I Know I Was Writing Stories When I Was Five

P. G. Wodehouse? John Gardner? Apocryphal?

jeeves09Dear Quote Investigator: The popular and prolific humorist P. G. Wodehouse created indelible characters such as Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves. Wodehouse apparently claimed that he was a remarkably precocious author:

I know I was writing stories when I was five.

I haven’t been able to find a solid citation for this. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The prominent literary journal “The Paris Review” published an interview with P. G. Wodehouse in the Winter 1975 issue. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

INTERVIEWER
Did you always know you would be a writer?

WODEHOUSE
Yes, always. I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t remember what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose. I was about twenty when I sold my first story, and I’ve been a full-time writer since 1902. I can’t think of myself as anything but a writer.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The critic, teacher, and influential “Grendel” author John Gardner displayed similar precocity. The Spring 1979 issue “The Paris Review” published a composite piece based on three interviews conducted over the last decade of Gardner’s life: 2

INTERVIEWER
Did you do any writing as a child?

GARDNER
I started writing stories when I was five or so—making these books I’d send to relatives every Christmas. And around eight, I was writing longer things . . . I wrote in ledger books given to me by my grandmother the lawyer.

In 1992 “The Creative Writing Handbook” by Jay Amberg and Mark Larson included a section featuring quotations by authors. The first statement was from Wodehouse: 3

Here are some comments by professional writers about writing short stories. They may help you understand better how other writers feel about writing short stories. In your notebook, copy any quotations that you find interesting or helpful.

I know I was writing stones when I was five. I don’t remember what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose…. I can’t think of myself as anything but a writer.
–P.G. Wodehouse

In conclusion, the quotation is genuine, and it was spoken by Wodehouse during an interview conducted for “The Paris Review” in 1975.

Image Notes: Cover of the book “My Man Jeeves” by P. G. Wodehouse. Cover from the 1920 impression of the 1919 edition; published by George Newnes in July 1920; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Graphic showing the message “Once upon a time” created by Steve Czajka; accessed via Flickr; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Image has been retouched, cropped, and resized.

(Great thanks to Literary Interest @InterestingLit, Michael Bench-Capon @MikeBenchCapon, and Pawel Pachniewski @Pawelotti whose exchange on twitter led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. Winter 1975, The Paris Review, Number 64, P. G. Wodehouse, The Art of Fiction No. 60, Interviewed by Gerald Clarke, Paris Review, Inc., Flushing, New York. (Online archive of The Paris Review at theparisreview.org; accessed November 6, 2016) link
  2. Spring 1979, The Paris Review, Number 75, John Gardner, The Art of Fiction No. 73, Interviewed by Paul F. Ferguson, John R. Maier, Sara Matthiessen, and Frank McConnell, Paris Review, Inc., Flushing, New York. (Online archive of The Paris Review at theparisreview.org; accessed November 6, 2016) link
  3. 1992, The Creative Writing Handbook by Jay Amberg and Mark Larson, Section: Creating a Short Story, Start Page 81, Quote Page 98, Good Year Books, Parsippany, New Jersey. (Google Books Preview) link