Thursday, 20 November 2008

Good writers - damn you all to hell. Particularly that Neil Gaiman bloke.

Something strange happened to me in the bookshop today. It was just shy of twelve hours ago and I’m still trying to figure out what it was all about.

I was out at lunch, looking to buy a breast pump (no, not for me) and I wandered into Waterstones for a good old browse. I do this once a week without fail, more if time permits.

I rarely buy books at the moment, because a) I’m so skint, Third World countries are offering to bail me out; and, b) I’ve entire bookcases of material at home screaming to be read.

I do the whole browsing thing for a particular reason, and it’s not because I want to check out what’s new on the market or seek out dodgy writing to make me feel better about my own efforts. (These are, of course, legitimate reasons for writers to visit book stores...)

The reason I browse is simple – I need to immerse myself in books, be surrounded by them every now and then. It’s a gentle nudge to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing – the long haul, the marathon that is the road to getting fiction published.

So, there I am, checking out the recent crime releases when I develop this strange sensation. As I look around the table, laden with thirty or so titles, the futility of what I’m trying to do hits home. I have several crime projects simmering away, and suddenly they all seem... well, pants.

Hmm. I shuffle away, trying to dismiss the peculiar feeling as some kind of wandering bad juju.

I find myself in front of the teenage shelves, checking out the many a cool title there is, reading blurbs and back covers and thinking, wow, there are some fantastically imaginative writers out there, and wishing these kind of books had been around when I was a kid.

I suddenly feel completely lost. Useless. Almost embarrassed to think I could even attempt to snag an agent or publisher. I begin to compare the plot of the young adult manuscript that I’m tantalisingly close to finishing with those on the shelves before me and it’s terrifying. I can’t believe how mundane my plot sounds, how uninspired my writing is.

Then, I make my biggest mistake. I pick up The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and read the first few pages. I want to carry on reading, but I force myself to return it to the shelf. Then I make a quick break for the exit, trying not to look like a shoplifter.

You see, I had to get out of there. Why? Because Gaiman’s writing was so beautiful that it scared the hell out of me.

I walked back to the office trying to make sense of how I’d felt. The best explanation I’ve come up with is ‘confidence’. I’ve never suffered an over abundance of confidence, but I know that I’m not a complete hack as a writer. There are times when I just know that I will eventually make the breakthrough. And then there are other occasions – and today’s was the worst I can recall – when I doubt absolutely everything.

Confidence is such a bizarre little fellow. No one knows where it appears from, or where it disappears to when it decides to kick you into touch. If only we could bottle it, for it is such a precious commodity.

Now, after writing for a couple of hours this evening and reading back through some recent pages, I feel somewhat calmer. The Graveyard Book must be purchased at some point soon, but not until my young adult effort is finished – it will lessen the damage it can do.

Gaiman, you sod. Next time, put a bloody warning on your books.


It’s been a while since the last update on the BUTA challenge – 45,000 words in 45 days, up till the end of November.

The word count is struggling – with 10 days left, I’m just over 22,000. But, in terms of completing both The Manx Giant and Quackenbush by the end of this month, things are looking better. I’m into the home stretch for the Giant, and the first draft should be done and dusted by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

That would leave four or five days to focus on Quackenbush, for which I have one major section left to complete – probably the best part of 8,000 words. There’s no chance of finishing that by November 30, but if Giant is finished and Quackenbush all but done, it would still mark a productive few weeks’ work.

And, right now, I'll settle for that.


Ady Hall said...


You had a brush with the 'crushing doubts'! I read somewhere that they're necessary. The leveller. The humbler. The 'feckers'!

I have Mr Gaiman in my bag (along with The Righteous Men) to read whilst in Turkey. He is a stunning talent - and a prolific blogger, the tart.

Good luck with the word count - and cya on my return.

John Quirk said...

Cheers, fella. Turkey, eh? Have a good one, and we'll get that night sorted when you're back.


Kate said...

Fret not John - just look forward to the day when your book is rubbing shoulders on the shelf with his :-)

John Quirk said...

Kate, you make it all sound so easy! But here's hoping, hey.
You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and all that jazz.