penny Farthing with a fridge strapped to my back. That’s entry level for a memoir by a non-celebrity these days.

Another is to do something famous. I see that I am, for instance, more likely to win an Olympic Gold Medal than win the lottery. Even so, the chances are 1 in 662,000 so this could be tricky.

The article actually says “The chances of the average person winning an Olympic gold medal in their lifetime are 1 in 662,000.”

Am I the only one wondering what the chances of someone winning one not in their lifetime?

That really would make me a celebrity.