I’ve been writing my novel for longer than I care to admit without heavy sedatives; Magna Carta has had more recent redrafts. I recently asked a Costa prize winning novelist how long it had taken him. Seeing him hesitate, I asked for the truth; so I might feel better about mine. With a shudder, he mumbled ‘about nine years’. This made me feel better. Now he has all the time in the world to write a follow up, so he’s probably hyperventilating in a dark room over-thinking how he did it the first time.
Achievement is life’s rainbow; it keeps moving. You might bask in the glow of having actually found your house keys without anyone helping for once, but the sense of success is fleeting. It’s human nature. Not content with bubbling away in some primordial sea, humans crawled onto land and started inventing the hole-punch and hotel chains, before eyeing the stars and deciding the moon needed footprints. We are discontents. It’s why we admire dogs and pigs so much; they know which side their bread is buttered, and if it’s not buttered, well, there’s still bread, and if there’s no bread, there’s always mud, or a walk, or sleep until there is.
My literary achievements have so far involved having actually once sent the correct draft to a literary agent, but beyond that very little, unless you count losing two agents as mark of success. If achievement is habitually sitting across a café table from your own bag, then I’ve made it, but recently losing an agent was a blow, akin to discovering your ticket is invalid at an airport check-in. Since losing him, my editing has grown ruthless; I’m taking out all the jokes, which pretty much leaves only punctuation and wing-bats, and I’m wondering why I wanted to be a novelist in the first place.
Like someone only drinking raspberry Slush Puppy as a child and wondering why they’re blue, I’m responsible for my own predicament. Why I wanted to be a novelist is probably best left to my therapist, but I’m basically chasing the dream of a teenager. Teenagers are those things that dislike eye contact, end every sentence with a high-rise tilt (like, why the fuck are you doing that?) and can’t dance. I’m basically following career advice from a counsellor who’s only life skill was miming the guitar solo to Whitesnake’s Is this love?, and being unable to stagger out of bed without looking like he’d been shot. But it’s too late now. My novel is effectively a mental shed I disappear to when there aren’t dinner guests, when there are dinner guests, when there’s nothing on TV, and when there is. It’s an escape, and one I’m unable to give up; getting published would simply vindicate years spent sitting opposite my bag in cafes, hotels and pubs around the world, but it won’t bring peace; I’ll simply worry it was fluke and can’t follow it up.