With Click, Double-Click due for publication on August 1st, I thought the time was ripe for some reflection on the experience of winning the Impress New Writers’ Prize, and the subsequent process of preparation for publication.
It can hardly be surprising that, as a doctor, I have chosen to write about a doctor, and, to an extent, about medicine. Therefore there is something fitting about my publication date, August 1st, the day when new doctors start their careers, and all the junior hospital posts are rotated.
I’ve been scribbling virtually all my life. I’m very fascinated by the phenomenon of the early recognition and identification of – call it what you will – a metier, calling, or obsession. I was drawn to writing in my childhood by two forces. One was the power of story-telling, and the other was the power of language. In Primary School, I just loved “composition”, when I could spin a yarn and chuck in a few exotic words and phrases I’d picked up from somewhere, like “a farrago of heterogeneous irrelevancies” (which is usually what they were).
When you feel comfortable in your calling, there seems to be something God-given and inevitable about it. Yehudi Menuhin described how he went to his first violin lesson with Louis Persinger, and came away convinced of what his life’s work was going to be. And yet I sometimes wonder if that sense of vocation might not be much more haphazard than we think. A chance exposure to a particular walk of life, a chance meeting with some charismatic and inspirational teacher, an enthusiasm for an endeavour combined with a certain talent to indulge in it – and there you have it. But might not the same thing have occurred, on a different day, in a different location, and in an entirely different walk of life?
At any rate, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, with adolescence I hit writer’s block and in due course realised I needed to go off and do something else for a time. Eventually, I chose medicine. Any notion I might have had that I was merely a writer going under cover for a bit to gather copy was soon completely and utterly dispelled. The fact is that medicine devours you. It certainly devoured me. Medicine is an all-consuming devotion. I disappeared for 40 years.
And yet here’s the thing. I couldn’t stop scribbling. Even supposing I was churning out the most god awful crap, I kept scribbling away. And I thought, what is this? Am I being mocked? D’you know, I conceived the notion for Click, Double-Click in the sauna beside the pool at my local gym. I’d got into the habit of running for 20 minutes on the treadmill, then the sauna and a swim. Something about the exertion and the accompanying explosion of endorphins, combined with incipient heat exhaustion, made my brain teem with ideas. Admittedly, once I’d dived into the cool waters of the pool, most of the ideas didn’t seem that good. But a few stuck.
I read about the Impress Prize in Writers’ Magazine, three days before the competition’s closing date. They were looking for an unpublished first novel, a synopsis, and a 6,000 word extract. Serendipitously, chapter 1 of Click, Double-Click is approximately 6,000 words. I sent it off. That was last June.
I forgot all about it. Then in October I got short-listed. One of twelve. That was very nice. I got the tome out, and gave it a dusting down. Just in case. Then there was the “get to know the authors” sequence when we all had the chance to write in answer to various questions and I enjoyed that. I was also impressed by my fellow contestants.
Then in November I got the phone call to say I’d won. I don’t think I made much sense on the phone that day. I was very euphoric for about 24 hours and then the anxiety set in. Was it good enough? What would Impress think of the Magnum Opus? I knew they weren’t going to say, “Don’t change a word – it’s a masterpiece!” and I dreaded them saying, “This needs to be gutted radically!”
The reality turned out to be somewhere in the middle – some suggestions for a few revisions. What was I going to do? Perhaps be like Beethoven and fly into a rage – “Not a note to be changed!” No. While I may have murdered a few of my darlings with regret, most of the advice was right. And I enjoyed the act of revision. Soon we had a manuscript that was essentially ready for the more detailed process of copy editing.
I was deeply impressed by the copy editor. She was incredibly astute. She reminded me of Lieutenant Columbo. She would say, “Oh – just one more thing… just a small thing… oh don’t worry about it, it’s nothing…”
Of course it was entirely pertinent.
And my main contact person with Impress has been a delight.
Now I sit with the penultimate proof before me. I read it through yesterday. I hadn’t looked at Click, Double-Click for a while. It was a slightly spooky experience rereading it. It’s darker than I remember it. It has been described as a “crime thriller” and it is certainly true that a crime is committed within its pages. Yet if it lands up on the “Crime” shelf at Waterstones maybe the putative reader might feel cheated. It’s talking heads. It’s not so much “whodunnit” as “what have we all done?” I hope they put it in general fiction.
For a while there, I was feeling detached about the whole thing, but now that the prospect of seeing my book between covers is imminent, I admit I’m genuinely excited. I know the bits of my book that work, and if I suspect anything in it might be “clunky”, I’m not going to let on where. Just so long as I don’t win the prize for Worst Sex Scene.