If I were a carpenter, I tell myself, and someone ordered me to make a table, I should be able to knock one up; why should the trade of writing be different? Shakespeare would probably have agreed.
But the fact is, commissions come in all shapes and sizes, and some are easier to fulfil than others. The invitations that come my way range from the frankly mad (I keep these in a special file, so the police have something to go on when my finely chopped body is found in woodland), through the well meant but unlikely (that request for a poem about head lice, so the antidote manufacturers could "raise their profile"), to the unavoidable or the actually appealing.
My decision about what to accept depends on my sense of whether the subject connects with something authentic in my self. Ideally, I'm looking to write something I might have written anyway, if I'd had the wit to think of the idea on my own.
The invitation to write about Harry Patch was the most appealing I've ever received, and came two or three months ago from Rob Wicks, who was making a programme for the BBC's Inside Out West series. (Harry lives in a nursing home in Wells, which lies in Rob's region.)
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