One of my favourite quotes about writing comes from William Golding, in an interview in which he was asked about his writing schedule was like. “Well,” he said, “when I’m writing …”
Whoa! ‘When I’m writing …’? You’re saying you don’t beat yourself up for not putting down 500 words minimum every day? Nice one, sir.
I’m not writing right now. Haven’t written a single sentence of fiction in weeks. Took a break for the Christmas holidays and haven’t gone back since. It’s marvellous.
There’s a few reasons for such sluggardly laziness. One is that I’m a lazy sluggard. Another is that I’m torn between a couple of stories I’d like to write, and I can’t decide which one I’d prefer to follow through on - although that suggests that maybe neither one has sufficient gravity to pull me in. Another reason is that I have a book under consideration at the moment, and it’s getting past the point where a decision will be made, and I find it very difficult to write with the guillotine blade creaking overhead. There’s also the fact that (actual paying) work is keeping me quite busy, and that we’ve turned the last bend into the final furlong on the DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS project, and it’s sapping all the spare energy I have to pretend I’m not a carthorse among thoroughbreds.
There’s also the fact that I have been busy telling stories, to a captive audience, and revelling in the feedback, and if there’s anything more likely to undermine your drive to write, I really don’t know what it is. These stories tend to get told around about 8pm every night, to a sleepy little girl who demands one last story before she’ll close her eyes, and feature princesses, dragons, castles, dark forests, pink magic (pink magic is good, green magic bad), trolls, witches, fairy godmothers, mermaids, et al, although the most crucial element tends to be a feisty heroine called ‘Lily’, who is invariably to be found wearing a ‘bootiful swirly-twirly dress’. Last night it was Rapunzel’s turn to get an outing, and the little girl listened in wide-eyed silence, only interrupting to correct her daft old dad when he got a detail or six wrong, as he generally does; and then, once everyone was living happily ever after, the sleepy little girl announced, as she generally does, “My turn.” For the 55-second, stripped down, all-you-need-to-know version of Rapunzel, roll it there, Collette … I’m biased, obviously. But if Ray Chandler himself were to rise from the grave and read one of my stories, and declare it a third-rate knock-off but not bad, all things considered, it still wouldn’t be a patch on the buzz I get from telling Lily stories and hearing her version in return. A bit of a closed feedback loop, it’s true, and highly unlikely to set me on the path to fame, riches and glory. Still, when it all boils down, the whole point of this writing malarkey is for the pure joy of telling stories. Right?
Apologies for the sentimental interlude. Normal cynical service will be resumed as soon as possible …
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.