Odd feeling; starting a novel, that is. You don’t know if it will actually turn out to be a novel. There is an equal likelihood the story will splutter and die like a suddenly beached fish. At the moment, I have some ideas that refuse to tessellate. I hope my gentle readers won’t be offended if I don’t go into them in too much detail. Suffice it to say that I’m reading some excellent oral histories of women anarchists in 1870s Russia. An intriguing architectural folly known as the Amber Room will feature. Much of my research, at present, involves listening to the Enemy at the Gates soundtrack (crikey, doesn’t it sound like the music from Schindler’s List?) and sketching young Georgian revolutionary poets.
When I was writing my last novel (which is now in the hands of my agent), I kept a running word count on the blog. I don’t think I’ll do this again. Not because it isn’t fun to share progress, but because a word count is essentially meaningless. Flashback – that last novel – clocked in at about 120,000 words in first draft. The version I sent off to Mr Jarrold was…let me check…73,000. On the face of it, the novel lost almost 50,000 words. But it lost even more than that, because many of the words that remain are brand-spanking new ones. So a word count isn’t all that indicative.
What’s the point of this blog? To record and expand upon some of the issues that confronts the writer. Alas, 90% of these issues concern dealing with the publishing industry. For example, the publisher that had expressed an interest in putting out the second edition of Deja Vu got cold feet. Deja Vu will remain out of print until I can set it free with a new publisher or (which seems more likely at this point) use a service like Lulu to self-publish it. If the latter comes to pass, I’ll have somewhere to point people when they ask for a copy.
I was talking about the point of this blog. I wanted to make clear that I’ll keep away from the ups and downs of the publication process in the next few weeks. I’ll try to focus on the writing process itself. For a long time, I’ve wanted to present real-time window onto my word processing application, where readers can see the words appear as I lay them down. Corrections, additions and deletions would appear too. When the book is finished, I’d figure out a way of rushing through the footage like a time-lapse photo, and the novel would grow before your very eyes. But I haven’t figured out a way to do that. Maybe I’ll try again for my next novel.
Finally, a word on the writing life itself. The year has been busy so far. This summer, we relocated from Exeter to Canterbury, and I’m still catching up on freelance work. And now I find myself running psychology seminars totalling six hours of teaching per week. I’ve got some great students and the job, frankly, is much more fun than writing. Which is to say that it’s much more fun than writing for the pointless hell of it. Art for art’s sake is well and good, but I’m not writing novels just so I can put them in a drawer and show my grand children. I’m writing in order to be read. Plenty of editors are getting back to my agent saying how much they like my stuff, but don’t have space on a given list, don’t have the money to market it, and so on. (Oops. I said I’d try to avoid writing about these tribulations.) My point is that, if I’m going back to university teaching, loving it, getting paid actual money, it might be a good idea to do it full time and forget about the writing.
Big talk, I know. And, don’t worry, I am about to start another novel. I still believe in writing and I believe in books. But the next time someone tells me to ‘Keep going! You’re almost there!’ with two thumbs up and a grin, I might detonate. It’s my thirty-first birthday next week, and it’ll be almost fifteen years since the publication of my first short story. I’ve ‘kept going’ for fifteen years. In the mean time, I’ve picked up a degree or two, but never really thought very hard about my academic career because I was confident that, one day, I’d be a full time writer. I guess there comes a point when scraping together enough for the rent gets to be less fun, even if it does allow me to write ‘full time’.