LITERARY heroes were often great drunks who dabbled frequently with drugs. Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald could party with the best of them but also turned out works of brilliance.
Whey hey, pass the mescaline and pour me another pint of bourbon, they might have said, before dashing off The Great Gatsby. Except they didn’t.
Addiction expert Dr Iain Smith told the Royal College of Psychiatrists this is not true. They may well have hit the booze or drugs in their spare time, he said, but they wrote best when sober.
"The idea that drugs and alcohol give artists unique insights and powerful experiences is an illusion,’’ he said. "When you try and capture the experiences, they are often nonsense. These drugs often wipe your memory so it’s hard to remember how you were in that state of mind."
This is a lesson I learned early in my career in journalism – over-imbibing is to be avoided. Your shorthand might flow beautifully while intoxicated but wait till you try to read it back. Pure hieroglyphics. In my day, journalists invariably enjoyed pubs but stayed within acceptable limits while working. Booze gets in the way of words and accuracy.
Same goes for friends I know who have become authors. Writing a book is hard work. Thomas Edison said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and he was not wrong. There is no time for substance abuse when you are churning out 100,000 words of fiction five working days a week. You save that for Friday night.
"Something for the weekend, sir?"
"Yes please. I’ll have a pint of bitter."
Dr Smith says the reason why the myth of abuse is so powerful is the allure of the substances and the fact that many artists need drugs to cope with their emotions.
"Artists are, in general, more emotional people."
Oh, I am, I am. I know this because I have been an artist all my life. Ask anyone.
Me and Ernest had a lot in common. We both used typewriters and we both have beards. Thankfully, I don’t have a shotgun which he used to fatal effect while failing to cope with his emotions.
This is why it is necessary to calm me down at frequent intervals with best bitter. At least, that’s my excuse. I’ll have a pint of the guest ale, please landlord.Caption: Me and ernest had a lot in common.