Emory Report
March 26, 2007
Volume 59, Number 24

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March 26, 2007
Rushdie has found inspiration in Shakespeare, comics, cream cakes

by carol clark

You’ve probably heard the phrase “naughty but nice.” But you probably didn’t know that it was launched into the popular vernacular by Salman Rushdie, who worked as a copywriter at a London advertising agency before becoming a famous novelist.

In an informal tea at Cannon Chapel recently, Emory’s distinguished writer in residence dished for more than an hour with faculty and students.

Rushdie said he worked Thursdays and Fridays at the agency during the five years he spent writing his breakthrough novel “Midnight’s Children,” published in 1981. The height of his advertising career was coming up with “naughty but nice” to advertise cream cakes, a slogan which was plastered on billboards throughout the U.K. “It may be my most immortal piece of writing to date,” Rushdie said.
Rushdie had a lively Q&A with those gathered to hear him. Following are excerpts from some of his

On books for aspiring writers:

“I think it’s a good idea to have a look at Shakespeare every so often, just to remind you of what you can’t do,” Rushdie said, who also recommended “Arabian Nights” and other works of mythology. “All of the great myths have the power of being 100-word suitcases from which you can unpack 300,000-word stories. And different people can unpack different things,” he said.

On his childhood readings:
“I was a bookworm,” Rushdie said. “I read all kinds of garbage and non-garbage.” He said he was glad his parents did not restrict his reading, mostly letting him choose what appealed to him, although “my father kind of disapproved when he saw me reading Superman and Batman comic books. My mother smuggled them in to me.”

On what’s frightening about writing:
“The single most frightening thing is you start off believing you can do something and you discover that you can’t,” he said. “The book in your head is one that you can’t write.” The goal of the writer is to “make that gap as small as possible,” he said.