Postcards from the Edge (of St Petersburg)

In 2008, I wrote an entry on this blog entitled The End.

About a year and a half ago, I finished the second Saskia Brandt novel, Flashback. My thoughts for the third one centred around Imperial Russia. I was particularly interested in placing Saskia – who derives her advantages from an almost direct connection between her nervous system and the Internet – in a situation where she could have no real advantage beyond her knowledge of the future.

I don’t remember much about the experience of writing that book, The Amber Rooms, so it’s interesting to continue reading this entry.

[The Amber Rooms] was a pleasure to write. I wanted to produce something that reminded me of Alistair MacLean, where the story’s structure reflects a heist and the reader not entirely informed about how much the protagonist knows. To help get this right, I plotted much of the novel in advance.

I think about my life at that point. In short: Publishers weren’t buying my books; I felt redundant as a writer; I knew I would soon abandon my goal of writing books. That abandonment – that realisation of the toxicity of my situation – was brief. I am writing again. However, I considered The Amber Rooms to be a last waltz. The manuscript would remain on my computer, keeping the unpublished Flashback company, while I turned my back on the one thing I do very well: write.

The point of writing a book, I suppose, is to get it published. I’m not confident that it will be picked up by a publisher – not because I lack confidence in the book, but because the second book hasn’t found a publisher yet. The third book isn’t likely to shift if the second one hasn’t.

And:

Do I think I deserve to be published? No. That’s too strong. I mean this: I don’t write books so I can put them in a drawer.

Let me turn back to an earlier entry. This is dated 1st November, 2007, five days before my birthday:

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.

I have stood in the Amber Room. The Russian government would prefer visitors not to take pictures there, so I did not. But I stood within it. I studied its panels and frowned into its mirrors. I closed my eyes and breathed in; it did not smell of pine, which was unexpected. The moment I remember most clearly is my girlfriend looking at me as though she loved me. So we made it to the Amber Room. This strange thing I do – fiction – has not been quite destroyed by my failure to convince a traditional publisher to take a chance on it.

I tried to imagine Saskia Brandt reflected in one of those tall mirrors between the amber panels.

I made it to the end point of the creative process for Flashback. That is, I got the book to readers.

Yesterday, someone in America called Suki read Flashback and wrote:

Hocking does not make a misstep in this beautifully constructed novel, and when his talent for plot meets his talent for prose, the result is extraordinary. I look forward to the next Saskia Brandt adventure!

On the 17th March, 2008, I wrote:

So what is it? What’s the story, Saskia? Why are you standing on the threshold of the Amber Room, and what does it have to do with going home?

The story is…well, it’s another adventure. All stories are adventures. And going home.

St Petersburg
Sailing into St Petersburg via the Gulf of Finland – 6.30 a.m., 23rd August 2011

Published by Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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