I recently tweeted that finishing a novel is akin to chewing through the wires of your own life support machine and it’s true. Either that or it’s cutting the rope suspending you above an alligator pen. There’s plenty more metaphors to spare; there’s a mountain already cut from the first draft of the Life Assistance Agency’s sequel, with plenty more to join them. I might sell them on eBay, but fear that like repeating a joke they won’t work the second time. Of course there’s plenty of work to be done on a first draft, but reaching the end is as terrifying as buying a one-way ticket for the Siberian Express.
I finished the first draft without entirely realising what had happened. A glass of wine, a new LP on the stereo (Arcade Fire – two word review: strangely unrewarding) and an hour later I’d unwittingly written The End. In Impact font no less. I blame the wine.
There’s nothing better than having something to work on. It’s an airborne fork incoming to a chocolate gateaux suspended indefinitely; all delicious potential. Writing is basically fiddling around. It’s the equivalent to owning a classic car for restoration, minus the oil spills, RAC recovery from next door after its yearly spin around the block, the smell of rotting brake pads and need for a garage. You’re not supposed to actually finish the restoration. it’s not about the actual driving on open roads in driving gloves with the roof down and picnic hamper in the boot, it’s the fantasy that counts. And similalrly writing a book is coming to terms with how widely you missed the mark of your original vision.
The glorious sense of achievement upon finishing was almost instantly replaced by the vision of endless afternoons spent reading blogs on the top 5 best nose hair trimmers, and arguing with strangers on Twitter about politics and the best available nose hair trimmers.
So, now it’s written, you can see what’s wrong with it. And it’s well worth leaving in a drawer for a few months to truly see the flaws. You have to accept that as with restoring cars, by the end so much of it is replaced that only the original car’s ashtray remains.
In the meantime there’s temptation to go on a long holiday that easily outstrips your work holiday allowance and puts your job in jeopardy, but sadly, despite the instinct suggesting that completing a novel means you no longer need to follow mainstream rules, you do. The bins still need taking out and nose hair still needs trimming.
Once you’ve taken the manuscript out of the drawer three days into the few months you’re faced with the lacuna between what you envisioned and what sits before you. Make changes, and then send it to all the people kind/foolish enough to volunteer reading it, some of whom will have forgotten the drunken agreement to do so in a taxi over Battersea Bridge.
You then suppress the urge to ask them how it’s reading at 2am. you want them to say it’s the best thing they’ve ever read, while also wanting some constructive criticism. The diplomacy required makes writing the bloody thing look easy. They are the equivalent to a professional classic car restorer frowning before saying, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done it like that… and that ashtray needs replacing.’
My first novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance
and on ebook here –