Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Do I like writing? Of course I bloody don't....

So, do you like writing?’ he says. I don’t have to think about this.

‘No. No I don’t.’ I say.

Of course it's a little bit more complicated than this. I like the feeling of having written. And  I quite like editing. The slash and burn of it. The cut and chop and happy vandalism of it. Restoring white space to the page. It's like reconstructing a lost virginity and somehow I do like that. I even like the feeling of being up at 5.30am when the rest of the world is still dreaming, still pretending that the working day isn’t going to happen.

But no, the actual labour of trying to wrestle wisps of dreams into hard shapes that make sense. The typing, the pacing, the staring at the page while your head bleeds and your shoulders go rigid with the pressure of it all. No, I don’t enjoy that. That just feels like a weird compulsion. An extension of restless legs syndrome, something that keeps me awake and annoys my life partner. Restless brain syndrome maybe.

And there’s also the knowledge that there might not be that much time to write too many more books. After all my father died suddenly at 62, my paternal grandfather died suddenly at 52, his father died at 48, and he outlived his father… My maternal grandfather died at 39. And I’m 48, so I’m deep into the danger zone…

Writing is something I can’t really prevent any more. Like it was something lurking and latent that has risen to the surface. It’s an urge I used to be able to ignore, but the virus – if that’s what it is – is now full blown and so I’m compelled to sit down every morning or I find I’m all unbalanced for the rest of the day.

But I tell you what I do like – meeting readers. And if writing is painful it does have the compensation that, in the end, I quite often end up in libraries talking to thoughtful, intelligent, honest and forthright people who love books. Even if – as sometimes happens – they don’t love mine.

I’m on this splendid Read Regional http://www.readregional.com/ scheme where writers based in the North are matched up with libraries who unleash their writing groups upon us. Sometimes we face these groups on our own, and at other times we have the solidarity of a fellow worker in words to get our backs. And it’s always fun, always enlightening.

So far I’ve been to Hull Central Library (the Saturday before Christmas with Alison Gangel – 5 people there. One of them my father-in-law). I’ve been to Shipley library in February (50 people). I’ve been to Riverside library, Rotherham in a blizzard (25 – very hardy – people). I’ve been to Consett Library where my car blew up on the A1 (M). I was like a Messerschmidt pilot in the film Battle of Britain. Panicking and swearing and wreathed in the most acrid of smoke. I still made the gig though (my father-in-law again, driving from Hull to Wetherby services and whisking me up to County Durham where I stumbled in blackened of face and  20 mins late to the great hilarity of the assembled book club)

It was in Consett that an audience member said ‘My only worry about your book was that you are a middle aged man writing in the voice of a teenager… But having met you it now makes total sense.’ Cheeky, or what.

I’ve also been to York Explore Library where Fiona Shaw and I had a lovely chat with six readers and two librarians. Felt like the most civilised thing that I’ve ever done. It was in York where I was asked if I actually enjoyed writing. I should say that when I gave my answer, the bloke that asked it came back with ‘I don’t believe you.’

At King Cross library in Halifax (15 people)  I tested out the plots of my next two novels and they seemed to go down okay. Which is a relief.

I have two more library gigs at Embsay community library and the fabulously named Sherburn-in-Elmet in North Yorks and come snow, come rain, come hail, come tiny audiences, come exploding cars I will be there. Smart people who have read your book and who generally like it and sometimes point out things that you haven’t noticed yourself -  that’s worth all the pacing and the groaning and the fighting with phantom thoughts who won’t stay still properly. Worth all the slow drip-drip of brain blood onto paper.

And I learn so much too. Because my favourite part of these events is when the audience start to tell you their own stories. Which are always fascinating. And which some reader’s group members at least will see in print if they carry on reading books of mine. Be very careful what you tell a writer. But don’t be careful what you ask. Ask anything you like. I’ll answer honestly. Promise


  1. Interesting post, I enjoyed reading it. If you don't like writing, do you like the finished product, once you've written?

    1. p.s. Good luck with surviving -- at least the numbers are increasing along the (paternal) generations. Think big.

    2. Sometimes I like what I've done. Though I also see flaws and failings much more vividly once it's between covers. But I think my two published books are pretty much the best I could have done at that time. And they have pace, attack and some insight. They are also - and I don't know how obvious this is - written with a political purpose. In order to show how ridiculous and soul-sapping is the way much of society is organised. Particularly the world of work. They are angry books, but also - in the end - the books are smarter than I am because, there is so much that comes from the subconscious...

  2. Oh and yes Tracey I do actually intend to live for as close to forever as possible (day after my youngest kids 50th birthday bash is he minimum to aim for)

  3. totally relate to this. I also enjoy 'having written', and I absolutely love editing, but dragging the first draft out is agony. I once read that writing is like crawling naked through a field of broken glass because somewhere amongst the glass is a fist-sized diamond.

  4. The compulsion must be fed. Keep writing and we'll keep reading. Just been re-reading LDP with a huge smile on my face. It's a shame your library tour didn't extend to the south!

  5. Yep, about right, thanks. Writing is mostly a 'love it/can't bear it' thing. The joy of 'having written' fades so bloody fast and it's its absence that drives me back to the far tougher job of writing.