Amateurs

A friend of mine from school is an amateur standup comic. This is a great thing. We celebrate amateur standup comics. To stand up in a comedy club and make people laugh: what an incredible feat.

A couple of old acquaintances are leading lights in the amateur dramatics scene. In their free time, between work and family responsibilities, they are found prancing the stages of local theatres, entertaining families on nights out. Utterly brilliant.

Others still are amateur musicians, some in minor orchestras, playing all the classics of the old world, some in bands with wondrous names, playing in pubs and clubs on Friday nights. Even amongst my own family, some are amateur singers, performing requiems in majestic places.

In almost every field of the creative arts, we celebrate the amateur. We are amazed by their passion for their chosen hobby, as they entertain the relative few with little chance of ever winning fame or great acclaim. Most amateurs don’t do it for that anyway — only for the love of it. It is an antidote to the dull work of the nine to five.

Ah, but alas: to be an amateur writer. Alas, the snobbery of the literary world sees no place for the amateur writer. While the amateur comic, actor and musician is everywhere praised, the amateur author or playwright is routinely ridiculed and condemned for even trying. Publish at your peril.

Self-publishing is indeed the literary equivalent of amateur dramatics, but it is written off as the pursuit of the vain, eternally without talent. Well, it takes all sorts.

Most that write are never read. It is true. But then most that perform are never heard. In 1995 I went on a tour of Northern France with the Hull Junior Philharmonic Orchestra, taking on the role of an oboist famed for dying cow impressions. Sadly, it seemed, nobody in France wanted to listen to an unheard-of British orchestra playing bombastic tunes in the midst of French elections, so we played to vast and cavernous concert halls, almost completely empty. At the end of a rousing rendition of a rhapsodic jingoistic number, we were received with the applause of five locals, seated in the front row. What an anti-climax that was, but we played on anyway.

I think I will take inspiration from my friends engaged so fully in the amateur creative arts. There is such snobbery in the literary world, driving the amateur to quit before he has even started. It has taken years for this to dawn on me: it is okay to be an amateur, and read only by a few. It’s okay. Relax and enjoy what brings you pleasure.

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