God bless Impress Books. They gave me a prize and published Click, Double-Click and then, even more generously, asked me for two more episodes in the life of the troubled doc. Though I was preoccupied with literary forms non-fictional, I readily agreed. Who would look a gift horse in the mouth? This was last September. Impress asked, when will episode 2 be ready? I replied, perhaps cavalierly, by the end of the year.
Would it become an albatross round my neck? Maybe, but I made it. I sent the draft off and shortly afterwards disappeared to New Zealand.
Actually the seven trials, Alastair’s ordeals, take place in New Zealand. I took the tome with me, on a laptop, with a back-up memory stick.
Never looked at it. Too many places to visit, too many people to see, too many precious acquaintances to renew.
Moreover, even when I came back, I still could barely revisit it. I’m not sure if writers aspiring to recognition are supposed to say this, but I would cast an eye over the tome, and say to myself, what a load of utter tosh!
Then I buckled down. This is the essence of being a writer, the need to buckle down. Remember the immortal words of Shelley in Prometheus Unbound…
To suffer woes, which hope thinks infinite,
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,
To defy power which seems omnipotent
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent:
This… is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free,
This is alone life, joy, empire and victory.
I don’t in the least regret the fact that while I was in NZ I never once looked at my tome. The best possible thing you can do with a draft, once completed, is, like a good wine, to put it down. It sounds self-indulgent and pretentious to say that you are allowing time for your unconscious mind to work on it, but that is perfectly true. Something mysterious happens to your creation while you conscientiously leave it alone.
The great spur for me, particularly over the last week, has been that I have revisited The Seven Trials with a sense of joy. I’ve had a couple of creative ideas. I saw a way of reorganising the architecture of the book in such a way as to signpost for the reader the journey he is about to undertake, even if more often than not he ends up far from the destination he might have anticipated.
Secondly, I’ve found a way of fitting some material into that architecture in a way that seems to solve several problems at once. I suspect this only happens to a writer whose engagement with his material has become slightly obsessive.
I’m writing this on March 27th. From tomorrow I’ve got four working days to meet my deadline, and if I’m spared I think I might just make it. The extraordinary thing is, I relish the challenge.
What is the most important attribute a writer can have?
Inspiration? Readability? Eloquence? Message?