Zenga Longmore

How to succeed as a failure

‘Why do your tales of degradation and humiliation make you so popular?’ a fellow drinker at Moe’s Bar asks Homer Simpson. Homer replies, ‘I dunno, they just do.’

The toper would have been wiser to have addressed the question to Toby Young. No writer in Christendom has made a greater success out of failure. Young’s massive bestseller, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, charted his thunderous flop as a journalist in New York. How we applauded his defeat. While reading The Sound of No Hands Clapping we cheer ever more heartily as we follow Toby’s path through Hollywood, a path strewn with nettles from the Devil’s own Satanic garden.

Toby’s tale commences during a car ride to Norfolk. Out of the blue, he gets a call from a top Hollywood producer who asks him if he would like to write a film script about a famous rock legend:

This was the summons I’d been waiting for — if not all my life, certainly for the past two and a half years. Having failed as a glossy magazine editor in New York, I was determined to make it as a screenwriter.

Before setting off for California, he discovers his wife is pregnant. ‘Bloody hell!’ he yells. (Toby appears to have no inhibitions about coming across as an extremely self-absorbed character.)

Over the next few weeks, as the news that I was going to be a father gradually sank in, I began to worry about the effects it would have on my career, too. As an aspiring writer, shouldn’t I try and reduce the demands on my time rather than increase them?… I already had to contend with journalism and drink. Wasn’t it a bit rash to throw in ‘pram in the hall’ as well?

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