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Writing: why I'll never stop

Updated: Jan 1

With Lynda away and nothing to sedate me, I lie here awake. Three, four a.m., just like the bad old days BA (before acceptance). I used to dream I’d had a novel published, then wake up to find it wasn’t true. Now I wake in a cold sweat after dreaming it wasn’t true – life is but a dream. Yet three years and two novels down the line AA (after acceptance), what has really changed?

I still lie awake, listening to the night-noises of the city, to our two cats stomping across the living room floor (our basement flat is inverted, beds below decks). The noisiest cats in London, instincts dulled by lives spent indoors: sometimes one wakes me by hawking up its gift, a hairball, just inside the bedroom door, right where the kids will step on waking, so I get up and wipe, flush and spray... then back to bed, looking up through the grating at the diminishing night.

“Stars are stars”, sang Ian McCulloch, like my wife a proud product of new Kirkby, “and they shine so hard”. One star can shine brighter than a galaxy: my one shining star on Waterstones, a solitary reviewer who for whatever reason did not like my book. “Opinions,” as an old friend says, “are like arseholes: everyone’s got one”. Yet that one star outshines all others, it’s my guiding star, a spotlight from the heavens that nails me to the bed on which I lie dreaming.

Yet I am pleased with my book: with its urgency, its light, its prescience (a crumbling Olympic stadium, failed terrorist attacks, a failing Coalition, a leering Andy Gray – all we need now is a sea monster). At least it reflects the London I know and love; maybe that’s why it won “book of the month” at the same literary website that gave the same title to Cormac McCarthy, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood and Colm Toibin (real writers all).

Naturally it’s disappointing to watch your novel disappear into the lower regions of Amazon; to calculate you’ve earned less from writing fiction in a lifetime than certain footballers earn every day, whether playing, training, lying on a beach or helping the elderly with some soothing foot massage.

Legend’s publisher Tom Chalmers and I good-naturedly disagree on whether newspaper reviews help one’s sales; he believes not. I say, it would be nice to get a review in any paper, even a bad one, especially when they’re filled with the same five novels all year round or yet another biography about the 30’s answer to the Scissor Sisters, the Mitford Sisters.

On Legend’s blog recently, Cassandra Parkin pondered on when it is you are able to call yourself “a writer”. Although I wasn’t able to look other people in the eye at parties until I had my first short story published (since getting published I haven’t been to any), I’ve always felt I am a writer.

Some people think writing might be a suitable and convenient job because you’re your own boss, the hours are flexible, it’s (supposedly) glamorous; these people aren’t writers. Sometime I think if I never publish anything else I’ll give up on the idea, go get a proper job. But I won’t. Instead I’ll keep doing the only thing I can do, want to do, must do.

Some people are born to write; others to post one star ratings at Waterstones. If I am unable to place my third or fourth novel, both now completed, I shall write another, and another, and short stories, memoirs and plays (maybe fewer articles) until the day I drop. Writing isn’t a part of me; it is me, it is, as a character in my latest novel, “emptiness” puts it, my irreducible core. As Ian McCulloch also sang: “never stop...”

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