Grindstone Cowboy

It occurs to me that I have not, for some time, posted in navel-gazing fashion about the writer’s life. So here I go.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing book-length fiction is the geological time scales involved. Really, things do take a bloody long time. I have a few tricks to fool my brain that progress is being made along whatever career path I tread – chiefly, by working on projects at different stages of development – but you do get periods, like now, when ‘nothing happens, and happens slowly’ (to quote Raymond Chandler).

Here is the state of the griddle in the Hocking kitchen:

  • Technothriller novel Flashback completed in first draft. Work left to do: Major rewrites to the first quarter of the book, a second pass at researching some of its elements (Grimm Fairytales, aircraft accident investigation, Berlin, and – brace thyself – lesbianism; I think I can do this by reading four books, as a minimum). Glass half full interpretation: I think it’s gripping and works well as a story. Glass half empty interpretation: I’ll be working on this bastard until Christmas, very probably.
  • Comedy novel Proper Job completed in fourth draft. This needs another rewrite to change the opening (the current version is rather too busy), but the last two thirds should need no more than polishing. That said, as any comedy author will probably tell you, prose polishing is absolutely critical. In a thriller, you can create tension in a number of ways, but with comedy fiction, there’s often only one way to make a gag funny; even if you’re slightly off target, forget it. In the bin it goes. Half-full interpretation: The book is probably good enough to send out to agents and publishers (one agent already gave me warm feedback, and that was on the bit – the first chapters – that needs most work). Half full interpretation: Fairly near to completion, is probably funny, is something my dad might read. Half empty interpretation: At the rate I’m going, I probably won’t have it finished until Christmas either.
  • Made-to-order novel. I’m currently in discussions with a publisher to write a book that will fit with their existing ‘properties’ (action sub-genres). So far, the editor likes my synopsis. I wrote a spec chapter while I was in Germany, and emailed it to him yesterday. It would be good to snag this one. Half full interpretation: This would mark the first time I’ll get any money from writing a novel. Half empty interpretation: It would knock out the summer, and might interfere with plans to take some time off (to balance my decision to work through weekends on Flashback last winter).

Oif. I’m glad I’m not working for a company, otherwise my sorry arse would have been fired by now (unless the company is particularly hip and non-results oriented). The whole thing is borderline depressing. Saw the London Marathon on t’telly Sunday morning. I’ve done the Exeter half-marathon a few times, and I sympathized with the looks of, ‘Oh dear Lord, why is this taking so chuffing long? And why do my nipples hurt so much?’

I remember running the race distance along the bank of the River Exe. After the first few miles, the number of people on the towpath would drop to just one every few hundred yards, and it would get cold because I was one of the highest things on the landscape for the wind to blast. I might hear rain on the long grasses. That was when it was easiest to stop. I never did, though. I just looked down at my feet and told myself it was impossible to walk, that running was the slowest gear I had. A reasonably similar situation to writing, I suppose. All motion must be forward, all words must build upon those already written. No point stopping now.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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