Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Non-fiction week! Cassandra

Our third and final example of dizzyingly wonderful writing is from The Daily Mirror. No, really.

In the days before they could fill their pages with Peter André 'exclusives', The Daily Mirror had to make do with writing about actual stuff. And no one wrote words about actual stuff better than columnist, Cassandra (real name William Connor).

His pen-name is a reference to the Cassandra of Greek mythology, some soppy bird who had the gift of prophecy but was cursed that no one would ever believe her.

Cassandra wrote in The Mirror for thirty years. The only time he took a break was to fight in the Second World War, when he famously returned with the words: ‘As I was saying when I was interrupted…’

He actually started out as a copywriter for JWT. The craft skills he picked up writing about baked beans and washing powder really shine through at times:
George Bernard Shaw is dead. The great dark gates of death that have been locked against him for so long swung open for a moment at dawn yesterday and the lean, derisive sage looked over his shoulder for a final twinkling trice and was gone.

He died in his bed. That was the last triumphant, exultant trick of Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili – otherwise Joseph Stalin, the most powerful man in the world…

His seventy-three hideous years have been enough. In his time he did titanic things and the whole world was his chess board. No tyrant ever planned on such a scale, and continents rather than countries were his prey. Probably he was brave. Certainly he was shifty and cruel. His skill in power politics was unsurpassed.

But his purpose was evil and his methods unspeakable. Few men by their death can have given such deep satisfaction to so many.

This collection of some of his finest writing is a little gem of a book. I’ve spent many happy minutes with my nose in it, slack-jawed with admiration.

The two columns below will be the best-spent five minutes of your day, I promise.

First, an encounter with the loveable Joe McCarthy.

Then Billy Graham.

It looks like it’s been reprinted so it’s easy to get hold of a copy. You’d be silly not to. You’re not silly, are you?

Here endeth the increasingly inaccurately-named Non-fiction Week. I hope you enjoyed it. I must say, I rather did.