As I Please

in Tribune

17 November 1944

George Orwell

SOME weeks ago, in the course of some remarks on schools of journalism, I carelessly described the magazine the Writer as being ‘defunct’. As a result I have received a severe letter from its proprietors, who enclose a copy of the November issue of the Writer and call on me to withdraw my statement.

I withdraw it readily. The Writer is still alive and seems to be much the same as ever, though it has changed its format since I knew it. And I think this specimen copy is worth examining for the light it throws on schools of journalism and the whole business of extracting fees from struggling freelance journalists.

The articles are of the usual type, ‘Plotting Technique’ (fifteenth instalment) by William A. Bagley, etc., but I am more interested in the advertisements, which take up more than a quarter of the space. The majority of them are from people who profess to be able to teach you how to make money out of writing. A surprising number undertake to supply you with ready-made plots. Here are a few specimens:

Plotting without tears. Learn my way. The simplest method ever. Money returned if dissatisfied. 5s. post free.

Inexhaustible plotting method for women’s press, 5s. 3d. Gives real mastery. Ten days’ approval.

PLOTS. Our plots are set out in sequence all ready for write-up, with lengths for each sequence. No remoulding necessary—just the requisite clothing of words. All types supplied.

PLOTS: in vivid scenes. With striking opening lines for actual use in story. Specimen conversation, including authentic dialect . . . Short-short, 5s. Short story, 6s. 6d. Long-complete (with tense, breathless ‘curtains’) 5s. 6d.: Radio plays, 10s. 6d. Serial, novel, novelette (chapter by chapter, appropriate prefix, prose or poetical quotations if desired) 15s. 6d.–1 gn.

There are many others. Somebody called Mr Martin Walter claims to have reduced story-construction to an exact science and eventually evolved the Plot Formula according to which his own stories and those of his students throughout the world are constructed . . . . Whether you aspire to write the “literary” story or the popular story, or to produce stories for any existing market, remember that Mr Walter’s Formula alone tells you just what a “plot” is and how to produce one. The Formula only cost you a guinea, it appears. Then there are the ‘Fleet Street journalists’ who are prepared to revise your manuscripts for you at 2s. 6d. per thousand words. Nor are the poets forgotten:


Are you poets neglecting the great post-war demand for sentiments?

Do you specialize and do you know what is needed?

Aida Reuben’s famous Greeting Card Course is available to approved students willing to work hard. Her book Sentiment and Greeting Card Publishers, published at 3s. 6d., may be obtained from, etc., etc.

I do not wish to say anything offensive, but to anyone who is inclined to respond to the sort of advertisement quoted above, I offer this consideration. If these people really know how to make money out of writing, why aren’t they just doing it instead of peddling their secret at 5s. a time? Apart from any other consideration, they would be raising up hordes of competitors for themselves. This number of the Writer contains about thirty advertisements of this stamp, and the Writer itself, besides giving advice in its articles, also runs its own Literary Bureau in which manuscripts are ‘criticized by acknowledged experts’ at so much a thousand words. If each of these various teachers had even ten successful pupils a week, they would between them be letting loose on to the market some fifteen thousand successful writers per annum! Also, isn’t it rather curious that the ‘Fleet Street journalists’, ‘established authors’ and ‘well-known novelists’ who either run these courses or write the testimonials for them are not named—or, when named, are seldom or never people whose published work you have seen anywhere. If Bernard Shaw or J. B. Priestley offered to teach you how to make money out of writing, you might feel that there was something in it. But who would buy a bottle of hair restorer from a bald man?

If the Writer wants some more free publicity it shall have it, but I dare say this will do to go on with.

.     .     .     .     .

ONE favourite way of falsifying history nowadays is to alter dates. Maurice Thorez, the French Communist, has been amnestied by the French Government (he was under sentence for deserting from the army). Apropos of this, one London newspaper remarks that Thorez ‘will now be able to return from Moscow, where he has been living in exile for the last six years’.

On the contrary, he has been in Moscow for at most five years, as the editor of this newspaper is well aware. Thorez, who for several years past has been proclaiming his anxiety to defend France against the Germans, was called up at the outbreak of war in 1939, and failed to make an appearance. Some time later he turned up in Moscow.

But why the alteration of date? In order to make it appear that Thorez deserted, if he did desert, a year before the war and not after the fighting had started. This is merely one act in the general effort to whitewash the behaviour of the French and other Communists during the period of the Russo-German Pact. I could name other similar falsifications in recent years. Sometimes you can give an event a quite different colour by switching its date only a few weeks. But it doesn’t matter so long as we all keep our eyes open and see to it that the lies do not creep out of the newspapers and into the history books.

.     .     .     .     .

A CORRESPONDENT who lacks the competing instinct has sent a copy of Principles or Prejudices, a sixpenny pamphlet by Kenneth Pickthorn, the Conservative M.P., with the advice (underlined in red ink): ‘Burn when read.’

I wouldn’t think of burning it. It has gone straight into my archives. But I agree that it is a disgusting piece of work, and that this whole series of pamphlets (the Signpost Booklets, by such authors as G. M. Young, Douglas Woodruff and Captain L. D. Gammans) is a bad symptom. Mr Pickthorn is one of the more intelligent of the younger Tory M.P.s (‘younger’ in political circles means under sixty), and in this pamphlet he is trying to present Toryism in a homely and democratic light while casting misleading little smacks at the Left. Look at this, for instance, for a misrepresentation of the theory of Marxism:

Not one of the persons who say that economic factors govern the world believes it about himself. If Karl Marx had been more economically than politically interested he could have done better for himself than by accepting the kindnesses of the capitalist Engels and occasionally selling articles to American newspapers.

Aimed at ignorant people, this is meant to imply that Marxism regards individual acquisitiveness as the motive force in history. Marx not only did not say this, he said almost the opposite of it. Much of the pamphlet is an attack on the notion of internationalism, and is backed up by such remarks as: ‘No British statesman should feel himself authorized to spend British blood for the promotion of something superior to British interests.’ Fortunately, Mr Pickthorn writes too badly to have a very wide appeal, but some of the other pamphleteers in this series are leveller. The Tory Party used always to be known as ‘the stupid party’. But the publicists of this group have a fair selection of brains among them, and when Tories grow intelligent it is time to feel for your watch and count your small change.

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