FOR about 25 years I have been threatening to attempt to write a novel.
I would like to compare my lack of accomplishment with the time taken by Joseph Heller and Harper Lee to write follow-ups to Catch 22 (13 years) and To Kill A Mockingbird (55 years).
However, my argument hits an early sticking point with the phrase “follow-up” as you actually need a predecessor worth following-up before you can make that claim.
I have only a short story called Mirrors of Apathy in a book called Paperclips Yorkshire, which was published in 1993 and when I Google it comes up with a recommendation for a breathable sports bra I might fancy buying, as well as, to be fair, The Great Gatsby.
My initial attempt at a novel, boosted by a period of unemployment and subsequently foiled by the need to bring some money in, made around 60 pages and Salvation Army Strumming never saw the light of day or, indeed, a bookshelf.
I kept telling everyone I would do it though, and eventually inspiration arrived on a holiday in Italy and promptly departed.
It was another few years before I scanned my initial notes and reignited my efforts, even insisting we go back to the same place to enable me to reconnect with the area and its people and, er, its beer and wine.
Another year of late nights and weekends spent at the computer went by and I had the required 80,000 words. I thought it was decent then, having undertaken a brief online course in fiction writing, realised it wasn’t and I had even committed some cardinal sins, though not the ones of beginning the novel with “Once upon a time” or ending it with “then I woke up and it had all been a dream”, both of which are actually probably better than mine.
So I went back to it, revised the whole thing, then again, and again and again, removing probably half of the chapters, reordering and rewriting others, while adding new plot lines.
The latest version (seven) is now complete (exclusive serialisation rights given free to the Advertiser!) but will no doubt need more changes and drastic alterations, as will the cover letter and synopsis, which will all be packaged and sent off to potential publishers/agents to be followed by the inevitable rejections, should they even bother to reply.
I’ve moaned about celebrities being published without question before, and I have serious admiration for those who just start from scratch, hold down a job because they don’t have enough money to quit and commit to writing 80,000-plus words that may never be published, and actually succeed.
Even more plaudits to writers of yesteryear who delivered hand-written manuscripts and had to go back and forth through hundreds of pages making corrections and changes. I’m surprised Leo Tolstoy could see after completing his 1,225 pages of War and Peace, but at least he had his country estate to rest in after a hard day with quill in hand.
It’s a long journey and even if your book does get taken on (say you’re David Walliams or a royal, for instance) there’s no guarantee anyone will buy it.
Then I woke up and it had all been a nightmare.