Friday, 16 October 2009

I Think I Am Having A Novel

I Think I Am Having A Novel….
…..but I can’t be sure.
This is the worst part. It is like standing on the banks of the river – a raging, torrent of a river that could suck you down and bounce you off rocks then bury you in its silt. It could ruin your career as well as your whole day.
Still, I have to take the sharp intake and go with the flow. Not that I should complain – it is a monster of my own design.

Following through on the idea for a novel is a scary thing. You might have tossed the idea around for years, or a decade, or more. You begin to write it and a voice emerges. A point of view insinuates itself into your nib. The characters twist in ways you didn’t forsee within the plan. It begins to get out of control. This is the joy of writing. It’s what leads you to the desk and away from your sanity.
Before you know it, you are several chapters and a few months in.
You have put off reading the damn thing or, alternatively, you may have tinkered it to death and know each word by heart – or so you think. You put down the pen and begin to fear for the book, for what you have done. If you’re like me, you will behave badly towards the people you love the most and you can’t tell them why. Why? Because they wouldn’t understand.
You realise that you are beyond the point of no return.
You read and re-read those first hundred pages or so. It is difficult to believe you ever thought this might be worth the telling. You have invested in this stupid idea and these fumbling characters and this pudding of a plot. It is worse than the foulest piece of a pyramid you may have bought into in your most desperate and skintest moment.
But it is too late because you have indulged it too far, too long. It’s time to double the losses, time to try to redeem it – as if it were a wayward teenage daughter or son. So you take the deepest breath and you feel the air beneath and then the icy water. And all is dark.
It’s kind of invigorating, and the water isn’t so rough as it looks. After a while, you are returned to the river’s surface. And you float.

I went to see Fish Tank last week and there’s a truly horrible scene on the banks of the estuary of what is, I guess, the Thames. I thought the film had a good heart, and two wonderful performances from Katie Jarvis and the bewitchingly watchable Michael Fassbender, but it was far too long. I would have cut it by half an hour, but that was worth sitting through, for the river scene.
I wonder what might have happened if the child had been left to the river’s devices.
You try telling yourself it’s only a book – but it’s not.

I’m just about committing myself to the third book in the Staffe series that Faber have signed up. I’ve written the first few chapters and it’s taken longer than I wanted. In a way, that point at which you think you might be barking up the wrong pile of pulp, isn’t so bad when writing a series. You know your protagonist must have something going for them, otherwise this wouldn’t be book 3. And the supporting cast are relatively well established.
But then it occurs to you that these characters are there to be broken with your ham fist and muddy mind. And how can this story be as good as the last one, because that sucked the last gram of creativity from your brain and heart.
And of course, you know this book will be published. It will be read. This brings the sweats on. It’s bowel-emptying. Nobody’s going to like it and you can’t sit back and picture it on a slush pile and feel the bitter-chocolate sweetness of being undiscovered and great. This will happen.

Or, you realise that you are a buffoon, because this is a good problem to have. You go back over the early chapters and realise there is nothing insurmountable in a book. It is just one word after another. That’s all it is. The words are out there, you just have to choose them. A glint of light in the black and starless sky above.
Poor, misguided fool.


  1. Just about finished the first Saffe novel - and I've got to say "Bloody Brilliant!". Really enjoyed it, and can't wait for the next one. Excellent writing, brilliant characters and a gripping storyline.


  2. I agreed with Linda's comment. Just finished Suffer the Children - what a brill book. Can't wait for the next one. Terri