Writers as Mentors

In many of the articles and features on the recent death of Irish author Maeve Binchy, a number of writers said that she had been a guiding light in their literary lives. She acted as a mentor, a teacher, and a great cheerleader for many writers and this generous quality epitomises her warm and enthusiastic attitude towards life in general.

It’s a literary tradition that stretches back centuries. Two of the greatest philosophers in history, Socrates and Plato, were mentor and protégé respectively. Graham Greene acted as a patron for Muriel Spark, sending her a monthly cheque with some bottles of wine for two years to enable Spark to write without economic stress (and presumably with alcoholic reward). The poet Ezra Pound mentored T.S. Eliot, tirelessly promoting him and eventually getting him published. It is important, in what is essentially a solitary professional life, that one have a sounding board, an unbiased critic and someone who truly believes in you as a writer (in my experience, these are sometimes not the same person!).

My mentor has been a patient, wise and inordinately helpful man called Peter Murphy. We met three years ago as we have a friend in common and since then Peter has become one of the most encouraging people in my writing life. Even though I think I often fail to meet his high standards, he inspires me and makes me want to be a better writer. He brushes this away modestly, saying that someone did it for him and so he’s rightfully passing it on. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too hubristic, but perhaps one day I might be able to do the same for someone else.

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