Like the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, moving house or location after a long time in one place, or just the end of a great holiday when you’ve had fun and felt exhilarated by the location, the person or people you’ve been with, and the food and wine, the day I finish writing a book feels much the same. A feeling of loss, and a sense of the end and not sure what’s coming next. And that’s where I am right now.
For me, there has to be an emotional and cerebral attachment to a book I write, call it passion. The characters have to become real and more lifelike as I proceed. Each has to be fleshed out, molded; show traits and behaviour that differs them from the others, and grow three-dimensional. And then there is the plot–it’s twists, turns, sub-plots, and the directions it wants to take are never as I first planned.
I don’t write fast. I write slowly, aching over every word, changing sentences until I think they read right, reading and rereading every chapter, deleting and rewriting much. Thinking all the time about the characters, the plot, the dialogue, the detail. When I’m finished, and the book’s done and over, it’s as if the engine that’s powered my life for the last year has been switched off, or running on idle and not fully powered.
When I was writing the book, I planted notebooks all around the house–in the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, the garden shed, even the loo, and, of course, next to our bed. As a thought, a line of dialogue, a plot twist, a detail I’d missed, and more stuff about the book came into my head, I’d rush to the nearest of those notebooks and write it done. Often I’d creep to the bathroom in the night to make a note, hoping I wouldn’t wake my wife. I wasn’t always successful. In the morning she’d ask, ‘How did the book sleep?’ I’d answer, ‘It didn’t,’ and she’d reply, ‘Thought so. When do you think you’ll finish it?’
When I did finish it and told me daughter, she’d asked, ‘How do you feel?’ and expected me to say ‘great,’ but I shrugged, and said, ‘Not sure, at a bit of a loss, really.’ Then later my wife said, ‘What you going to do, now?’ I shrugged again, and replied, ‘Don’t know. Bit of gardening, then start on a new one.’
I guess I’m obsessive about writing, but I’m not unique. I went to a talk recently by Ali Smith–the author of How to be both, which won The Goldsmith Prize in 2014, the Costa Novel of the Year award, the 2014 Saltire Society Literary Book of the year award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for 2015 and The Folio Prize for 2015. Her talk was brilliant. She speaks like she writes, also brilliant; although I haven’t read her book yet. I’m in a queue and my daughter is first. When it came to all the ‘how do you write, how long did it take you’ questions, she replied that she didn’t really know, apart from she tore up the first eighty pages and started again. Another well-known writer I listened to once, said after she’d written the first draft of a novel, she’d lock it away for three months without looking at it. When the three months were up, and she’d open it, she was nearly always horrified in what she’d written, and immeditely set about writing the next draft. On average, she wrote seven drafts of her books before she felt happy to send it off to her publisher. The much acclaimed British writer and Man Booker prizewinner, Ian McEwan, said on radio once, that on some days he’d only managed to write a few sentences.
Each of these writers has one thing in common–only the best will do. I’m not anywhere near their league, but I can learn from them, and after writing ten books and several short stories, I figure I’m just nearing the end of my apprenticeship.
Night Running, the book I’ve just finished will be available later this year. A short description appears below.
Kate Fisher wants to move on from grief. Her five-year-old daughter died from bone cancer and she split with her uncaring husband. When she meets with Mark Roberts, suffering his own emotional turmoil after parting with his lover and the death of her son in a house fire, she believes she’s found the perfect person to help her forget her past, and him forget his. They fall in love, and she becomes pregnant. Her baby comes early-but so too does a grievous shock that tears to the roots of her raw emotions and threatens the safety of her one surviving daughter.