Part of my fellowship was spent running workshops called Meet a Writer, mainly for primary school groups. I revealed my own research methods to the children and took them to the John Ritblat Gallery of Treasures to look at famous writers’ work in progress. We spent time looking at Beatles memorabilia, in particular a song written in felt pen on the back of a children’s book where the text is full of crossings out. My favourite artefact in the Gallery is a journal belonging to James Joyce. The open pages reveal a chaotic mess of illegible pencil markings, which thrilled the children when they learnt the fame of the author of this messy page.
In the Reading Rooms I came across many such examples of writer’s work in progress including some unpublished works from early periods in the writer’s lives, such as a school exercise book belonging to Auberon Waugh, the son of Evelyn Waugh.
Auberon never achieved the fame of his father but he did become a well-known and respected journalist, political satirist and columnist for the Daily Telegraph. His schoolbook is filled with sloppy handwriting in pencil and littered with irate comments from his English teacher. In bright red pencil the teacher had dotted remarks throughout the book including the one I have chosen to photograph, ‘YOU ARE NOT TRY[I]NG,’ ironically misspelled by the teacher. I’m sure the young Auberon would have found this immensely funny.
How much can one childhood schoolbook reveal about the person you grow up to be? When looking at tributes left to Auberon after his death I found this one on the BBC News web-site from Duncan Fine of
‘I don’t think he wrote what he felt so much as he wrote what he knew would annoy the greatest number of people for the greatest length of time’. R.L