Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Steerforth from Age of Uncertainty

I can't say exactly when I started reading The Age of Uncertainty, but it was, I'm almost 100% sure, the very first blog I ever read.  I think I somehow stumbled upon it when I was living in the UK, and because it is, at its very heart, a love letter to books, I was instantly hooked, and I've been hooked for going on seven years now.  My very favorite features are the Ladybird Books and the Derek Diaries (or you can find it a bit condensed at The Dabbler here); both are at turns funny and sad, and both have haunted me for years.  In addition to the books and ephemera he finds in his business as a bookseller, Steerforth writes about his daily life and travels.  His writing style is unassuming and careful, and I hope you'll read more after you finish his interview, below.

"I resisted the strong temptation to add a photo taken 10 years ago and have attached a recent one."

Who are you?  I’ve been asking myself that question for many years. The simple answer is that I’m a forty-something Englishman, born in SW London. In my 20s, I got a job in a bookshop as a temporary expedient, while I decided what to do with my life. 25 years on, I’m still selling books.

If I could live my life again, I’d concentrate on composing, as the most enjoyable thing I’ve done was writing the music for a Lorca play.

I’m married with two sons, one of whom has ‘special needs’ – something that has made life rather complicated during the last ten years.

I have many interests but can’t stand sport, which rules out a lot of male small talk.

I grew up surrounded by people born in the 1890s and still catch myself using words like ‘jolly’ and ‘chap’, but I’m also fascinated by contemporary culture and am very wary of nostalgia, even though my blog is largely about the past.

My idea of happiness is going on a long walk in the countryside which ends in a teashop that serves the perfect fruitcake. My idea of unhappiness is being stuck in a business meeting with people who have no sense of humour, which is one of the reasons why I became self-employed.

Where can you be found online?  Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work?  If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation?  Remember, you're in a hot tub with them on a clear cold night, stars twinkling above you.  They want all the details.  If not, tell the hot-tub-stranger about your writing in such a way that makes them urge you to get an online receptacle for it.  One of my ambitions is to spend a winter afternoon in a hot tub drinking champagne, but under the stars would be even better.

If I had to describe my blog – - to my tub companion (preferably not an overweight, middle-aged man), I’d say that it’s a book-related blog that frequently meanders off in different directions, with features on old photographs, historic places, amusing anecdotes and, occasionally, personal stuff. The range of subjects may seem a little random, but they’re all things that I’m passionate about. 

Its main aim is to amuse, because I think that’s the best way of engaging people’s interest in often serious issues. I generally assume that readers don’t want to spend more than a couple of minutes reading a post, so I try to keep them short, with plenty of images to break up the writing.
What inspired you to start writing/blogging?  When did it happen? Seven years ago I had an extremely unpleasant bout of food poisoning after eating some bad oysters. My wife and sons were away for two weeks and I was becoming increasingly bored with being stuck in bed all day. After hours of surfing the internet I stumbled on Blogger and wondered how difficult it would be to create a blog. I wrote a post, with no intention of actually becoming a blogger, but then somebody read it and posted a pertinent comment. From that moment, I was hooked.

Why do you write? I like the sense of being part of a global community of like-minded people. In the past I wrote as an act of catharsis, with no expectation that anyone would ever read my words. I didn’t mind that, but occasionally felt frustrated that I couldn’t share my thoughts, particularly if I’d just read a book that I felt was unjustly neglected.

Blogging is a benign form of self-publishing that doesn’t involve any harm to trees or booksellers. It also demands a new style of writing, in which less is definitely more. I particularly love the multimedia aspect of blogging, in which the words can be complemented by photos and videos.

Your writing inspires me.  Who inspires you? My favourite blog is The writer is a self-employed graphic designer who lives with two dogs in a house that sounds as if it’s on the brink of collapse. Many of his posts are just gripes about daily life: the lack of money, the stupidity of his neighbours, his incontinent dogs and the frustrations of dealing with clients. In the hands of a lesser writer, it could be a depressing, monotonous read, but Grey Area sparkles with wit.

I remember a post in which he wrote about a piece of slightly burnt toast and marvelled that someone could make such a trivial incident amusing and significant. I love lines like this:

"I've just made the most disgusting cup of tea imaginable - but in the spirit of austerity - I've drunk it."
It takes courage to write about toast or a cup of tea. Grey Area pulls it off.
In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?  I don’t know why, but I’ve become terrified of flying, so I’d probably opt for a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express, or a train journey to the far north of Norway. However, if I could get over my phobia, I’d like to explore Australia and New Zealand. I also have a hankering to explore islands like Kerguelen, Pitcairn, St Helena and the Azores.

What is your favorite place on earth? 
I don’t really have one and I’ve noticed that if you return to a much-loved place, it can sometimes feel very different on the second visit. I’d say that Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place I’ve visited, Chile the most appealing country, Stockholm the nicest city and Iceland the most extraordinary. But some of my happiest moments have been closer to home.
Anything else you'd like us to know?  Just a quick recommendation for anyone who loves ‘Revolutionary Road’. Try David Karp’s ‘Leave Me Alone’, which is one of the most unjustly-neglected novels I’ve read for a long time. Secondhand copies are still available on Amazon.


  1. I'm so pleased to have found your blog via Steerforth... Like you, his blog was the first I read and, like you, I've looked forward-to and read each of his blogs since - always thoughtful, often funny and never dull. It's probably a hopelessly old-fashioned thing to say, but he seems 'a nice chap' - the comments on each entry are the best of any blog I've read. And Steerforth introduced me to Grey Area, especially interesting to me as I live in the same town - another reason to give three cheers to Steerforth!! AnnaC

    1. Thanks so much, Anna! It's lovely to have you here! I've learned so many lovely things from Steerforth's blog. It's really quite exceptional. (And I was excited to see this morning in my reader that he's moved into what seems to be a much nicer space.)

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I'm another Steerforth regular reader and like you I enjoy his entries very much, partly because they are so very English. I grew up reading old school stories (for boys and for girls) and therefore have a similar vocabulary! I was also disappointed to discover that the sense of honour which was fundamental to so many of the books I read just doesn't seem to exist in real life. I'm also haunted by Derek. Thank you for eliciting further information from Steerforth!

    1. I completely understand about finding his work "so very English." I think I started reading because I was looking for more English blogs to read, and I've kept reading because every post reminds me just a bit of the year I spent there (a wonderful and very happy year!). Glad you enjoyed the interview!