Mrs Wife is a scientist in the field of food health and safety. This suggests that we should be eating the right foods rather than the wrong foods, but the good news is that there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Cheeseburgers, whipped cream, a full Irish fry (with baked beans), deep-fried Mars bars - they’re all good. Except for the deep-fried Mars bars, obviously.
Anyway, and according to Mrs Wife, the central issue when it comes to healthy eating is variety. Eat nothing but cheeseburgers, say, and you’ll end up a very sick puppy.
I’m wondering if the same applies to books. If reading too much of the same kind of book doesn’t cause problems for the imagination’s digestive system. If reading too much crime fiction, say, doesn’t dull the taste-buds and cause all kinds of mental blockages. I mean, there’s nothing like a week without a good cheeseburger to whet the appetite for a good cheeseburger.
I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction lately, some of it very good indeed, but in the normal run of things crime writing would account for about half or less of my reading. I’ll happily read most kinds of fiction, and ditto for travel writing, science, history, mythology and legend, religion and philosophy, and pretty much anything else that seems interesting and well written.
Life’s too short for eating nothing but cheeseburgers, no matter how tasty they are.
But here’s the thing. I like to write a bit too. And while I do like to write crime fiction, I like to write, or try to write, other kinds of fiction as well.
I like William Goldman. Partly because some of his novels are brilliant (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, MARATHON MAN), but also because he wrote in so many different genres (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid being one my favourite Westerns, and All the President’s Men being a superb thriller).
I like John Connolly, too. THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS is my favourite of his novels, in part because it’s terrific stuff, but also because of the gamble it represented in this day and age.
If William Goldman were starting out now, would he get away with that kind of genre-hopping? Would Ray Bradbury be allowed to published the superb DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS?
By the way my brain has started flashing lately, I reckon I’m gearing up for a rewrite of a novel that I’ve been writing on and off for the last eight years or so. It’s a bit of a mongrel, because it contains elements of WWII, Greek mythology, quantum physics and a good old-fashioned amnesia story. It’s a mess right now, and clocks in around 150k words, but hey, writing is really rewriting, no?
I also reckon that the most important piece of rewriting I’ll do is on the name that goes on the front of the manuscript. For one, the name ‘Declan Burke’ hasn’t exactly sent the boys at Nielsen into a tizzy. For two, the very fact that I’ve published two crime novels means that I’m now, for better or worse (the latter, mostly), a crime writer, and even though the new story revolves around a crime, it’s not a crime novel. At least, I don’t think it is. Maybe I’m wrong.
Anyway, any suggestions for a pseudonym? I’m thinking Stryker Ramoré.
I’m off on holidays this week (I’m writing this post in advance) and no doubt, in the quieter moments, I’ll be thinking about the rewrite. Whether I can commit to it time-wise. If I’m quibbling about committing to it because I’m afraid I’m not good enough to write the book I want to write. If there’s any real point in investing all that time and energy when there’s a strong likelihood the book won’t be taken seriously regardless of how good I can make it, given that it was written by ‘Declan Burke’.
Questions, questions …
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the holiday. It’s been a rollercoaster six months, and I need the break, and the space and time it affords you to breathe out and sit back and recharge the batteries, and spend quality time with Mrs Wife and the Princess Lilyput. See you next week, folks …
Praise for Declan Burke: “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – The Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “A hardboiled delight.” – The Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review). “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre, was ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.” – Sunday Times. “The writing is a joy.” – Ken Bruen. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.