Okay, I’ll admit it.
The heart of my writing routine has frozen and fallen clean away and I’m in a novel-writing, word-count-of-zero, ink-arsed funk.
Because three months ago when I sent out the final draft of my latest book to beta-readers, only three got back.
My wife Kath and her sister, Nicky gave me a bunch of extensive and useful notes. My mum was a little more concise. (As a lump hammer.)
‘I was halfway through chapter two when I put it to one side’ she said. ‘It just didn’t grab me.’
This from a woman whose tastes range from Jane Austen to Lee Child. Someone who’d read the label on a sauce bottle if there was nothing else to hand. And have an opinion.
It just didn’t grab me
Everyone else – everyone who isn’t actually related to me – has remained perfectly, eerily quiet.
I may as well have taken the book and dropped it down a well. At least I’d have heard a splash.
Nothing comes of nothing.
The book took a couple of years to write – which has nothing to do with how well it reads, of course, but gives a little context. I have to admit it didn’t exactly flow. It took me a while to zone-in on what the story actually was. It started off as a zombie adventure for young adults, but I got as far as writing the big climax – Valerie fighting her way along the promenade at Brighton – when I thought this is bullshit. I suddenly realised that the zombies she was struggling to dispatch were probably all the doubts I was having about the project dressed-up by my unconscious to look like zombies. So I took a breath, scrapped pretty much all of it, except for the character of Valerie, an idea about her family, and started again. And once I’d relaxed, and started writing in a style and format that seemed more natural for me, I thought I was doing good work. I even cried writing one of the scenes. Seven edits later and my book The Fabulous Fears felt ready to send out and be read.
I’ve schooled myself to be hard-nosed about writing. I’m certainly not the needy, pink and unshelled writing creature I used to be. I’ve hardened myself up to the business of putting my stuff out into the world. But even so, I’m finding it hard to shake the feeling that this is way more than just a slow start. Maybe this is a sign, one of those moments you’re given to realise that somehow, somewhere, a few years back, you wandered way off track.
Of course, it’s not as bad as I’m making out. I’ve been writing other stuff at the same time. This blog, the regular Voices posts about my day job (notes from the front-line of community health), poems and so on. I’ve just started a radio script based on my experiences in the ambulance. It’s just – The Fabulous Fears was supposed to be that thing, the central support, the big deal. I know it still needs work. Not a vast amount, I’m hoping. Some re-pointing here and there. A fine-tipped brush, not a fire axe.
So here’s the thing. If there’s anyone out there reading this blog who fancies being a beta reader, let me know! The reward? An effusive thank you in the acknowledgements section of the book, if it ever comes out, and a reciprocal promise to read something you’ve written and give feedback. All you need do is drop me an email and I can send you the .pdf by return.
I only hope not nothing.
(An abomination of a sentence, true, but I have to admit, for some strange reason, it grabs me...)