It's always interesting, and slightly worrying, to read the first responses to a new book. They've begun to creep in for The Unquiet, and they all seem positive, which is a relief given that it is a very different novel from both The Black Angel and, obviously, The Book of Lost Things.
I suppose a couple of things have struck me about these responses. The first is that a number of readers have commented on how much shorter The Unquiet is than The Black Angel, when in fact it's almost the same length. I wanted it to 'read' fast, so in that, at least, I appear to have succeeded. It's also a more linear book, with a very particular momentum. Also, it feels less 'cluttered' to me. I think that some of my books have been, at times, a little busy, overcrowded with characters and incidents. Perhaps I was afraid of losing the reader's attention, or it may have been a function of the way that I write, which is quite organic and unstructured. It's actually much harder to write a book that appears relatively simple, or one that unravels at a methodical rate. Or, to put it another way, its easier to fill a 500 page novel with 50 characters than with five.
It's odd, but looking back it may be that The Black Angel is the odd one out in the last four books. Don't get me wrong: I'm proud of that book, and I did exactly what I set out to do with it. I wanted to write a big, sprawling novel that took in different periods of history, that was steeped in myth and religion, and I think it has a very distinct mood and tone that is sustained throughout. But, in retrospect, "The Reflecting Eye", the Parker novella that featured in Nocturnes, seems to me more and more to be an important stage in my development as a writer. (And perhaps that's true of the Nocturnes collection as a whole, although it will never sell as well as anything else that I've done so far.) "The Reflecting Eye" is tight, and (I hope) tense, yet not a great deal happens in it in the sense that there are no big explosions, no whistles and bangs. It takes its time. Even though it is less than 50,000 words long, there is room to breathe.
The Book of Lost Things also seems to me to be a tightly written book. It is no longer or shorter than it should be, and I don't think there are very many wasted words. It, too, has a feeling of momentum. It moves forward, and its moments of reflection seem integrated to me.
I suppose what I'm saying is that I can see a kind of progression there. I learned something from Nocturnes, and "The Reflecting Eye" in particular, and I can see how it has influenced the books that have followed. The Unquiet represents a further step forward, from my perspective, although I appreciate that not everyone who chooses to read it may feel the same way. People have their favourites among the books of any writer, and it may not always be the writer's best book that they choose. Other factors come into play, factors that are entirely personal to the individual reader in question, and that is as it should be, for otherwise it would be a very dull world indeed.
I don't mean this to sound bigheaded, or vain. It's just that, as a writer, I have a fear of treading water, of repeating myself or of not learning something new in the writing of a book, of not moving forward. Perhaps I feel that the momentum and progression that I see in the books is a reflection of my own slow progress as a writer. I think I'm getting a little better at what I do, or some aspects of it at least, which is reassuring. I'd like to be better at what I do. It seems a worthwhile aim to have . . .
This week John is reading
The Swarm by Frank Schatzing (it's another long book, but I'm in a long book mood at the moment. Very good, though, for anyone who has been a bit put off by its length.)
and listening to
Ash Wednesday by Elvis Perkins
We Know About The Need by Bracken