Well, after four (FOUR!) years, I can finally say that book 6 is ready for people’s eyes. Though anyone expecting a doorstop novel will be disappointed, it is a mere 91k and change. Nor does the ridiculously long writing period mean it is some intricately plotted, multi-layered and painstakingly researched story, either. I mean, it has a plot, some layers and I did do some research, but nothing that warranted four years worth of work. What is it then? Well, there’s still a little debate on that too. It’s both a folk horror and a crime novel, it has elements of a detective novel, a mystery and a supernatural noir too. I like a mash up.
I was lucky enough to study with Curtis Brown Creative on their 6 month online novel writing course back in 2017, taught by the wonderful Suzannah Dunn, and it was here where the book began. Work-shopping with my fellow students helped me find the right path for the story and the best way to structure it. In terms of coming out the other side with a better novel, it was an invaluable experience. It also proved to be quite a successful group too – at time of writing, Lori Kaufmann, Sarah Daniels, and Hiron Ennes all have books either out or imminent. Fairly confident there will be others to follow. Not bad for a group of 15. More recently I returned to Curtis Brown Creative and joined their mentorship programme, working with Queen of London Noir, Cathi Unsworth. Cathi was brilliant to work with, and for a novel that blends crime and the supernatural, it was hard to think of anyone better to help guide it into shape. With some tough love, and a lot of laughs, Cathi helped me take a scalpel to it and kill my darlings. Though I’m not sure ‘darlings’ is the right word in this instance. I don’t miss any of the little bastards yet.
So, while my work with CBC and the inevitable agent dance that followed each occasion, can account for a fraction of those four years, it barely scratches the surface. In truth, the reason it has taken so long was an infestation of creative malaise and a shattering of self-confidence. Where did it come from? No idea. But it was swiftly followed by 2020, and then that was that. No banana bread baking or learning a musical instrument for me. What was left of my creativity went and hid in some dark place. Can’t blame it, I spent most of last year wanting to do the same. Short stories were started and left, desire deleted by doubt. Editing continued on book 6 but only half-heartedly, new stories were roughed out, characters created and then left in their half-formed lives in the pages of a notebook. What I first put down to laziness soon became something else. It was, it was fair to say, almost crippling. And I can’t really explain it. For most of last year, with all the horrors going on in the world, it also seemed monumentally self-indulgent and pathetic to even think about it. It just didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I even struggled to read much, and rather strangely, when I did read I tended to find comfort in darker books (favourite recent reads: Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy, Some Will Not Sleep by Adam Nevill and Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley) Not sure what that says. Not sure I should question it.
I stopped watching the news so obsessively a while ago, as the general feeling of helplessness that it generated wasn’t, well, helping. Short of getting jabbed, wearing a mask and not acting like a dick, there was very little it seemed I could offer. So, concentrating on my own pathetic issues of creativity and self-doubt have, in some ways, become a bit of a coping mechanism. And I’m trying not to feel guilty about that. The big picture remains overwhelming, I guess it will for some time, so why not try and fix the small pictures in your life and hope that they, eventually, have the cumulative effect of looking good enough to you, and those in your life, that they are worth hanging on the wall. It’s all most of us have got.
While a lot of my life remains a work in progress, at least the next novel isn’t. It’s done, I love it, and that’s not a bad place to start again. In many ways this post is more an exercise for me to write something again, than it is a need to say anything meaningful. It’s the first thing I’ve written in nearly a year and that in itself feels like a small achievement. So thank you for reading it. Time to revisit those short stories now, I think.
As for book 6, well, more on that soon…