Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Man Out of Time

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


Tom Hyland said...

Time is the quintessential anachronism. As soon as you’re there… you’re not!

People in the throes of loss or battling depression dwell on the loss of both past and future things. And the rest of us hover between what could have been or should have been and what just might be!

The past is a dream and the future doesn’t exist. Maybe we should simply live each day as it is… and for what it is. Man needed a source for competition with the gods and a convenient scorecard seems to be the calendar of events coming and gone. That damned Guttenberg and his press is to blame for the whole thing. Otherwise… oral tradition would have sufficed and our dreams would still be a constant flux of truth and fantasy.

hrhg said...

Hmmm, meaning absolutely NO disrespect to your acquaintance, I'm not sure I understand/agree with her comment about it being sad that you don't read your own books for pleasure.

The experience of writing seems to be very different from that of reading. I think you may have said once in another blog or on one of the forum versions that eventually the books cease to be yours and become the readers'. That's very true, but there are things about the world that you created that will always be only yours; there are colors and moments that will exist only with you, because it's your world, your people and you know them in ways the reader never will. You have lived with each through redrafting and crafting and shaping; whether you remember each word perfectly now, there was a time, I'd bet, when you knew each page of each one initimately.

The books are not you, but they are of you and you have lived with them in a way impossible for a reader. You've had the pleasure read already.

And as for time and all its strangeness, it seems to be that you are simply doing somthing most people find puzzling; while you have square cornered schedules to some of your life, a great deal of your time still exercises some fluidity; what is time when you write? And trying to explain how you can live comfortably within a medium that swirls and moves with you is difficult when 99.9% of the "civilized" world is taught to think only within the box of schedules and timetables.

Ok, enough of opinated me. Hope I didn't offend.

Jayne said...

I find it quite sad that you don't read your own books for pleasure. Do you realize what you're missing, John? Seriously. It may not be something that appeals to you now, but a few years down the road you might feel different.

I would imagine that reading one of your own books fifteen years after it was first published is a lot different to reading your book, say, twelve months after publication.

I do hope that one day you'll curl up with a John Connolly book...

HannuKotilehto said...

Sounds like a really bad date.