★ And In The End

What follows is a very personal post, for which I do not apologise. It is likely to be the last post I make to this blog (though perhaps not; see below). I hope that it will not be sentimental. That said, it will be honest. I will write about something that has been very important to me since I was a wee scamp.

A long time ago – when I was an undergraduate, fifteen years back – I read an interview with Stephen King in which he described the moment his novel, Carrie, was picked up by New England Library. He was living in a trailer and had so little money that the telephone was disconnected. The original news about the publication of Carrie came via telegram. King wanted to buy a gift for his wife. He went into town and found the only thing he could he imagine she wanted: a hair dryer.

Fifteen years ago, reading the interview with King, I already had two novels under my belt. They were awful. Since then, I’ve written four more. These last – Déjà Vu, Proper Job, Flashback and The Amber Rooms – are quite good. Déjà Vu has been published and the other three have been with my agent, John Jarrold, for some years. Four, I think. A long time.

Someone wrote – King again, I think – that a writer is a person who will write no matter what. In other words, if you lock them up in a cell without pen or pencil, they’ll write on the wall in their own blood. I didn’t believe that when I read it and I don’t believe it now. Even Stephen King comes to a point when the blood dries up. Writers are people. We – they – would want to play football if they were footballers, not sit on the subs bench; they would want to have a workshop, tools, and customers if they made furniture for a living; writers want to be read.

Fifteen years is a fair crack of the whip. As of now, I am no longer a writer of fiction.

For my part, I cannot write fiction these days. There are too many words unpublished behind me. To write a novel is to commit years of your life. Nobody wants to commit them in vain. They will do this, of course, in the beginning, with a certain faith that if the end product is any good, then it will be published. Right now I do believe the books I’ve written are good. I believe that sections, elements, moments of them are very good. My agent is an excellent one and he would not be wasting his time with me otherwise. The reality is that the publishing industry is small. Only so many doors are open to a writer of science fiction thrillers, and, when you’ve been round the doors once, it’s the same people opening them next time.

What is to be gained by retirement? Why not take a break? These are questions that my agent – who has been very supportive of my decision – has asked.

Since writing the first draft of The Amber Rooms, I’ve felt a deepening disillusionment with the craft of writing. This disillusionment is almost certainly superficial. Much as I hate to write this, the feeling is probably based on something akin to jealousy. It is not jealousy per se. Rather, it is the feeling expressed by the sentence ‘I could do better than that’. Not an easy thing to admit. But with each instance of shoddy, clichéd, or generally below par published writing that I read, my faith that my own long years of effort will ever count for something (that is: readers) diminishes to the point where I am barely picking up a book. The process has become painful. As a child, books were like fuel, crack cocaine, and world travelling rolled into one. My writing has taken me to the point where I am in danger of poisoning the well from which, it seems, the greater part of my mind has sprung. Given a choice between the two – literature and the stuff on my hard drive – I choose literature.

My fifteen-year crack at a writing career has had other consequences. We all know what it’s like to be served at a supermarket by a sulky teenager who might well work in Lidl but, you know: it isn’t what she *does*. Her mind is on greater things. So too has my mind been on greater things. Not all of it, not all the time, and I’ve tried not to be too rude. But many sacrifices have been made by me and the people who love me in order that I have the time and space to write. There is a cost to this; they deserve the benefit of seeing that the cost was not wasted and, as far as I can see, this is not going to happen.

This post is not meant to be a dollop of ‘poor Ian’ schmaltz. I had enough of that in one glance when I bought a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook around the turn of the century. As I gave it to the middle-aged, friendly cashier in Exeter Waterstone’s, she sighed at the cover and said, ‘Aw, you want to be a writer,’ as though I were Grandpa announcing my wish to take tiffin with the Maharajah. The empirical evidence suggests that very few people who write fiction seriously ever ‘make it’ in the accepted sense. We only hear the stories of the successes. But in these days of Web 2.0, and blogs, the process is more public.

A colleague said something to me a couple of weeks back. We had read psychology at the same university, though his was the year below mine. This colleague is now a world-renowned researcher and someone I look up to. I remarked that I was glad he had made such a success of it. He looked at me, blinked, and said, “Well, I’m surprised it turned out like this. You were always the golden boy.”

That startled me. Then I recalled sitting in Dave Earle’s advanced statistics class and skimming over page after page of equations, barely taking them in, because I didn’t really *do* psychology. I was a writer. Meanwhile, there were hard-working friends who had not made it onto the MSc or, if they had, could not afford to take up a place. I was sitting pretty with a full-time competitive scholarship keeping me in pen and ink, not to mention another scholarship lined up to carry me through my PhD – and as the Chi-square contrasts flowed before my eyes, I was more concerned with the opening paragraph to Déjà Vu. In my defence, I did work hard on the book, and the book was good.

Several years later, however, it’s time to *do* psychology.

So now we come to the end of this post, and this blog. It is likely that I’ll continue to tinker with my extant manuscripts (not least to incorporate some notes kindly provided by writer friends). When these are complete, I’ll make them available as print-on-demand books, probably via Lulu, and then archive the site.

Stephen King made me want to be a writer. Or, rather, his book The Stand had such an effect on me that the half-formed idea of writing books for living became what I *did* for the next fifteen or so years. When asked what I wanted to do as an adult, I would, instead of shrugging in a morose teenagery way, say, ‘A writer,’ and the response would be a nod of approval; no doubt it doesn’t hurt to encourage this ambition in a young man, particularly when good English is such a transferrable skill. The model of Stephen King was the one I aspired to: he wrote a thousand words a day, rain or shine, and produced vivid, good quality, character-driven stories that I loved. At the end of each book, he would write his name, his location (usually Maine, USA), and dates between which he had written the book. I looked at those dates and thought ‘That’s what I’ll be doing’ and I relished the prospect of those years.

In 2005, I read a short, handsome review of Déjà Vu in The Guardian as my friends in the Rashleigh pub at Charlestown harbour slapped me on the back. The theme of the evening was that this review marked a milestone on the way to some great, literary city. Outwardly, I wholeheartedly agreed. But I also knew there was a good chance that I was holding the high-water mark of what would serve as a my literary career. It did; that felt OK at the time, and, in the end, it’s still OK.

Thanks, Aliya, the UKA Press, UK Authors, Ken, Neil, the Exeter Writers’ Group, Debra, Scott, and, of course, my agent John Jarrold. John has been tireless and faultless in his efforts to get my work under the right noses. A top man. And not to forget my partner, Britta: she put up with all manner of consequences while I spent time creating alternative realities. I never did get her that hair dryer.

Ian Hocking
This Writing Life
Canterbury, UK
2003-2010

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

56 thoughts on “★ And In The End”

  1. Hi Ian. Like Ed I’m toiling with my feelings over this. I guess I’m dismayed – not by your decision, it’s understandable, but because once more mainstream publishing chews up and spits out another talent. I am also fed up about the state of it at the moment – tho I haven’t taken this ultimate decision yet. It might come in the future but I’m holding off with the support of my agent and a sliver of optimism. This deserves a longer response and I’ll post something on my blog in due course. I won’t becthe only to say this is a terrible shame, and I pray to all the gods of publishing that the books sell like hot-cakes on Lulu (and how about Stanza?).

    Best

    Matt

  2. Hi Ian, Obviously I don’t know you at all, just read and enjoyed Deja Vu and been a follower on twitter, but I still feel a bit sad to hear your decision. However from your description of the circumstances I understand it, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

    I’m glad the unpublished books will get an airing in some form. I would certainly be up to buy the second (and third, I never even realised there was a third) Saskia Brandt book, especially if there was a version for Stanza (on my iPhone) iBooks (unlikely) or a format the Kindle app could read. However I also kinda like the idea of a proper paper copy from Hulu.

    By the way I was also kind of taken by your speculative Doctor Who script teaser. Is screen writing harder to break into than novels?

    best wishes.
    By_Tor

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Matt. I hope you can hold on to that optimism for as long as you can. I think I’m still generally optimistic about the industry; I think that, in general, talent will out. But, of course, what happens in general may not happen in a given case, and I’ve taken this long to decide that it isn’t going to work for me. The decision isn’t so rational as this, however. I just can’t bear to write anything and I’m fairly sure I won’t for the foreseeable future. Like I said, I think this happens all the time, but only these days (with blogs etc.) do we see the process in action.

  4. Hey, By_Tor, thanks for your kind comments.

    I should clarify that I’ll be making Lulu (or epub) versions of my books chiefly to get closure on them, and wouldn’t anticipate then selling more than a dozen copies. It’s really to get them out of the door, out of my head, and onto the bookshelf.

    As for screen writing, I think writing for television is probably ‘easier’ in the sense that you’re more likely to be successful if you apply yourself to it (there being a large market for TV/radio drama and other scripting activities, and large organisations like the BBC actively supporting talent). That said, there’s more of grinding apprenticeship to go through (Casualty, Doctors, and so on). If that’s where your instincts lie, very best of luck, mate.

  5. C’mon, Ian. You only run away when the crowd with torches actually lights the hay in the barn on fire. Until then, you soldier on. Quitting is *not* an option.

  6. Hi Ian.

    I completely understand your sentiments. I’ve not been writing seriously–ie consistently–as long as you have, but have been toying with similar emotions myself for the last year or so.

    For what it’s worth, and in contrast to the other comments here, there’s a big part of me that not only understands, but approves of your decision. It’s a strange, complex thing, isn’t it.

    I think if it came to it, I could surrender the writing, but I’m going to crack on while there still a few avenues open to me. Save me a seat at the bar though, eh?

    Very best wishes,
    Neil.

  7. There’s a pint here with your name on it, mate.

    Someone (Michael Fuchs, I think) sent me a link to article in which a painter stopped painting and described it as the best gift she had ever given herself. There’s likely to be an element of cognitive dissonance in this – but also an element of truth.

  8. Hi Ian

    I am in floods of tears. I don’t know you from Adam but, my friend, this blogpost has genuinely touched my soul. As an aspiring writer who is now only taking herself seriously and blocking time and writing to deadlines (self-imposed) and making those choices to not hang out with friends after work, because the WIP calls etc…it is both encouraging and scary reading this post.

    Please don’t give up for forever. It’s been a long hard slog for you. But you clearly have writing and words in the blood. That doesn’t go away. Ever.

    L x

  9. Ian,
    Please post on this blog when the other books are available. I have waited far too long already.
    I will buy.
    Or you can email me with prices and payment method and I will pre order.
    If they sell well (the reading public has better taste than the publishing business) will you write more? Here’s hoping.(sp?)
    Best,
    John

  10. Hello Ian,
    I was pointed to your blog via Twitter and after reading it, I’ve sat in silence, contemplating, for 10 minutes. I’ve written two MS, with a third in the works. Received some nice comments from agents and published authors, but still there is the nagging doubt that I’m a B+ writer in an A+ world. I bought the writers year book in Exeter. I grew up reading Stephen King, so your words really struck a chord. ‘Life is what happens when your busy making other plans’ – tough to acknowledge, tougher to accept. I hope your fiction finds a way through; if your novels are as thought-provoking, intelligent and honest as this blog, you deserve an audience. Best, Shaun.

  11. Ian, it feels odd to be a stranger, commenting on such a personal post. There were things in what you said that really struck a chord with me. I had so many of these feelings a few years ago, one being: what’s the point of pouring so much of myself and my energy into work that isn’t providing a return? I felt like there were people and things that deserved that energy more, and that continuing on, with little hope traditional success to share with them, was selfish.

    I went away for a few years. For the “writing is like breathing!’ crowd, I suppose this is unthinkable, and made me less of a writer. Oh, whatever. It sounds to me like you’ll do a lot better with your self-released material than a dozen sales and some closure. I sincerely wish you the best of luck with that. After a rest, and the gain of a new perspective, I came back, and I’m glad. I wish that for you as well.

  12. I found this post via Twitter.

    First, it takes courage to quit something you love so deeply. Second, now that you’ve quit, pay attention for “signs” from The Universe that you either did the right thing or you didn’t. Believe me, I know of what I speak.

    I wish you the best of luck, Ian, and I applaud you for your public honesty.

  13. I carry on, nineteen years in, because facing a future without writing is more soul-crushing than facing a future with writing. I have no choice.

    The beatings that a writer takes over the years can accumulate until he or she is pulped. I fully understand.

    Good luck!

  14. I got here via an acquaintance’s recommendation on Buzz, and while I don’t know you I can’t resist dropping a comment.
    Your desire for readers doesn’t automatically mean you absolutely need to make it King style, with a fiction writing career in the traditional (possibly obsolete) publishing industry. And I imagine you currently have a “day job” other than writing fiction. So, why don’t you just donate your writings to the world, in electronic form?
    Such a bold act is sure to get you at least a few readers, and possibly a half-decent reputation if your novels really are pretty good. Then, who knows, in the “publishing” environment of tomorrow you may even be able to retroactively cash in on such an act, somehow.
    (Disclaimer: I hope reading this didn’t give you a headache, English being not my native language.)

  15. You write because there is something in your head and you don’t when it’s gone. Then like any craftsman when you have honed the skill and you can do it anyway. Then one day you have just had enough and have to stop. Take a break and rest you may come back to it or maybe not because there is something else. I have already had three careers, coming to the end of the third. I am trying to write all the published stuff relates to my third carreer as a lawyer but my good friend (two novels published three lying fallow including the second of a two book deal) gave me Steven King’s book on writing and I have (last year’s) handbook so no prizes for guessing what I try next. Pardon rubbish typing and drafting not properly mastered iPhone yet and was led to your post on Twitter (following now). All ther very best of luck. C

  16. Hi Liz

    Thanks for your comment, and I hope I didn’t upset you too much. I’m afraid it’s very likely that this is the end for me; but I hope you do see some of this as encouraging.

    Best,
    Ian

  17. Hi John S.

    Thanks for your encouragement. As I wrote earlier, I can’t see myself ever getting back to writing. And, if I do, it’s likely to be a Salinger-esque way where I write only for myself. I’ll never say ‘never’ but at this stage I will say ‘probably never’ 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Ian

  18. Hi Nicola,

    Thanks for your comment. Try not to ache too much; remember there are plenty of success stories out there (indeed, they’re over reported). Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my retirement 🙂

    Best wishes
    Ian

  19. Hi Shaun

    Thanks for your comment and your kind words about my blog. Growing up reading Stephen King will be a training for any writer. And don’t worry about being B+. For a start, your writing is likely to be better than you think it is; and it will only get better the deeper into the craft you go. There’s also the consolation that the publishing industry doesn’t work on A+ material – it needs saleable material that may range from A-C. But that’s to be negative about it. If you enjoy writing, keep on trucking.

    Best wishes

    Ian

  20. Hi Susan

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, there is an element of selfishness about writing. There are the years of work – but what about the hours? It’s come to the point for me where the neglect has become too much – or maybe it’s another reason. Whatever; writing gets on my nerves right now and I don’t think it’s going to change.

    Thanks for you best wishes – I wish you luck with your own work, too.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  21. Hi K. M. Walton,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what the universe has to say yet, but I’ll watch out for signs.

    Best
    Ian

  22. Hi Matthew

    Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about not being able to imagine a future with writing, particularly when it feels that your identity is bound up in it. I guess I’m trying to take the reins here…

    Yours pulped,
    Ian

  23. Hi Rafu

    Thanks for your comments. No, I’m not interesting in making it King-style. I’m interested in having more than a dozen readers. Money isn’t the issue (though, at the end of the day, what we’re looking for, I think, is a job, and there’s no need to apologise for that). And I will indeed be donating these to the world (or at least releasing them in some form…).

    Best wishes

    Ian

  24. Hi Catherine

    Thanks for your comments and your best wishes. Yes, a break would be a good thing generally, but I think this one will prove permanent.

    Best of luck with your writing,
    Ian

  25. Hi Ian. I’m not really sure what to say to this. So I’ll simply send you my very best wishes and hope that everything works out for the best, whatever that may be.

    Nik

  26. Hi Ian, I got here via the WriteWords forum. I can identify with your post a lot after having a novel published by a small independent press in 2009. Particularly your points about making sacrifices. I still feel great about being published, but I could have done a much better job of balancing my creative goal with everything else in life.

    Regards,
    Andy

  27. Hi Ian

    I found this post very moving, and it really has made me think hard. The decision is yours and I think it’s a good one, but not because I don’t think you’re a good writer with a chance of getting widely published. If I didn’t think that you were a good writer I would never have encouraged you to persist.

    Why I think it’s the right decision, right now, is two things. One is that you say you don’t enjoy reading any more, and: ‘Given a choice between the two – literature and the stuff on my hard drive – I choose literature.’ That’s the right choice.

    The other is your thoughts that it’s time to *do* psychology rather than *do* writing. Because it reminds me of a piece of psychology that kept me going through my first novel and several more. It came from a piece of writing by Brian Micklethwait, about how he had become quite a prolific writer of non-fiction (libertarian propaganda). It came about, he said, when he’d stopped thinking of himself primarily as a writer and started thinking of himself as primarily a bookshop/office worker for the Libertarian Alliance (which indeed he was) and concentrated on being good at that. He referred to the comedy Western ‘Support Your Local Sheriff!’ where the character played by James Garner kept saying, while being the local sheriff, ‘Basically, I’m on my way to Australia.’

    So I kept saying to myself and other people, as I worked on these novels, ‘Basically, I’m a computer programmer’. And despite that fact that I knew it was a mind trick, it worked. Variants of it still do.

    So put the writing aside, as finally as you wish, and say to yourself and everyone else, ‘Basically, I’m a research psychologist.’

    And … what Nik Perring said.

  28. Ian, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve used this as the basis for a post on Strictly Writing. Wishing you all the very, very best for what you do next, whether writing related or not. Respect.
    Susiex

  29. Pingback: The Second Pass
  30. Hi Ian.
    Just come to you from writewords.
    How I sympathise. Like you I came to writing after reading the mighty Stephen. I now have four novels completed, non published, and the years are catching me up. I’m on the verge of giving up too, with ebooks in the back of my mind. I can’t decide whether to walk away or keep on keeping on. I woke up staring at the ceiling in the early hours this morning and thought if the house burnt down losing computer and print offs would I carry on. And you know what? I wouldn’t, so the decision is probably made, right there.
    All the very best to you from up the road in Faversham.
    Barry.

  31. Hi Barry

    Many thanks for your comment. Try not to make the decision too hastily; but if you’ve felt it coming for a while now, it might work out for the best.

    Best of luck (and enjoy the Morris dancers this weekend 🙂
    Ian

  32. If there was ever proof that there is no god of writing it is that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimers and Dan Brown does not.

  33. Hi Ian,

    Although I started writing my first novel when I was thirteen, I didn’t complete one until I was in my mid thirties. I remember the summer when I was finishing it, telling a friend that writing had turned serious for me and that it was something I just had to do. I gave myself ten years to give it my very best shot.

    I finished the book, got an agent, got a publisher and – like many a first novel – mine vanished without a trace. I carried on writing. My career went into tick-over, I carried on writing. My agent didn’t like my second book and dumped me. I carried on writing. My long-term relationship broke up – I got my creative writing masters from UEA and carried on writing. I got a new agent who loved my second book – but couldn’t sell it. She quite liked my third book – but genre not fashionable so she dumped me.

    Nobody liked my fourth, fifth or sixth books. The craft industry that had been my career more or less disappeared and I had to take badly paid agency work to pay the bills. High levels of stress, lack of time and energy made writing very difficult although I managed to start another book – I’m about a third the way through.

    The ten years I gave myself to ‘give it my best shot’ has turned into twenty-five. Maybe the Universe is telling me it’s time to hang up my MacBook (first novel started on an Olympia 33 – how times change).

    I read your very moving retirement letter and deeply empathised. How many times have I been there? My first reaction was one of gloom. You’ve had some success, you have a supportive agent, your finances are okay – but it really is so bad out there you feel you can’t go on. Oh dear.

    Well, fifteen years is a reasonable commitment. The most important reason for your decision, for me, is that you don’t actually enjoy writing any more. And if it doesn’t give you pleasure, really – why bother?

    So. Good call. It seems to me that your writing has become a burden to you. So you’re right to put it down; you’ll travel lighter without it. There have been many times when I have felt writing to be a burden and have had to put it down. Turned out just to be a way to get a better grip on it… But that’s just me. Stubborn, see? Don’t know when I’m beat.

    Very best wishes to you for the future. (Some of my favourite people are psychologists – nice one).

    A question, though. Have you ever considered trying genres other than that of sci-fi? I only ask because my latest novel is a complete departure from anything I’ve ever written before – or even thought I could – and it’s been fun. Just a thought.

  34. Hi Joanne

    Wow, what a comment! Many thanks for taking the time. It sounds like your journey through the writing world has been tough – and I applaud your staying power.

    Best of luck with it,
    Ian

  35. Just read about your retirement, Ian and though it makes me sad I can fully understand and sympathise with your reasons. (!!CLICHE ALERT!!) However, never say never. If life teaches anything it’s that it’s unpredictable.I think it most unlikely that you won’t one day come out of retirement. Good luck with whatever you do and best wishes to yourself and Britta.

  36. I only just read your post and I’m deeply moved, shocked and very sad. I’m sure it took a tremendous amount of courage to follow your dream and trust the unknown. Equally I’m sure it took a tremendous amount of courage to allow yourself to change direction and trust the unknown.

    Personally I can only trust that a talent like yours will never be allowed to stay hidden. It needs to be shared and celebrated.

    All the best matey
    x Rinske

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