Someone told me recently that she couldn't do what I do for a living. She didn't mean that she couldn't imagine writing for a living; rather, she meant that she would hate to feel that she was constantly living in the future. It took me a moment to see what she meant and, although it had never bothered me before then, I thought about what she had said and started to realise that she was right.
I am currently researching The Unquiet, a book that will not appear on bookshelves until April or May 2007, at the earliest. I have been having meetings with my various publishers about The Book of Lost Things, which will make its first appearance in September of this year. If I glance at my diary, I find that my movements and whereabouts are pretty much mapped out from the middle of August until the middle of December.
I will try to deliver The Unquiet by the start of September, as the touring and publicity commitments will probably prevent me from getting much writing done for a good three months after The Book of Lost Things hits the shelves. But even while I'm touring that book, I will be thinking about the book to follow The Unquiet. I will be letting it simmer, hoping that my unconscious will do some of the groundwork while I talk about one of its predecessors. If it is to be published in the first half of 2008 - which may not be possible, given that I will be publishing and publicising two books in the space of six or seven months - it will have to be delivered by October 2007. Already, I am thinking nearly two years in advance.
The woman in question asked me if I ever thought about what I had achieved, and I had to answer no, not really. I tend not to dwell on it. Perhaps I believe that the books written are less important than the books yet to be written, but that's not true, not really, and neither is it fair on those books. Each one has been a stepping stone to the next, and each has been as good as I could make it at the time. Yet still I tend not to look back on them in the way that she meant.
She asked me if I had ever read one of my own books. I explained that I read each one a number of times while preparing it for publication, from reviewing my own manuscript to checking the final pages for errors. She clarified the question, asking if I had ever read one for pleasure. I told her that I had never done so. I could not explain why. I think I am afraid of what I might see in them. Would I only see the flaws, the elements that I wish I could change? And would I be unusual in that? I think not. I suspect a great many writers would prefer not to review their own books in such a way. But I think perhaps the woman was right when she said that there was something a little sad about that.
So I'll keep looking to the future, to the books that I hope to write. Maybe there'll come a time when I'll look at the copies of my books on the shelf in my office and feel something more than a strange mingling of stifled pride and gnawing doubt. Maybe someday. But not yet.
This week John read
Birds of Prey by Wilbur Smith
and listened to
It's Never Been Like That by Phoenix
Cost by Patrick Phelan