Okay, you have the right to ask that. I mean I did tell you all at the start of 2020 I would blog more but then 2020 unfolded in all its magnificent and sphincter tightening glory. The world is not the world we came to in early 2020 and there is a growing fear with the new Covid-19 variant, lovingly crafted and created by British production. Yes, we left the EU, turned in on ourselves and gave a new improved pandemic to the world. It makes you proud to be British. I am being 100% sarcastic here. I am not proud to be British, not the British that has been exhibited during Brexit, I feel both sides of the argument have misled the voter. I frankly think it was an idiotic thing to turn over to the voter and expect anytime soon another emotive argument for us all to realise we balls it up and should be back in the EU. Brexiteers will be rounded up and their children asked where their parents are hiding. Why do I say that? Well, post-Brexit there will be a witch hunt in this country for the remainers to be removed from positions of power (which is awkward because our PM technically was all for Europe until he saw the chance to seize power and then he realised he probably didn’t really care what he thought if he could be PM. Didn’t work out well for him, his glory mired by all those dithering deaths). Anyway, this is supposed to be a post not about Brexit or Covid-19 but telling you where the hell have I been?
I have been writing, I have a number of works coming out soon and rather than give myself up to going online and reading every conspiracy theory there is around Covid-19 and Brexit (sorry, last time I will mention either) I have been concentrating on writing. I have a few short stories under my belt, some poems (doubtful I will submit them) and I am moving forward on my novel, now at a comfortable 50k and with many notes. Which brings me nicely to my craft around the novel. This is unlike my craft around a short story. Let’s face facts most of us can carry around ideas, themes and pithy lines in our heads for a short story. It can nestle there beside what I need to get from the shop and do you know where my glasses are? Nothing will get knocked off the edge and into oblivion. Well, that’s the theory. For this novel, I have three notebooks on the go and as I am writing and waning (more on that soon). I write down what happens next, structure ideas, paths etc. For writing a novel does involve waning, this time of year is all about waning, most of us back at work wondering how the hell we got there (many of us working from home, wondering how the hell we’ll do it). Writing a novel is like eating an elephant (not a real one, don’t write in), you can’t do it all in one bite. No reader will ever read a novel in one bite, you chew novels, you take your time, often when reading you may flick back to see whether you missed something between that zoom call and your eight year old asking you to help with fractions. Novels take time to read and admittedly to write.
I am going to tell you a story about novel writing, aren’t you happy? Bet you’re getting all cosy, probably getting a drink, settling down, putting on some mood music (I have mood music in the car. At present I veer between The Threepeny Opera in German and KLF The White Room both played rather loud but they indeed do create a mood). This is a story about me when I ran a writers group back in the misty decade of the nineties. An age of John Major and Tony Blair, of Britpop and student loans. It was my first time running a writers group and I do not know why I agreed to it, well I do, it was money. I had had some success back then, a few poetry chapbooks published, time on TV, a play or two in theatres, invitations to do more and to come and write soaps for the BBC. It was the slippery slope away from my writing into the madness of other peoples writing and writing by committee. By the way, I have no problem with other people writing but some writers groups are like a reunion of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, all smiles and ice picks. I had prior to this experienced the brutality of a poetry group were the entire group turned on one wannabe poet because they had written a sestina. They declared it was out of date poetry, too regimented and offensive to any poet who heard it. I doubt that person ever wrote again after they moved from their sestina to a full fronted character assassination. Suffice to say I never went back to that group and later I heard it had become UKIP (just joking). The group I ran set up rules that would avoid this but unfortunately I did not allow for the fact that some writers and poets like to brag or as I call it, let’s see who can piss up the wall the furthest. There were many fine writers there and many fine poets, some went on to do well, others went on to take those skills into new fields to help others (I am more proud of those people, as they took their love of language and helped thousands of people to live more positive lives). The first fews weeks of that group people got to know each other, some new faces arrived, some dropped out and then we had the week when I thought I would bring in a rather well known poet. It would have been better to have dropped the H bomb. The poet was lovely, the group loved him but as we moved into questioning there was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Many of the questions were innocuous: Where do you get your inspiration? (idea of the month club), Can you give me advice on getting published? (bloody submit). Then came a rather poisonous question: ‘Why am I not as successful as you?’ The group and the poet laughed but the person who said it was genuine. They reeled off competitions they’d won (no great names there), magazines they’d been in (no great names there either) and people who applauded their work (a weathermen they’d harangued to give them a quote). This person genuinely felt that their perceived successes somehow meant that they should have the life of the poet on the stage (who at that time, divorced and living with their parents). I quickly intervened as the poet went pink, on the verge of either waffling an apology (that they needn’t give) or launching themselves at the questioner. I think I said something along the lines of luck and individuality, never mentioning hardwork or perserverence, or even bloody mindedness. I quickly wrapped it up by directing the group to the buffet and free food, never seen a group move so fast but the questioner lingered for awhile, total malice in their eyes, in the end they left and the group seemed to sigh a breath of relief. A few of them said things along the lines of, that person is a nutter, they are always like that, please don’t let them come again. I discovered a hidden world of writers groups, resentments that went back to defunct groups, knowledge of those that hog and those that act like hogs. I nodded and the following week hoped the questioner wouldn’t be in the group. They weren’t, I never saw them again but they had sowed the seeds of rot in that group. After a few sessions I noticed the remaining members starting to question each other on their publication history and even mine. As if more publications equalled power, ‘I have been in the Poetry Review, I get to lead this group’. One even complained to my boss that I was too young and that they being older meant that they knew more about EVERYTHING. Then it altered alarmingly when several wannabe novelists got into a full on very vocal argument which did spill out into the road later on (though gratefully I was not there to witness it or the police). The argument was about how long it took to write a novel. One of them had taken five years and they were no closer to completing the thing, they were naturally frustrated and exhibiting the signs of writers block. Another had completed three drafts in one year. I use the word draft very loosely as this individual considered that changing one word on page forty-five constituted as ‘another draft’. They had gone through thirty-six different titles and thankfully in that instance I had convinced them not to print off thirty-six drafts. Then the final one threw the oil on to the fire about how long a novel should take by telling the first two novelists that they could crack out a novel on Saturday afternoon. I want to change crack to crap in that last sentence but I think that is inferred. The argument raged about word counts, typing speeds, titles and what makes a good novel. Everyone from Shakespeare (don’t ask why, I didn’t have the heart to tell them he wasn’t a novelist) to Jilly Cooper (don’t ask why…) was thrown into this argument. For them a good novel had more to do with word count then content. It was rather depressing. I try to discuss that every novel finds its own speed and that some novels take longer than others but it was hard to discuss this when one of the members shouted loudly that they had read Gone With The Wind faster than watching the film. Then this ludicrous debate descended into how many words they’d written that week, 2000, 5000, 24000; you could hear the piss hitting the walls and splashing us all. The disgust grew. There is a universal truth, I have written 50,000 words so far, I will write another 80,000 words. It will give me 130,000 words of which I will lose around 60,000. I will cut them out, edit them away and draft, draft, draft because I am not thinking of word counts, I could write 250,000 words, a million words but in the end I want to get the story right for me and the reader. I want to get my ideas across. For the record, these three wannabe novelists left the group over the coming month as people tired of them and to this day I have not seen any of them in print. Not a short story. Not even an obituary.