Clarkson on: motoring journalism
Such has been the volume of letters from small boys recently that I'm thinking of changing the name of my house to Neverland. It seems everyone under the age of 14 would hack off parts of their bodies to have my job.
Two things, though. First, I haven't finished with it yet. And, second, while I do spend a lot of time driving Ferraris and Aston Martins, I spend even more of it explaining to people how they can too. And this is how.
First of all, get back to basics. It doesn't matter if you have nine illegitimate children or sleep with your sister, but you must be able to spell. Sadly, most people who write to us can't. Without wanting to be racist, a grasp of the local dialect comes in handy, too. I know they let you learn all sorts of exotic languages these days, but most of Britain's motoring magazines, except Max Power, are written in English. So do a GCSE in it at the least.
When you finally extricate yourself from education, your best bet is to try for a job on a local newspaper. The three or so years you spend on a local rag will give you a grasp of wedding fashion, pony clubs, vegetable contests and - most important of all - the ability to tell a story.
"We like cars, but we don’t wear anoraks. If you do have an anorak, try Autocar"
As a qualified journalist, you may then go for a job on a national newspaper. But, almost without exception, they use motoring features from freelancers who have been in the business for an aeon. So if you still want to write about cars, your best bet is one of the 130 motoring magazines. Make your letter short, to the point and obsequious. And don't give up.
Write stories about your car and send them in. If they're good, we'll use them. Then we might ask for another, or even give you a trial. But be warned - we're the biggest and we only have a full-time writing staff of five, including the editor. There are more astronauts than motoring magazine journalists.
And I'll let you into a little secret. We never talk about cars in the pub at lunchtime. We don't care what sort of car we drive home in at night. We like cars, but we don't wear anoraks. If you do have an anorak, try Autocar.
Those who float, like cream, to the top of this profession are wordsmiths - people who can turn their hands as easily to a Lamborghini as to a parish council meeting. Our Features Editor, for instance, failed his test four times and drove a Datsun Sunny for years. When he started, he knew less about cars than Barbara Cartland knows about shot-blasting. It doesn't matter if you can tell a Lantra from a Corolla, or if you can strip an MG to its component parts in seven seconds, or if you can reel off every Ferrari's 0-60 time from memory. If you can't write, you can't come in.
Unless, of course, you are a girl with the morals of a rabbit and are able to send us the sort of cheque that would make Littlewoods blanch. In which case, you start on Monday.