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New work explores Churchill's other career - writing

Mr. Churchill's Profession By Peter Clarke Bloomsbury, 352 pp., $34.50 Winston S. Churchill spent a couple of days in Victoria in September 1929, during a tour of Canada and the United States.

Mr. Churchill's Profession By Peter Clarke Bloomsbury, 352 pp., $34.50

Winston S. Churchill spent a couple of days in Victoria in September 1929, during a tour of Canada and the United States. While here he visited the provincial archives, the dominion drydock in Esquimalt, and Beacon Hill Park, where he planted a tree.

Perhaps he could have made better use of his time by staying at his desk in England. He was, after all, a writer facing a series of deadlines. But then, optimism about the amount of work he had to do, and the time it would take him to do it, was apparently a vital part of Churchill's life.

We might think of Churchill as a statesman first, but we need to remember that he was really a professional writer long before he turned to politics. His other career - his profession - is explored in this superb new work by Pender Island author Peter Clarke.

Churchill was not just any writer, either. He published books and articles over many decades, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

Churchill's parallel careers were complementary; his writing fuelled his political passion, and vice versa. His ability with words, reflected in his famous speeches, was a direct result of his work as a writer. His political decisions were informed by his knowledge of history.

Sometimes, one career interfered with the other. His classic work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, was published in four volumes a quarter of a century after he started working on it. Other, more pressing concerns - the Second World War, for the most part - took too much of Churchill's time.

In all, it's remarkable that Churchill was able to accomplish as much as he did. He always seemed to be under pressure to produce words, always facing one financial crisis or another, but always able to deliver despite the odds.

In 1929, for example, as he travelled across Canada in great luxury, being greeted as a celebrity author as well as a famous politician, Churchill had a contract to write Marlborough: His Life and Times. His theory was that he would work on the book as he travelled, but that didn't happen.

His tree-planting effort in Beacon Hill Park is remembered every January, on the anniversary of Churchill's death. It might not have meant that much to Churchill, however, given how much he had on his mind at the time.

From Victoria, Churchill went south, and spent time at William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon castle in California before heading to New York City. Throughout his trip, he was speculating in the stock market, something that would prove risky in the latter half of 1929.

By the time Churchill had returned to England in the fall, his finances were were in sad shape and his deadlines looming. He responded by taking on even more assignments, which would of course bring more advance money.

Clarke is certainly qualified to write this book; referring to him as a Pender Island author is an understatement in the extreme.

Clarke was formerly a professor of modern history and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge, England.

His books include Keynes: The Twentieth Century's Most Influential Economist, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924-1936 and the final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory, Britain 1900-2000. He and his wife Maria Tippett divide their time between Pender and Cambridge.

In Mr. Churchill's Profession, Clarke gives special attention to A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

Churchill signed a contract for the project in 1932, promising it would be finished in 1939.

With the outbreak of the war, Churchill returned to politics, becoming the prime minister at a crucial time in history. His history work, which helped define the relationship between Britain and the United States, was put on hold until the late 1950s.

Much has been written about Churchill over the years, and it would have been hard to imagine that there was anything left to be said. Mr. Churchill's Profession provides a new way of looking at this largerthan-life author, who happened to be a statesman as well. It is a refreshing read.

Peter Clarke will read from Mr. Churchill's Profession at 7: 30 p.m. on Tuesday at Fairfield United Church. Tickets are $5 at Munro's Books or at the door.

The reviewer is the author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia.

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