Writer Follows Waugh’s Career Advice

Lisa Hilton, who has just just written a new novel, is interviewed in today’s Belfast Telegraph. The book is entitled Maestra and is described an erotic thriller: 

It tells the story of Judith, a working-class young beauty trying to make a career in the high-end London art world, who embarks on something of a murderous rampage around Europe. She also happens to like sex, a fact that is graphically portrayed in the book.

Hilton, citing Evelyn Waugh’s advice, began her writing career with a biography. Her subject was: 

Louis XIV’s mistress Athenais de Montespan, Athenais: The real queen of France. “Evelyn Waugh said if you want to be a novelist you should write biographies first because it’s the best discipline and training. So I had a go at writing my first biography. And that’s kind of the only job I’ve ever had really.” She writes at home at the kitchen table, in the London home she lives in with her now ten-year-old daughter.

Hilton is also the author of The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in London and Paris as well as other biographies and historical novels. The Wavian advice to which she is referring is probably that in an article he wrote in 1929 (“Careers for our Sons: Literature: The Way to Fame,” reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 49):

The best sort of book to start with is biography. If you want to make a success of it choose as a subject some one very famous who has had plenty of books written about him quite recently…You will not make very much money by this first book,  but you will collect a whole list of kindly comments which your publisher will be able to print on the back of the wrapper of your next. This should be a novel, preferable a mildly shocking one.

Waugh was describing his own recently successful career track. At the time he wrote that article in 1929, he had in the previous year seen into print his first  book, a biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in April 1928, followed in September by the mildly shocking (by then current standards) novel Decline and Fall. The inner flap of the novel’s dust jacket carried the following statement:

In the spring of this year, Mr. Evelyn Waugh’s first book, a critical biography of D.G. Rossetti, attracted the respectful attention of critics in this country and America, and won for him a prominent place among the youngest group of writers.

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