I’m in a bit of a ‘non-writing writer’ phase at the moment, and I’m not sure I like it very much. There is only so much time and energy left over from parenting a toddler, and at the moment most of mine is being spent on campaigning in the run up to election day. I’ve been grateful for my way with words as I’ve developed the campaign on social media and in local meetings, but it is giving me a little bit of an identity crisis.
The two manuscripts I have written are still out there in the ether, and I’m feeling guilty for not giving them enough attention. They are to some extent in the hands of my agent, but I’m getting the niggling feeling that I really should be doing something more…
I am a writer. A novelist. But my novels have not yet been published. And at the moment I’m not actually writing anything.
Not exactly confidence-inspiring is it?
On the upside, this impasse I have found myself in has prompted me to find the time to read more. When my days are filled with writing or editing I find it hard to shift my brain into the different world of someone else’s novel. So whilst the last few weeks have been ridiculously hectic, leaving no time at all to write, I’ve been grateful for the snatched moments where I have been able to lose myself in prose.
I loved the twists and turns of I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. The first half of the story is powerful enough, a woman rebuilding her life after a tragic accident. But then revelations are shared which cut through everything you thought to be true. And then it turns out that even that new understanding of the character is deeply flawed. There was much in the central theme of a woman being undone by a manipulative man that resonates with me and the novel I’m (hopefully) close to submitting to publishers, and it definitely gave me food for thought where that’s concerned.
Then there was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. A devastating exploration of mental health and how our society deals with it, told through the layers of grief which follow the death of the protagonist’s brother. The protagonist himself is utterly compelling, despite (or maybe because of) his tenuous grip on reality, and whilst his journey as a psychiatric patient is central to the novel you cannot help but reflect on the arbitrary definitions of ‘normal’ that so much of our world rests on.
This theme was strong too in The Girl with all the Gifts, a zombie story with a difference by M.R.Carey. An increasingly small cast of characters takes us deep into a post-apocalyptic world which, like most good science fiction, questions many of the facts we take for granted.
And now I am onto The Children Act, the latest novel by Ian McEwan, the arrival in paperback of which I have been eagerly awaiting. I’m close to finishing it actually – and as much as I was tempted to do precisely that (instead of writing this) during Arthur’s nap I am just as happy to draw out the pleasure of reading it for a little while longer. I love McEwan’s prose, casual and yet important in its tone, easy to read and yet dense with emotional truth and careful observation.
It is his body of work that I aspire to most, though I know that is setting my bar absurdly high.
There are baby steps to be taken first. The steps that will let me discover if the two novels I have written so far can find a home in the publishing world, and through that home the readers I long for. I have been thinking about those novels a lot this week – both the latest one and my first, Lili Badger. I still think they have an awful lot going for them, but this period of inaction is making me doubt their potential in the marketplace. I’m beginning to wish that, as a writer, I was drawn more clearly to a particular genre. Although really that’s absurd – I never have been as a reader so to attempt to create something for the sake of marketability alone would surely be doomed to failure.
So I will keep on going on with the words and ideas that are mine, and together I’m sure we’ll get there sooner or later. In the meantime I really should carve out a little bit of space to write something new this week I think, if only to satisfy that part of my identity that knows, deep down, I am a writer.