CULTURE NOVEMBER 25, 2013
Dwight Garner’s recent review of the new Lucian Freud biography Breakfast with Lucian by Mail on Sunday editor Geordie Greig includes one particularly strange and striking detail culled from Greig's acknowledgments section: the book was written almost entirely by BlackBerry. So I reached out to Greig for comment, who enthusiastically confirmed the report. “I suppose the irony is that Lucian never even had a mobile phone,” he said.
Greig was editor of the London Evening Standard when he first started writing his book, and his workday began at 4:30 in the morning since the first edition of the paper went to press at 9 a.m. So he found that the most convenient time to write was in bed between the hours of 2 and 3 a.m. when tapping away on his BlackBerry Bold seemed less likely to wake up his wife than working on a computer. (As for when he’d rest: “I can sleep standing up,” he told me. “In a taxi, I’ll grab 7 or 8 minutes sleep. I’m very easily refreshed.”) “Sometimes my thumbs ached,” he said, “but if I shook my hands and stopped for a bit I could get back into it.”
He’d write an entire chunk of book as an email—“you can get about 1800 words in there”—and then send it to himself so he could smooth out the prose later. It took him two years to finish the book, squeezing in miscellaneous writing sessions on his phone while sitting on park benches or during a ferris wheel ride at a fair with his children. “The rather snotty New York Times guy seemed to think the BlackBerry comment in my book was a casual sort of boast,” Greig said. “Actual it was a practical necessity. I’m sure Dwayne or Dwight writes brilliant prose without pause. But I, mere reporter, write to rewrite.”
At this point, Greig might be BlackBerry’s biggest fan. “The predictive text on an iPhone makes it much more difficult to write on,” he said. It's quite an endorsement for a company struggling with its image, trying to find new ways to project originality and utility. And BlackBerry evidently agrees. The company was so delighted at the mention in Greig’s acknowledgments section that they reached out to him via email shortly after the book was published. They told him his was the first biography ever written on one of their devices. “Thank god for BlackBerry!” Greig replied.