Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

Après le deluge, c’est moi. Or words to that effect. The immediate aftermath of writing a book is always a weird time, a period of twitchiness and sensory overload and an indefinable feel of gaping loss. There’s relief too, of course, but you’re still running on adrenaline in a vacuum, synapses firing like a Catherine Wheel, and yet you’ve nowhere to invest all the excess creative energy. The idea of starting something new is stomach churning, given that you feel physically drained, and that’s even presuming you’ve a new idea worth kicking around. Better writers than I have suggested in the past that this can be a good time to write short stories, and in that way siphon off the excess mental energy in brief spurts, but - as the man says - if I was able to write short stories, why would I bother writing novels in the first place?
  Anyway, the latest redraft is finished. Hallelujah, etc. For those of CAP’s three regular readers who have been paying attention, it was a redraft of the story that started out under the rather unwieldy title of THE ROOMINGHOUSE MADRIGALS, then became A GONZO NOIR, moved on to BAD FOR GOOD, and is currently rejoicing in the not-likely-to-see-the-light-of-day title of THE BABY KILLERS. For those of you who have already read it in a previous draft form, the new draft contains roughly 10% new material, most of which was included to root the characters in what passes for my reality, and which - hopefully - makes the story just a smidge more bonkers than it already was. Which, given that the publishing industry grows more conservative by the day, is the literary equivalent of shooting myself in the foot. But what else can you do? Join the grey, homogenous ranks churning out grey, homogenous facsimiles of one another? Invent a particularly gruesome and / or fiendishly clever psychopathic killer? Wedge the latest dull-but-worthy Inspector Plod into a sub-genre already splitting at the seams with dull worthiness? Contrive a new variation on the superhuman sub-Bond thriller? Foist, God preserve us all, yet another tarnished knight of the private eye variety onto an unsuspecting - oh, hold on, I’ve already done that.
  No, it’s foot-shooting for me, and a permanent limp as I wander the publishing roads less travelled, and a metaphor mangled to within an inch of its life. But I digress.
  I finished the redraft on Thursday morning, and sent it off, and I’ve been mooning around ever since, or at least during those chunks of time I’d previously allotted to writing. What to do, what to do? I’ve some other novels I could be redrafting, and half-finished novels I could be finishing, and half-started novels I could be working on, but I’ve promised myself I won’t write another word of fiction until the New Year at least, as life tends to get a little frantic for a freelance journalist in the run-up to Christmas.
  Plus, knowing that the story is out there, and being read by people who have the wherewithal to put it on a shelf at some point in the future, has a paralysing effect. It’s like some kind of venom that blocks the synaptic impulse from reaching the fingertips. A very weird feeling, and hence the twitchiness.
  By the way, those few of you who have been paying attention will remember that my plan, when last outlined, involved self-publishing BAD FOR GOOD / A GONZO NOIR / THE BABY KILLERS for charidee. Well, there’s been a development since then, and a rather intriguing one, and while self-publishing remains an option, it’s not the only one. More of which anon.
  Meanwhile, I’m still waking at 5am ready to write, fully charged, utterly drained, bedevilled with ideas and frustrated for the want of a blank page to transform their glittering brilliance into toxic sludge, a process I like to describe as ‘the first draft’. It’ll pass, I know, it always does, and soon enough all that energy will subside back into the pit from whence it came, there to transmogrify itself and emerge as an entirely different beast, hopefully as a beast brandishing a pair of Gatling guns pointed squarely at my feet.
  For now it’s time to put my nose to grindstone, and put the hours into work that actually pays. Hell, maybe I’ll even be able to get back to waking at 6.30am.
  Finally, and for your delectation, I offer the new start to the book, with all brickbats and barbed-wire bouquets welcome, as always. To wit:

This man at the foot of my bed is too sharply dressed to be anything but a lawyer or a pimp. He is reading, intently, which leads me to believe he is more likely a pimp, as these days lawyers are more usually to be found writing novels than reading them.
  His navy suit, a three-piece over a pink shirt with a white collar and navy tie, is the only splash of colour in a room that is otherwise entirely white. White walls, white tiles on the floor. The window blinds, bedside locker, sheets, wainscoting, the door, all white.
  As it is a manuscript of a novel the man is reading, the page facing me is white.
  His eyes flicker up to meet mine. They narrow when he realises I have come awake, and a well trimmed eyebrow arches. Brown eyes, flecked with hazel, and not without warmth. He holds my gaze for a moment or two. ‘You’re some man for one man,’ he says.
  When I do not speak, he puts the manuscript down and settles himself comfortably in the straight-backed chair, folds his arms. ‘The best we can hope for is criminal damage,’ he says, ‘and that’s claiming insanity. We’ll start out full-blown, work our way down to temporary, you could be out in five years. But that’s your best case scenario.’
  He waits. The only sound is the faint hum of the a/c.
  ‘Worst case,’ he says, and his tone has not changed, ‘they’ll pull out the big guns, offences against the State, terrorism, the works. I mean, there’s no specific law against blowing up hospitals, but let’s just say they’ve plenty of wiggle room to play with.’
  Again he waits.
  His tone still patient, reasonable, he says, ‘Between you and me, you’re public enemy number one, and right now I’m the only friend you have. So we can do this with you playing dumb if you want, some kind of silent protest, it can only help with the insanity plea. But if you want my advice, which is why I’m here, then I suggest you start talking. To me, at least. There’s only the two of us, no one’s taking notes, there’s no recorder running, it’s all off the record. I’m here, I’m listening.
  ‘So,’ he says, ‘what d’you say?’
  A man cannot live tilted away from the world. The world will not permit it. Gravity will have its way.
  He must live straight, upright, or not at all.
  I reach for the pen and pad on the bedside locker and scribble a question. The man comes to the bed, takes the pad.
  ‘What day is it?’ he says. ‘It’s Monday. Monday,’ he checks his watch, ‘four-thirteen pm.’
  I beckon for the pad, and scrawl, Tomorrow.
  A wry grin. ‘Of course,’ he says. ‘It’s all about the Tuesdays, isn’t it?’
  There is nothing I can add to this. It would appear that all effort has come to naught.
  My line for today comes courtesy of Samuel Beckett: Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
  I close my eyes.

© Declan Burke 2010


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great recap of the post novel writing state of mind. There is also the extreme high of actually being able talking about your writing with people who are interested in it.

re: the short story. I find it is a great format to sharpen the skills and there are many avenues and great writers aound the blogsphere who share the same passsion.

Because I'm currently reading TBK, I'll hold off on commenting on the CH1 exerpt, but will say, I am still reading it ;), and the plan is to provide feedback on the whole lot.

michael said...

First, I expected you would have received your phone call by now from Janet Evanovich begging you to be her new writing partner for a free ride to the bestsellers list.

But while we are waiting, I read your latest here. From the first sentence I was hooked. It was wonderful but as a former professional critic (as you know) I am required to bitch about something. I did have a problem with the line "You're some man for one man". When I read it I felt it was an uncomfortable over the top statement to start the conversation with. Then I finished the excerpt and wonder what the Hell the line means.

My critic demon satisfied I really did like this and look forward to reading more.

Michael Malone said...

Michael, I am also thinking that Dec and Janet would be an intriguing mix.

"You're some man for one man" is an expression we also use in Scotland. Wonder if it travelled over here or from here to there? Mmmmm. Anywho, an Englishman might instead say something like - "what are you like?"

Declan Burke said...

Ta very much, chaps. I'd imagine I'm probably just above metazoa in a list of likely candidates to co-compose with Janet Evanovich.

Michael (1): "You're some man for one man," would be given an ironic inflection in Sligo, where the book is set. Our lawyer-pimp friend isn't exactly bigging up the guy by using that phrase.

Michael (2): It could well have travelled either way, given the cross-pollination between Scotland and Ireland.

Sean: Look forward to hearing your take, squire. Much obliged.

Cheers, Dec

Katherine Howell said...

Love that opening, Dec!!