Friday, 28 November 2014

The Thing in the Gap

A post that started life out at Author Allsorts.

You may already be familiar with Ira Glass’s beautifully expressed insight into the thing he calls 'the gap.'

If it’s new to you, I’m glad – you’re going to love it. I’m just standing on the shoulders of giants here, but for those of you who’ve never seen the quote, witness. Ephiphany, choirs of angels, glory and splendour, etcetera etcetera…

And if you want to hear the great man speaking, and watch a lovely film to go with it, go here and spend a very special couple of minutes.

It’s this gap – between what we imagine and what we end up with – that’s the hardest part of being a writer for me. Because for me – like you guys too, I guess – it’s not just the gap, but the bad things that live in there.

Really bad things live in that gap; bad things with insistent voices – our inner critics.

I was in London last weekend meeting up with some writerly types, lovely people one and all, and after a couple of drinks we fell into talking about the gap and the voices in it. There were folks there that admitted to crippling bouts of insecurity. Guys and gals who shared terrible tales of wrestling their inner critics, fighting the voices who told them they weren’t good enough, or it couldn’t be done, or the last book was better, the last chapter was better, the last sentence was better. There were folk who’d ditched whole novels; burnt them up or ditched them.

It happens to the very finest of writers. John Le Carre once set fire to a whole abandoned novel on a clifftop. The guy's got a flair for ceremony, clearly.

That day I met writers with novels that were a chapter away from complete, but the victorious voice in the gap had convinced them they weren’t worth finishing. There were tales of battles with subconscious demons that had prevented the putting of pen to paper for weeks on end.

And there didn’t seem to be any relationship between experience and exposure to the voice in the gap. First-timers like me were fighting it, sure, but people three or four books in were having the same trouble. It doesn’t seem to be something you simply grow out of.

What can we do about it? 

Keep going, I s’pose. Like Glass says; “It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

So here's to all those Nanowrimo-ers who've done just that. Whatever your 50,000 look like by Sunday night - there's 50,000 that weren't there before.

And that's got to meaning something, right?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

For A.K., who asked me where I find the time

This was June. 

I got into work at 7am so I could leave on the bell. Then I drove into Manchester and skirmished with afternoon shoppers trying to find a parking space near Victoria Station. I knew if I managed to get the Newcastle train on time both ways, I’d be back for 11pm. Had my laptop and notebook with me – I was planning to kill a couple of chapters on the way there and back. Turned out I needed close to a tenner in coins for the parking meter. I only had a note. Twenty minutes until the train.

I legged it across zombie parking lots under the shadow of Strangeways and through derelict industrial zones in my supermarket suit and tie. Found a half-empty boozer, the snug full of brawlers, bought a packet of crisps, fed the change into the meter, sprinted to the station.

My train was delayed by an hour. I wasn’t going make the North East Book Awards if I hung about; the whole thing kicked off at 6.30pm. A pissed off businessman said Newcastle was three-hours by car. It was 4pm. Back in the car park, I gave my ticket to a guy in a Range Rover and started driving. The writing I planned to do on the train wasn’t going to happen.

Back in the summer, my Citroen had this thing where over 65mph, the steering wheel buzzed and shook like a dental drill. It was like gripping an electric fence as I sped north on the A1. I listened to talking books. Got to Newcastle at 6.50pm, sprinted from the car park to the event, knackered and starving. There wasn’t any food on, but I got a couple of glasses of water. My good pal Dan Smith was there, looking dapper, and other shortlisted authors, the lovely Emma Carroll and my fellow Chicken House author and general live-wire Sam Hepburn. It was great to see them. We were up on stage within minutes.

It was a brilliant evening. Kids read clever and thoughtful introductions, and in turn, we all stood and talked to the crowd in the auditorium, then answered questions. Emma won. Dan got highly commended. Brilliant books, wonderful writers.

They were going for dinner and drinks but it was getting on for 9pm and I had work the next day. The roads were quicker and quieter on the way home. I was in Manchester, quietly opening the front door of my house before midnight. Upstairs, J was asleep.

I levered open a couple of beers, lined up a playlist, and started writing. By the time 3.30am came, I was wiped out. I got three hours’ sleep then drove into work.

I’m not saying days like that one are typical, but they’re pretty close to. The sections I wrote late that June night never made the book, but that’s all part of the process. 

Later that summer, I took the Citroen to a scrapyard in West Point and got £90 for it.