I am not a novelist. I’ve wasted good ideas for short stories by trying to think of them as novels. However, if I revisit them, and I have about four I think I started on, maybe I can rewrite them as long short stories. I’m very down and depressed. Hardly an hour goes by that I don’t spend partially in contemplation of throwing my hat at it all. I wish this coronavirus would go away, it’s so worrying and depressing. So much anxiety, fear… We’re shielding each other here. A ticklish throat, random cough at night: is this it? Are we goners?
Then sometimes interludes of welcome respite in the garden. I wish goldfinches would slow down so I could have time to get my binoculars and have a good look at them. They flit to the bird bath and are gone in an instant. I’m going to go for a long walk today, my 3 mile walk. I’ve been taking the 1 mile route most days or staying in all day. Meanwhile here’s Donny…
As this is a blog, I feel I ought to report what’s happening with me, at least once in a while. I’m trying to make progress with a novel I started on more than a year ago. As part of this, I’m taking another workshop course at City Lit. It’s the highlight of my week and I’m getting great feedback, encouragement, and discovering that there is so much more I need to do. I know it’s often said that you shouldn’t workshop something till the entire first draft is finished but I am worried about the foundations I’m laying with the first few chapters and I don’t want to “go off half-cocked.” A friend from my local informal workshop said about my work-in-progress, “I think this one has legs.” That’s why I chose to press ahead and try to complete it and why I’m doing all I can to do so. It’s fascinating to see how others are getting on with their writing and I learn something new every day, in the process of giving and receiving feedback. The course is called “Advanced fiction writing workshop” and our tutor this time is novelist Mary Flanagan, whose comments and notes are both charming and insightful.
I’m very grateful to Dr El-Husseiny and all the team at Charing Cross Urology department for giving me back the ten years younger that I feel. To the jolly Caribbean night nurse, you are gold, cheering-up the ward of men with tubes where no tube should be.
And I hope the worried Londoner who talked to me by name, is okay. He was so worried and I said I was the same before but I could have said more as I left. Others too. It’s a world apart. We were there for prostate reduction operations. There was a man older than the rest who was fairly quiet and another young guy who was shouting and moaning but he had other complications, probably a different operation, I think.
That was some months ago now. It’s been fascinating, becoming “ten years younger.” Once I’d recovered from the operation and started feeling like this, I thought it’s like having part of a life to live over. What I didn’t do for the past ten years and should have, I now must, or will it just be the same again?
So I’m doing some work on a writing project, instead of faffing around, noodling, doodling. But it’s tricky, this “being serious” malarkey. There’s a danger that my, though I say so, light & breezy text is at peril of becoming dull by having to make sense. But I hope if I rebuild on better foundations, which I am doing now, that normal service will be resumed, and light breezes shall blow again. I don’t know if this is of interest to anyone other than me but no matter!
After my book “The London Silence” was published, I grew to hate the text. About 120 were sold but I decided it had to die. I wanted to change the ending to resolve the dramatic irony more satisfactorily. I told PG to remove it from sale. So it’s out-of-print even p.o.d.
The London Silence, cover flat
I dumped my stash of copies in a recycling bin, so it became pulp fiction. However, secondhand copies could still be bought on Amazon. Just recently, I thought, “I’ll buy all of those and bin them too” but it’s not possible as some are priced at outrageous levels. However, a strange thing happened next.
For the first time in nearly 15 years, I started re-reading the text and it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Maybe my standards have slipped but I don’t think it’s that. It’s because here were things that without this text were completely lost to my mind. It’s a museum of me.
I now have a collection of used books, some of which I signed and numbered in 2004. They found their way to charity shops and thence to World of Books and that’s fine. One of them is actually pristine, from a bookshop I imagine, as a few did go to real bookshops in the US & UK.
I’m still not happy with the ending, general restrained flow or anyway a lack of plenitude, underwriting, typo “alter” for “altar”. But then I’ve noticed numerous typos in famous bestselling books since then and love it when I spot them so, again, – relief.
I used to complain to my friend at the publisher (Pretend Genius) that the book should never have been published, but now I think I should say an overdue thank you to them and that, after all, it wasn’t so bad. I’m even thinking about a new edition, or rehabilitating parts of it, only I’d like to finish other things I’ve started since then first.
I have been rewriting something this week and I can’t believe how full of errors it is. It’s like wood that has been completely infested with woodworm. Leaving things for a good long while helps to see them better later on, they say. I’m conscious that I haven’t posted anything for ages, so meanwhile, here is a photo that reminds me I have actually done a few things in my time, had a lot of fun and made some good friends. Layers upon layers.
I will share a writing tip that I was keeping to myself. After every sentence you write, imagine there’s a child in that wonderful phase when to everything you say, they ask “Why?” Then you will have your next sentence. Its main use is in getting started. It gets you from the diving board into the water. But also, later on, it might help you to resume when you’re a bit stuck for the next sentence.
I just can’t be creative typing into a box on the screen, as I am now, after all. It’s too busy, too noisy, too bright, too oppressive. When are they going to make silent desktop computers? The one I have has a solid state disc drive but still runs a cooling fan. (Notes: “Still Runs a Cooling Fan” possible bodice ripper?) I had to seek out my writing book and call up the old fountain pen out of retirement. So how did I get on? I spent a while getting the ink to flow (hint: put the nib for a second under a warm water tap). Then I wrote out something about why I’m not writing anything.
That turns out to be because I have no end in view. E. L. Doctorow (?) said that writing a novel is like driving unlit roads at night: you can only see as far ahead as your headlights reach but you can get to your destination that way, so not to worry. He might not have said not to worry. But that presupposes you know where you’re going. Otherwise you’re just driving around at night for no purpose. There might be novels that do that, perhaps Italo Calvino style, but more usually you need to know your ending. You don’t need to know exactly how you’re going to get there but when you start out, it helps to have an end in view, and I think in fact it’s essential, at least for me.
So I wrote something like that in my writing book (A4 hard cover, spiral bound), admiring the flow of ink from the gold plated nib. And nothing else.
My son is an artist, among other things, and told me about the need to keep the wet edge going in certain sorts of painting. Don’t ask me what sort, I’m here to talk about writing. So, right or wrong, and I’m not checking effing Wikipedia, I say that leaving a story unfinished for too long can make it hard to resume. This I suppose is like the wet edge that you have to keep going. Also, I read an idea recently from someone that you should stop writing each day (yes, in case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to do it every day – do as I say, not as I do) when you still know what you want to write next, instead of draining it all out, the theory being that it will then be easier to resume.
…I’m not going to do it at all. There are so many other things to do. Re-sealing around the bathtub, for one. What, that’s not important? It is. And when you realise that nothing you write will make a bit of difference, won’t stop your kitchen ceiling from coming down if your bath seal leaks, won’t stop the ivy from strangling your trees, won’t hoover the stairs, won’t do much of anything at all, then it had better be pleasing, amusing, joyful, exhilarating. Okay, let’s not reach for the stars, but it had better make me smile because if it makes me frown, it’s out the window.
Imagine you were someone in popular music who, many years ago, made some records that were pleasing but that never troubled the charts very much and then you spent most of the rest of your life doing drudge work in an office till the mortgage was paid off. For your biggest hits, such as they were, you just bashed out the chords on a guitar and reeled off whatever words came into your head and it seemed to work. There was energy. People got enjoyment from it.
What do you do now? You’ve just realised that you don’t really know how to play guitar properly at all. You try to perfect some more Travis picking, learn a classical piece, try something jazzy. You feel like you’re back to kindergarten, trying to play London Bridge is Falling Down on a tin whistle and hitting bum notes. It’s the same with writing. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about deleting this website and throwing my hat at the writing game.
It’s not that I haven’t been writing, I have, but not enough and not purposefully. I start on a whim, noodle about for a while, get distracted and let it die. (Apparently you have to water these creations with words every day.) Or was it going nowhere because I never had any end in view? I think of new things I’d like to write every morning, and before I forget I write a clue to it on the whiteboard in my office. But then the day goes by, and another, and another and eventually, after weeks, I might even forget what the clue meant.
After organising my notes and fragments, which I wrote about in my previous post, I have not come to a place of easy progress with a clear road ahead. Instead, it turns out that most of what I have is unusable, poorly written and sometimes completely wrongheaded and amateurish. It’s better to know that. This is part of moving on, recognising where I am and finding a way forward. The image that comes to me most often is of someone recovering from a stroke, as if my day job had been a long coma from which I have only just awoken. The world I knew has gone. Everything is new to me.