Monday, November 24, 2008


The new book, THE LOVERS, has finally gone to my editors, and my agent, and it was only three days late which, under the circumstances (lost early sections; last minute rewrite; the insertion by hand, using gum and scissors, of sections of the Enochian alphabet), I consider to be quite an achievement.

Printing off the book always tends to be the most stressful part of the act of constructing a book, for a number of reasons. To begin with, as I've mentioned here before, I never print off the book until I'm ready to send it to my editors. Printing it off is, for me, an admission that, for now, I have done all I can with it.  True, I could continue to rewrite until hell froze over, or until my publishers sent some big guys around to reclaim the furniture that I purchased with their advances, but the changes that I might make would become increasingly minor until, in the end, even I might cease to notice them, or to remember why it was so important to make those changes to begin with. When I begin to print off the book, it becomes a manuscript, rather than a potential manuscript, or a work-in-progress. Depending upon the responses of my editors, and my beloved agent, I may make further changes before the novel is sent to the printer, but these will be changes brought about by the actions of others. My feeling, at this point, is that I've probably done, if not everything possible to improve it, then nearly everything, and the best solution for everyone is probably just to let the book go and see what happens.

But that day of printing . . .

It began at 11.30 A.M., shortly after I'd returned from a pair of dental appointments, and concluded shortly after 1.30 A.M. the following morning, with one break to eat, and watch a little of the Ireland V Poland match. I suppose that I could have spread the process of printing the book off over a number of days, but for some reason I never manage to do that. It may be a hangover from journalism, and the urge to keep writing and changing right up until the deadline, in the hope that a burst of inspiration on the home straight might result in dramatic improvements to the text.

On a more practical level, though, it's also the first - and last - time, that I will ever go through the book, chapter by chapter, over the course of a single day. The intensity of that examination, although exhausting, means that I'm a little more aware of the need to catch inconsistencies, and I'm more likely to spot them if I'm reading the last chapter hours, rather than days, since I've read the first. In addition, the knowledge that the manuscript will be read by others for the first time occasionally spurs me on to solve minor problems that have nagged at me for a while, or simply recognize the existence of flaws that had, perhaps, eluded me before.

While printing off the middle section of THE LOVERS, I discovered one small detail that I suspected didn't quite gel with something I wrote in the first book, EVERY DEAD THING, more than a decade ago. I think that I'd been putting off returning to that first book simply because I find it difficult to go back over work that I have written years before. It's a bit like exposing oneself to one's youthful indiscretions, and the critic in me fears that I won't be able to forgive myself for failings, either real or imagined, in those books that I wrote when I was younger. Nevertheless, knowing that the manuscript would be sent off to my editors the following morning, I overcame those doubts, found (with some difficulty) the relevant section, and realized that changes would have to be made in light of it. Better to deal with them now rather than later, when the manuscript has been typeset, or, worse, to dismiss those concerns as unfounded and find, when the book has been published, that the whole delicate balance of the series has been undone by my lack of care.

I suspect that I also felt it was particularly important to get these details right for THE LOVERS, which delves so deeply into Parker's past, and which, if I've managed to do what I intended to do, sets up the series for what is to come later. It's a novel that pretty much puts its hands in the air and says, Look, these are not simply independent novels, but are coming together to form part of a larger whole, and some of the hard spadework for that attempt at unifying them is being done here. Meanwhile, the last chapter hints at a possible direction for the final book, and a character from one of the non-series novels makes a reappearance. All of that had to be done while permitting new readers to begin with THE LOVERS, if they chose, without alienating them entirely by giving them the uncomfortable sensation that they had arrived late to a party that had been going on for some time.

By 11 P.M ., I was sitting on the floor of my office, painstakingly cutting out small rectangular boxes, each containing symbols relevant to the book, and pasting them into the manuscript, since my word processing program steadfastly refused to allow me to transfer them directly on screen. I did that for three separate manuscripts - one each for my American and British editors, and one for my agent - before I realized that it might have been more sensible just to do all of those pages once, and then photocopy them three times before reinserting them into the printed manuscript, since I now fear that the symbols may come off when the manuscript is being photocopied and gum up my publishers' expensive photocopiers. (I'm not sure if my agent has an expensive photocopier. He doesn't seem like the sort. Anyway, I've never been to my agent's office, an admission that tends to surprise some people. It's not that he hasn't invited me; it's just that it's always seemed more civilized for us to meet over lunch, or a glass of wine. Anyway, I'm now superstitious about the whole matter. I'm afraid that, if I do visit, the building will fall down, or my career as a writer will come to a sudden end with everyone confessing that it was all a big mistake, and they'd meant to publish someone else with my name but had been too embarrassed to admit to their error until now . . .)

By midnight, my head was hurting, and I was struggling to keep on top of what I was doing. I was trying to paginate, and forgetting what page the last chapter had ended on. I had discovered that changes made to two early chapters had not been saved, for some reason, so I needed to go through them again while trying to remember what I had altered earlier in the week. The paper holder from my copier fell off and ended up behind my desk, which is against a wall and sits almost flush with the side walls, meaning that I had to shift the desk from side to side until I could lie on top of it and, with the aid of a ruler and a plastic folder, haul the paper holder up  until I was able to reach it.

That took a while.

Then, when all the chapters were laid out on my office floor, I put the manuscripts together, making sure that I hadn't forgotten to print a chapter off, and that the pages all appeared to match. Finally, I went to bed, but as I was about to go to sleep I thought of three things that should be checked or changed, so I had to turn on the light again, find a pen and a piece of paper, and write a note to myself reminding me of what those things were when I woke up.

After that, I couldn't go to sleep.

But is was worth it, in the end, and not just because the manuscripts were printed and could be handed over to Peter at Postnet to be entrusted to the courier later that afternoon. It meant that I had one glorious, guilt-free day to myself: one day when I felt that I could breathe easy and do something frivolous, and not feel guilty about not working on the book; one day during which the book existed in a state of suspension, not being worked upon but not yet being judged, a secret thing that might be wonderful or might be awful, one that had not yet entered the next stage of its existence and become part of the editing and publishing process; one day spent wandering around bookstores, drinking coffee, reading a book for the sheer pleasure of it without the nagging feeling that this was time stolen from my own book; one day between the completion of one novel, and the commencement of another.

That's how long that state of bliss lasts: one day. It's the same with every book that I write. I get one day, and after that I start worrying, and feeling guilty again.

But that one day is a great one . . .

This week John read

Bleed a River Dry (uncorrected proof) by Brian McGilloway
Mad Dogs by James Grady

and listened to

Belle & Sebastian: The BBC Sessions
Ladyhawke by Ladyhawke
God Is An Astronaut by God Is An Astronaut
Car Alarm by The Sea and Cake

Thursday, November 06, 2008


It strikes me that, as time goes on, the gap between these ‘weekly’ columns grows longer and longer. It’s not deliberate, I hasten to add; instead, it’s simply the case that I find I have less and less to say that I haven’t said already, and the time in which I have to say it grows shorter and shorter. There are books and stories to write (and books and stories to read), and I realize that some of those who glance at these occasional pieces might well feel the same way. I don’t want to waste their time with thoughts jotted down simply for the sake of it...

I’m writing this in an Italian restaurant in Portland, Maine. I’ve retreated to the city to finish revising THE LOVERS, as there are few distractions here, and I find it easier to slip into a routine in which writing and rewriting take up the bulk of my day. But, prior to arriving here, I spent a week doing a number of literary festivals in Canada, and it was an enlightening, if sometimes frustrating, experience.

For the most part, mystery writers tend to spend most of their time with other mystery writers. There are dedicated mystery conventions during which we can consort with like-minded souls, and even when we do venture into the more rarified atmosphere of literary festivals, we tend to be corralled with our own kind, which is unfortunate and reflects a tendency among festival organizers to assume that a) mystery fiction is of no interest to anyone other than hardcore devotees; and b) that mystery authors have nothing to add to larger discussions of literature and writing, due to general ignorance of anything beyond mystery fiction, and a lack of interest in anything other than who was murdered, and how.

Thus, the Canadian experience, although very pleasant in many ways (almost without exception, everyone involved in organizing these Candian festivals was unfailingly kind, polite and well-read, and I have rarely been treated better anywhere as a writer), also proved to be remarkably disheartening in others, if revealing of an attitude towards mystery writers and mystery fiction that some of us had hoped was largely a thing of the past.

1) At a literary salon – I know, I know, but I’d agreed to attend, and I am, if nothing else, a man of my word, most of the time - I listen as a young Canadian writer expresses the view that mystery fiction has no business being nominated for literary prizes on the grounds that, well, it just sells too many copies, and therefore mystery writers have no need of the acclaim and the (often modest) financial rewards that accompany such prizes. When I point out to him that such an argument would also exclude, say, Salman Rusdie from consideration for the Booker Prize, he smirks and responds: “But Rusdie wasn’t nominated for the Booker Prize this year…”

And everyone in the room laughs.

2) A fellow Irish author enquires how I go about constructing a mystery narrative, given that it requires the farming out of information at certain intervals. I reply that I don’t plan it at all, and instead the revelations in question occur in part both naturally in the course of the initial draft and are also subject to revision during the process of rewriting as the heart of the narrative gradually reveals itself. I make the point that it is no different from the way in which a literary author approaches a book, and note the fact that his own most recent novel depends upon a series of revelations about an act of startling violence that has occurred many years in the past, so the difference between our texts is hardly as significant as he might believe. He doesn’t even answer, but simply turns around and walks away, as if appalled that I might suggest any degree of commonality between us.

3) A British novelist, a first-time author, admits that he has never, until recently, read a mystery novel, but having read one he now understands the appeal of the genre. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, he suggests. It’s about excitement, and nothing more. He doesn’t tell the audience which particular mystery novel he has read, or why he considers it representative of a
genre of which, by his own admission, he knows nothing.

4) A young American novelist, one whom I can only hope was drunk at the time, commences a spectacularly ignorant attack on genre fiction. Even allowing for any possible intake of alcohol, she is quite stunningly rude. Her basic argument, if I understand it correctly, is that mystery fiction works according to a basic template: in her immortal words, “something happens ...”

Once I have managed to lock my jaw back into place, I try to follow her argument to its logical conclusion. If the criticism of mystery fiction is that something happens, then the defence of her particular brand of literary fiction must be that nothing happens. I try to recall the last time I enjoyed a narrative in which nothing happened, and, eventually, admit failure. Even Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (a play of which it was famously remarked that nothing happens – twice) is full of incident, and that is as close as I can get to an apparently uneventful narrative that works.

Before I can raise this point, an individual involved at the highest level with the organization of the festival in question intervenes. He is someone whom I rather like, but as I listen to what he has to say I have to make a conscious effort to separate the individual from his words. He posits that mystery fiction is inferior to literary fiction because literary writers “hone” their work. They fret about it, reworking it time and time again, whereas genre writers simply churn out novels. With each book, literary writers are forced to reinvent the wheel, discarding all that went before in favor of an entirely new construct. They are original, while genre writers are essentially imitative.

Eventually, I just give up and go to bed. Life, I feel, is far too short, and I've heard so much of this before. The tension between literary and genre fiction, however spurious those labels may be, will continue not only long after I go to bed on such occasions, but probably long after I'm dead, too.

Which brings us back to Maine, and an Italian restaurant. Today, I have spent seven hours working on the draft of THE LOVERS. I will do the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. To give myself a break, I have begun writing something else, but my concentration upon this second book is not complete. Even when I am not working on THE LOVERS, it seems to occupy the bulk of my time. I am now on my sixth start-to-finish draft of the book. Before it reaches my publishers, I anticipate that I will have gone through it twice more. Even after it reaches them, I will act upon the suggestions of both my British and American editors (two more drafts); I will read the copy edited manuscript, and make changes there (one draft); and I will make the final changes to the typeset work, even if I have to pay for the resetting of the alterations myself, when it is eventually presented to me (the final draft).

I make that twelve drafts. By any stretch of the imagination, I think that counts as honing my work, and I will do so beset by all of the doubts about its worth that, I assume, trouble my literary colleagues. I manage to fit all of these drafts into one year (the original starting point for that unfortunate discussion about the value of genre v literary fiction) because, quite frankly, I work hard. I come from a journalistic background, and I believe that art and craft are not mutually exclusive. One works at one’s craft, and one hopes that, along the way, art may possibly emerge. Even if it does not, one can still take pride in the fact that one has done one’s best.

So to hell with all of the rest. When THE LOVERS eventually appears, I will know that I have done my best, despite its inevitable flaws. And I will learn from those mistakes, and I will apply what I have learned to what I do next. I know that I value what I do as much as any literary writers, and I put my heart and soul into it, just as much as they do.

And besides, I’ll probably sell more copies than most of those writers will anyway, even if it does render me ineligible for prizes in the new world order being planned by Canadians . . .

This week John read

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

and listened to

Still Crooked by Crooked Still
Shrink by The Notwist
Cardinology by Ryan Adams

Thursday, October 02, 2008

On Books, and Being a Blurb Whore

Every month, the English novelist Nick Hornby produces a very wonderful column entitled “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” for The Believer magazine. (The columns have been collected in an anthology entitled The Polysyllabic Spree, and it really is worth seeking out if you have any fondness at all for books and reading.) Anyway, Hornby routinely starts his column with a list of books bought and books read each month, with the former always exceeding the latter by some degree.

It’s the book lover’s dilemma in a nutshell, really: there are so many books, and so many new ones being published each week, yet there is only so much time in which to read them. Recently, one of my friends vowed that he was going to stop buying books entirely until he had read all of the ones on his shelves, an ambition at once both entirely logical yet also rather sad, as well as being rather impractical if one is a true reader with enough money in one’s pocket to be able to afford the odd book. I can’t even walk past a bookstore without browsing, a particular curse for me as walking, or even catching the bus, from my gym to home requires me to pass at least four bookstores along the way. This week alone I’ve bought four books, or one for every bookstore. I’ve managed to read one that was already on my shelves (Death By Leisure by Chris Ayres, a kind of prequel to War Reporting for Cowards, but not really as good and, less forgivably, bedevilled by so many typos that one wonders if anyone bothered to read the book at all after it had been typeset, or if the job was simply delegated to the nearest passing child. Actually, I suspect that a passing child would have done a better job, or would at least have been more conscientious about doing it.) and have now started on a second, J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, which won the Booker in 1973 and, according to many critics and commentators, might well be worthier of the recent ‘Best of Booker’ title than the actual winner, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I’m halfway through Farrell’s novel, and it is very good indeed.

What you will notice about both of these books is that neither is a mystery. In addition, I bought them with my own money, which is something that occasionally elicits an expression of surprise from the booksellers who recognise me as I pay for stuff and, indeed, from my own publishers, who are always offering to send me things. The problem is that I’m less inclined to read something that I haven’t bought, or chosen, for myself. It’s almost as if, by spending money on the book, I’ve already begun the process of reading it. I’ve made a financial commitment to the book, which will be followed by a similar commitment of time and concentration. Free books just don’t do it for me in the same way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s lovely to receive them, and occasionally I’ll be sent an advance copy of a book that I’ve really been looking forward to reading, but it’s still not quite the same as choosing a book from the shelf of a store, bringing it to the counter, and then paying for it. Even purchasing books online doesn’t match that satisfaction.

Which brings us to a related issue. While I bought four books this week (not counting two research books for The Lovers, which has reached the stage where I’m filling in little historical details that require me to read huge historical tomes, an imbalance that I’ve never quite been able to work out) I also received three more in the mail. All of them were novels seeking approving quotes, or ‘blurbs’, for their covers. One of them was unsolicited and came from a publisher, and the other two were manuscripts, only one of which I could remember agreeing to read. Over the last month I’ve blurbed two books, I think, although it might be three, and I’ve been asked to consider two more. The more books that one blurbs, the more one is perceived as someone who blurbs books, and therefore the more books one will receive looking for blurbs. It’s a vicious circle. Eventually, if one isn’t careful, one gets the reputation of being a ‘blurb whore’, which is less financially rewarding than being a real whore and starts to appear a little self-serving, as though having one’s name on one’s own books isn’t enough and one now needs to have them on other people’s too.

In addition, I only ever seem to be asked to blurb mysteries. It’s not surprising, really, given that’s what I’m best known for writing. Occasionally, someone will send me something that isn’t a mystery, and it’s like manna from heaven, but those books are comparatively rare. As far as publishers and other authors are concerned, it’s mysteries all the way for me.

But mysteries aren’t the only books that I read. In fact, horror of horrors, mysteries are the exception rather than the rule for me now. Oh, there are mystery writers whose books I love, and I’ll seek those out as soon as they’re published, but I like to read non-fiction too, and, for want of a better term, literary fiction, and most of my reading is comprised of books from those categories. I’ve also just spent two weeks reading only mysteries, as I was interviewing two mystery authors and reviewing a new book by a third. I’m mysteried out. Hand me a mystery now and my eyes will glaze over. My toes will turn up. I don’t want to read any more for a while. I can’t do it.

It’s a stupid complaint, right? After all, being asked to read books is no great burden. And yet, when reading becomes a chore, something is terribly wrong. I’ve come to realise that, if I allow it to be the case, I might spend most of my time reading nothing but new or forthcoming mysteries, and all of those other fascinating books on my shelves, both old and recent, will start to move out of reach. It’s just the nature of things: I’m more likely to read new books, the ones that are fresh in my memory, than the ones I bought a year ago or, worse, a decade ago. But I want to read those older books too. I chose them. I wanted them on my shelves, and I wanted them to be read. I made that commitment to them and, in a strange way, I don’t want to renege upon it.

And so, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to treat myself a little. I’m going to read only my books, the books that I chose and for which I paid, and nothing else. I’m going to read obscure film books, and a couple of Penguin Classics, and Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, which I should have read in college but never did. And I’m going to finish The Siege of Krishnapur, but not too quickly, because I’m enjoying it and I want to make it last for a while.

It’s a luxury, I know, but a small one.

And it’s the small luxuries that make life liveable.

This week John read

Doors Open by Ian Rankin
Death by Leisure by Chris Ayres
and will finish The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell

and listened to

The Hawk is Howling by Mogwai
Dear Science by TV On The Radio
Way to Normal by Ben Folds

Monday, September 01, 2008


As of today, I am 24 chapters into the latest draft of THE LOVERS, the Charlie Parker book that will, with luck, be published next year.  It's always a slow process for me, this act of rewriting.  I tend to limit myself to one chapter each day, even as I am aware that the clock is ticking and my delivery date is looming.  If I work faster, I skim the material.  One chapter a day is the most that I can do while still maintaining concentration.  At the moment, I'm trying to make sure that there are no gaps in the narrative (or rather that I'm aware of the gaps that do exist, and can work to plug them on the next draft), while also adding texture to characters and scenes that were sketched instead of fully drawn in the earlier drafts.  I like this part of the writing process, even if my progress is frustratingly slow.  This is the book coming together, flawed and incomplete yet moving gradually toward something that will ultimately, I hope, be less flawed.  

 I'm also trying to get a handle on what kind of book THE LOVERS is.  In a recent interview, I said that each book I write seems to be a reaction to the one that preceded it, and I suppose that's true of THE LOVERS.  Where THE REAPERS was fast and linear, with a very straightforward narrative, THE LOVERS is more complex, more allusive.  A lot of it concerns events that have happened in the past, and a large part of the second half is taken up with one character revealing, over the course of a single evening, the truth behind the death of Parker's father.  I want to see if I can retain the reader's interest by juggling the desire to find out 'what happens next' with gradual revelations about what has gone before.  

In THE LOVERS, Parker is working in a bar in Portland, as he no longer has a PI's license.  (The bar, incidentally, really exists.  It's called The Great Lost Bear and maybe, when the book is eventually published, it might be fun to have an event there.)  Parker uses his enforced retirement from the PI business to begin a different kind of investigation: an examination of his own past and an inquiry into the death of his father, who killed himself after apparently shooting dead two unarmed teenagers, an investigation that eventually leads to revelations about his own parentage.  

Meanwhile, a troubled young woman appears to be running from an unseen threat, one that has already taken the life of her boyfriend, and a journalist-turned-writer named Mickey Wallace is conducting his own investigation into Charlie Parker in the hope of writing a non-fiction book about his exploits.  And, haunting the shadows, as they have done throughout Parker's life, are two figures: a man and a woman, the lovers of the title, who seem to have only one purpose, and that is to bring an end to his existence.  Eventually, the lives of all these individuals will intersect.  At least, I hope that they will.  That's where the rewriting comes in.

The plan is to have the new draft finished by the end of this week, and then I'll take a couple of days to do some other stuff.  I've agreed to write a regular column for a South African called Something Wicked, mainly because I like the guy who edits it, and he's agreed to pay me in beer next time I'm in the country.  I have a short story to write for The Irish Times, to be delivered at the end of September, and I've also agreed to do at least one interview with another writer for the paper.  After that, I travel to the US and Canada to do three festivals (Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver) and Bouchercon in Baltimore, and while I'm on the road I'll keep working on THE LOVERS, fitting in some final interviews with the professionals who have been helping me with my research.  All things going well, THE LOVERS will be delivered at the start of November.

Then I'll just have to figure out what to do next  . . .

This week John read

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
Christopher's Ghosts by by Charles McCarry

and listened to

The Lady and the Unicorn by John Renbourn
Lay It Down by Al Green
The Week That Was by The Week That Was

Monday, July 28, 2008

When One Is Not Enough

It's good to be home. I had almost forgotten what my desk looks like after being away from it for so long, and now I can get back into some kind of routine and complete work on The Lovers. The demands of touring and publicity seem to take increasing amounts of writing time away from me, and already I'm being asked about my plans for next March, which tends to bring out the Irish fatalist in me. ("March? I might be dead by March . . .")

Perhaps it's because I'm so aware of time, and the relative lack of it, that I was struck by comments made recently by a fellow writer, one whom I like and admire a great deal but with whom I differ occasionally, as writers will, on our approaches to what we do. Since his readers were asking for two books a year, he said, this was what he was going to give them. Ask, it seems, and thou shalt receive.

(By contrast, Terry Pratchett was interviewed in the latest issue of the quarterly magazine of the book chain Waterstones, and he commented that the worst thing an author can do is give his readers what they want, since a lot of readers, like a lot of people, generally want the same thing that they got last time. That's fine if you're McDonald's, or Starbucks, but doing the same thing over and over, even with slight variations, tends to result in the slow death of genuine creativity. Anyway, that threatens to move us into slightly different territory, and doesn't apply anyway in this case since we're not talking about repetition but responding to the demands of readers, yet since I read both statements in the same week the sound they made as they collided is still ringing in my ears as I write.)

What interested me about the 'two books in one year' approach was that it seems to be a growing trend in mystery fiction, and a worrying one. Then again, it may simply be the case that because I can't do it, I wonder how anyone else can do it, which may be a fallacious approach to an argument. After all, I can't juggle either, or not terribly well, but I can appreciate a juggler's skill, even if I still don't quite understand how he or she manages not to drop the balls on the ground.

But this isn't juggling: this is writing. As things stand, I can just about manage to write a book annually, in between touring, additional publicity, and the not unimportant pastime of simply having a life. I do write relatively slowly, I suppose. I'm happy with 1000 words each day, although I sometimes write more, but let's call it 5-6000 words each week, just for the sake of argument. My first draft will probably clock in at somewhere between 80 - 100,000 words, and then I write up, rather than down, elaborating on scenes, characters, and dialogue. Resting on the belief that there are no great writers, just great rewriters (or even no adequate writers, just committed rewriters) I keep going over the manuscript from start to finish until I'm reasonably happy to show it to another human being. That process of editing and rewriting is the difference between a book and a draft. I believe that the more rewriting that is done, the better the book will be. And I don't just believe that about my books. I think it's true of every book.

It doesn't take a genius in mathematics to figure out that, if two books a year are being written by the same person, then the time available for each is considerably less than it would be if the writer were simply writing one book annually. It's not halved, exactly, since most writers probably do spend a certain amount of time pfaffing about, and can probably find a little more time to write by cutting down on the hours spent not actually writing. And yet I don't believe that's a good thing either. A lot of writing, or at least the preparation for writing, is done when the writer is not at a desk. Crucial elements of a book, in my experience, often come together in the spaces between the actual physical act of typing it out. It's that time that will be sacrificed in the writing of additional books.

More to the point, there will be less time to edit, fewer days to leave the latest draft to stew on the back burner. I think it was Hemingway who suggested that a writer should place a manuscript in a box when it was completed and not look at it for a year. Increasingly, though, there are barely enough hours to put the manuscript in a box and leave it overnight before mailing it to the publisher. There will also be less time for the editor to consider the version of the book that is finally delivered. The pressure on the publisher - even if it's a welcome pressure, since a second book in a year by a successful writer will do wonders for the publisher's bank balance - increases. The whole process accelerates, to the detriment, I can't help but feel, of the finished novel.

Those who seek to defend such profligacy might point to Dickens, or Trollope, or even, if they're really without shame, Shakespeare, who were no shirkers when it came to churning out manuscripts. The simple answer, as in most such situations where their names are mentioned, is that most of us are not in that league. In fact, when it comes to Dickens and Shakespeare in particular, nobody is, and it's unlikely that anyone will ever be again.

At the other end of the scale, the prolific in our genre might point to the pulp writers of the twenties and thirties, who produced huge amounts of work on a weekly basis. Fine. Name them. More particularly, name the ones who are still in print, whose books and stories have survived, whose tales are regarded as significant or valuable, who are, not to put too fine a point on it, still widely read. In general, when it comes to writing, quantity is inversely proportionate both to quality and longevity. The exceptions are precisely that: exceptions. There is no rule to be proved by them, because they tend to be exceptional in many other ways too. That's not to say that a writer will not, occasionally, be able to produce two works of quality in a short period of time. We may, if we're lucky, be struck by flashes of inspiration. We will sometimes have burst of energy and creativity that astonish even ourselves, but that's all they are: bursts. By their nature, they can't be sustained.

Mystery writers in particular are already regarded as prolific, given the widespread expectation of a book a year among readers and publishers, and a certain element of peer pressure; after all, if one's fellow writers are producing a book a year, then one's instinct is to keep up with the pack. The prolific nature of the genre's practitioners is probably one of the reasons why it has always struggled to achieve the kind of critical approval given to literary fiction whose practitioners tend, by their nature, to produce fewer books.

Increasingly, though, there does seem to be an additional subtle pressure on mystery writers to increase output. It comes from readers, to a degree, as is clear from the response of the writer mentioned in the first paragraph. There is the historical precedent, based on those early writers who were paid, in many cases, by the word or by the story, and were paid poorly. One might also point to the example of, say, James Patterson - although there arises in his case the distinction between someone who is intimately involved in the process of producing a book, and the physical act of writing every word of it - or a writer like Tom Clancy, who effectively licenses his name so that others can do the manual labour. The question of authorship becomes blurred in such cases, and deliberately so, sometimes to an absurd extreme. How many readers, one wonders, still believe that Virginia Andrews is alive and writing in an attic somewhere? What is the connection, apart from the Bourne brand, between the late Robert Ludlum and the books now being produced with Ludlum's name rendered conspicuously large upon the cover?

Financial issues also arise. After all, most writers don't make a great deal of money from their work, and many support themselves with a regular job. Two books means twice the income. Then again, if someone is holding down a regular job, the task of writing even one book a year, and editing it properly, is likely to be difficult. The natural conclusion, then, is that one needs to be a full-time writer to produce more than a book each year, if one is to do it even reasonably well, and if you're a full-time writer then you probably don't need the money that much. Don't get me wrong: everybody needs money, and everybody would like a little more than they have. Some people just need it more than others, that's all.

But, as I've said already, it may be that, because I really do have to put a great effort into sticking to that target of a book each year and meeting the other demands on my time, I expect others to struggle too. Every writer is different, and I may just be among the slower, or more painstaking, of the pack when it comes to creating a book. For someone with more discipline than I have, or with greater talent or tenacity - and all three qualities apply to the author who made the statement that sparked this column - two books a year may not be such a great burden.

But three books a year? Four? It's being done by some, but at what price in terms of quality? Can a writer producing three or four books each year really be delivering little more than a first draft? Questions, questions. Which reminds me: I have a book to write.


This week John read

Phantom Prey by John Sandford
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

and listened to

Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson
Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Work of Incandescent Beauty

Greetings from sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the most difficult part of the current jaunt: four flights in four days, each of them early in the morning, and each taking me to places that are a little warmer than I might prefer.  Nevertheless, today is an easier day than most: three bookstores in the city visited, and now a little time to catch up on e-mail, drink coffee, and watch the world go by while I, for a moment, stay in one place.

I've been trying to resist buying CDs as I go, mainly because my check-in bag weighs exactly 49.5 lbs at the moment, and I've jammed as much stuff as I can into my carry on luggage without doing myself an injury.  Still, one CD hasn't been far from me since I picked up a promo copy a couple of weeks ago, and the more I listen to it, the more I think that it may well be one of the finest albums released so far this century. 

The album is called To Survive, and it's the work of Joan Wasser, who records under the name Joan as Police Woman.  Wasser was the violinist with Anthony and the Johnsons (and was the late Jeff Buckley's lover).  Her debut album, Real Life, was very fine indeed, but To Survive is an incredible leap forward, reminiscent of the best of Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and the cream of the 1970's female singer-songwriters.  From its first song, "Honor Wishes", through the haunting strings and heartbreaking restraint of the title track, to the ambiguities of "To America", the final song, it is almost without flaw; or, rather, what flaws there are are intensely human, and add to the beauty of the work rather than detract from it.  

Quite simply, Wasser's album makes the work of most of her peers seem rather mundane by comparison.  If there is any justice in the world, it will become a huge word-of-mouth success.  I plan to contribute, in my small way, by pressing as many copies of it as possible on friends and strangers.  Buy it.  I'd say that you won't be disappointed, but that would be selling this wonderful album short.  Better to say that your life will be a little richer for having heard it.

This week John read

Six Days of the Condor by James Grady
Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden

and listened to 

To Survive by Joan as Police Woman

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Nostalgia

Let me start by saying that I'm not proud of myself for what I've done. In retrospect, it was the wrong thing, but I couldn't help myself. I'm a man, and I have needs. There was a woman involved, of course. In these kinds of confessions, there always is. She was blonde, and I'd always believed that she was unattainable, but suddenly she was unattainable no longer. I could own her. I could possess her. She would be mine, and nobody could ever take her away from me again. So I stifled my doubts and my qualms. I smothered my feelings of guilt. I suspected that there would be regrets, but I was prepared to take my chances. To hell with common sense. Chances like this didn't come along every day.

So I paid my money, and I bought a box set of The New Avengers, starring Joanna Lumley.

For those of you too young to remember, or too old to care, The New Avengers was shown on ITV between 1976 and 1977 , and starred Patrick Macnee, the aforementioned Ms Lumley, and a clothes horse named Gareth Hunt, who was charming but wooden, like a primitive children's toy. It was an updated version of a 60's show named The Avengers, hence the cunning inclusion of the word 'New' to denote all that was flash and modern about the 1970s: flared suit trousers; Ford Capris; male perms; legwarmers . . .

The New Avengers wasn't very good, even in the 1970s, and it hasn't improved terribly with age. It had a budget so limited that the crew probably packed their own sandwiches before they came to work, which might explain why Joanna Lumley spent its two series wearing a minimum of clothing. ("Sorry, Joanna, but money's tight so it's the short skirt and bare legs combo again. Mind the snow, love . . .") The best thing about the show was the theme tune, all brass and wah-wah guitars, but then that's true of just about every 70's cop show one cares to mention.

I knew, even as I forked out my O40, that The New Avengers wasn't going to be much cop, so why did I buy it? Well, to begin with there was Joanna Lumley who, along with Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith to Tom Baker's Doctor Who), caused peculiar, and possibly inappropriate, sensations to erupt in my pre-adolescent body. Mummy, the lady makes me feel funny . . .

Then again, it may be the same impulse that caused me to buy Dusty's Trail on DVD, a show that reunited the cast of the bewilderingly popular US TV hit Gilligan's Island to slightly less amusing effect, which is like saying that a fire in an orphanage is funnier than a child's open grave, and was a staple of RTE's afternoon schedule when I was a child. It might also explain why my shelves groan beneath DVDs of Doctor Who from the 1970s (even the ones without Elizabeth Sladen), Michael Bentine's Potty Time, Willo The Wisp, and the original three series of Star Trek. They betray my deep-seated desire to recapture something of my youth by viewing again the TV shows associated with that time in my life, as though, by immersing myself in them, I can somehow regain other elements of my lost childhood: innocence, optimism, and a sense of wonder that could not be shaken by dodgy set design and cardboard monsters.

As my fortieth birthday looms, I realise that I have become a prime target for the nostalgia market. I can no longer describe myself as 'young' without being guilty of massaging the truth to an unconscionable degree. When I visit my doctor for an annual check-up, he is obliged to rummage in orifices where, in the manner of Star Trek, no man had gone before, at least until quite recently. I wonder if my jeans are too tight for a chap of my age, and if it's a bit sad of me to wear Converse sneakers or shop in clothes stores where all of the assistants are two decades younger than I am. I listen to the music of the 1980s, and try - and fail - to justify having Howard Jones alongside . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead on my iPod.

As the world moves relentlessly forward, I find myself retreating further into the past. I still buy new music, and read new books. I watch new TV shows, and I go to see new films, but my heart, like that of a man who always hankers after his first girlfriend, is lost to earlier loves, even if I have given them a stature that they do not fully deserve. The New Avengers is less important, then, for what it is than for what it represents, and even in all its naffness I find myself willing to forgive it a great deal. The past may be another country, but I can still visit occasionally.

And, for the record, Joanna Lumley still makes me feel funny.

This week John read
The Price of Blood/ The Dying Breed by Declan Hughes

and listened to

Here Is What Is by Daniel Lanois
Narrow Stairs by Death Cab For Cutie

Monday, April 28, 2008

On THE CHILL by Ross Macdonald

Ross Macdonald, or Kenneth Millar, to give him his true name, described The Chill (1963) as having "my most horrible plot yet". It is, in many ways, an angry, haunted book into which he channeled his unhappiness at the time: disappointment at his best friend's divorce; his inability to get his book on Coleridge published; his dissatisfaction with academia; and his hurt at comments made about him by Raymond Chandler.

Chandler's presence has fallen like a shadow over Macdonald's posthumous reputation in much the same way that it did while he was alive. Chandler, the older writer, clearly saw Macdonald as a rival, and did his very best to belittle the younger novelist whenever possible, not recognizing that Macdonald was part of a progression, drawing on Chandler to create something new and move the genre forward, just as Chandler had earlier drawn on Hammett. After Chandler's death, Macdonald became aware of letters against him that Chandler had written, including one to James Sandoe published as part of Raymond Chandler Speaking that described Macdonald as a "literary eunuch" and criticised the "pretentiousness" of his phrasing. It's unlikely that Chandler would have been quite so vituperative had he not felt threatened both by Macdonald's writing and the critical acclaim he was receiving. (I would argue that Macdonald was the better novelist of the two, and certainly the better plotter. Chandler's rather haphazard approach to plotting is generally excused on the basis that he was more interested in character than plot, but that is to ignore the fact that it is not an either/ or relationship between the two elements. Or, as Macdonald once said: "I see plot as a vehicle for meaning.")

Macdonald/ Millar was born in Los Gatos, California in 1915, but was raised in Ontario, Canada. His father abandoned the family when Macdonald was young, leading to an itinerant early life spent living with his mother and various relatives. This probably explains something of his fascination with issues of family and domesticity in his novels, especially the prevalence of troubled young men. (Later in life, his own daughter, his only child, would prove to be similarly troubled, and he was cursed to outlive both her and his grandson.) The first full-length Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, was published in 1949, but it would be fair to say that Macdonald initially viewed his mystery novels as a way to earn money and be published while he prepared to write a more literary novel about familial strife. It was probably only with the publication of The Galton Case in 1959 that Macdonald realised the Archer novels would enable him to pursue the themes that interested him the most, and were thus destined to be the body of work upon which his reputation would rest. Macdonald died in 1983, almost certainly of Alzheimer's Disease. One of the most moving moments in Tom Nolan's excellent biography of the writer sees Macdonald, his mind failing, struggling to use his typewriter, and being able to type only the word "broken" over and over again.

Originally entitled A Mess of Shadows, from a line in the W.B. Yeats poem, "Among School Children", The Chill takes some of its structure and imagery from Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": a sad story told by a character seeking release and deliverance; a mist-shrouded environment; and the death of a bird, in this case a pigeon rather than an albatross.

Like all of Macdonald's work, this is a novel obsessed with the impact of the past upon the present. As Archer tells Mrs. Hoffman, "History is always connected to the present." Again and again, we are reminded of the resonance of old acts. Dr. Godwin's voice is "like the whispering ghost of the past". In Alice's house, Archer thinks that he looks like "a ghost from the present haunting a bloody moment in the past". And, in a wonderful image, Archer describes the questions raised by Mrs. Delaney as sticking "in my mind like fishhooks which trailed their broken lines into the past".

I would describe this book as a 'nearly perfect' crime novel, although this implies that Macdonald erred in some way in its creation. I don't think that's true. Its imperfections are deliberate, a testament to Macdonald's courage as a writer and his absolute refusal to fall back on sentimentality. While Alex Kincaid is another of Macdonald's troubled young men, tainted by the actions of an earlier generation, he is also something of a jerk, and it's difficult to feel a great deal of sympathy for him. By contrast, Macdonald kills off one of the book's most attractive characters disturbingly early, and in doing so accentuates the horror of the murderous figure that stalks the novel.

Arguably, Macdonald is the first great psychological novelist that the genre produced. While Chandler tends to look for sociological explanations, Macdonald instead looks inward at the dynamics of families, and in particular the wrong done to children, especially by overprotective mother figures. In this sense, The Chill falls into a group of Macdonald's books that touch upon Oedipal nightmares.

And then there is Lew Archer himself. He remains one of the most enigmatic of detectives. Throughout the series, we learn almost nothing about his past, apart from the fact that he was once married, which gives him a sense of loneliness and dislocation. We are offered few, if any, of the little day-to-day details of his existence which have become the stock-in-trade of the modern detective hero: no cute sidekicks, no dogs, no quirky tastes in opera or cars. For Macdonald, such elements would have served only as a distraction from the central fact of Archer's existence: he is a profoundly moral being, with a near-limitless capacity for pity and empathy. He is neither as tough, nor as cynical, as Chandler's Philip Marlowe. In The Barbarous Coast (1956), Archer notes: "The problem was to love people, to serve them, without wanting anything from them." It is an extraordinary statement of intent, perhaps even more so now than it was over fifty years ago. In many ways, the society that he inhabits is unworthy of Archer, although he never sees himself in those terms. He is not self-interested. Instead, his interest is directed at the lives of others in an attempt both to understand their actions and undo the harm that has been done to them by others. His innate goodness may explain some of the hostility that has been directed toward him by subsequent critics and writers who mistake cynicism for realism, and confuse sentimentality with genuine emotion.

I chose this novel to start the Book Club on my website for a number of reasons. First of all, there's Macdonald's huge influence on me as a writer, and Archer's influence on the creation of Charlie Parker. I would not be the novelist that I am without the influence of Macdonald.

But I also chose it because I think it is one of the great American mystery novels, worthy to stand alongside the best of Chandler, Hammett, Highsmith, or any other mystery writer that one cares to name, with a killer twist at the end almost unequalled in the genre. Others may argue for The Galton Case, or The Underground Man, or The Doomsters as the apogee of Macdonald's work. I think they're wrong. The Chill is the finest jewel in Macdonald's crown.

Monday, April 14, 2008


First of all, thank you to all those who offered suggestions as to how I might retrieve the chapters of The Lovers that I accidentally overwrote last month. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending upon how one looks at it - I only managed to retrieve two. Curiously, this was something of an anticlimax, as I'd already begun to rewrite the lost material, and part of me didn't want the older stuff back. It was gone, and I had resigned myself to it. It was a bit like keeping a bedside vigil on a terminally ill relative, and then finding that they hadn't died after all but insisted on clinging on to life, even after everyone else had progressed from worrying about them, to grieving for them, and, finally, to getting on with life.

In the process of attempting to retrieve the lost files, the programme that I used was obliged to dig up all sorts of stuff that I thought was long gone. As none of the files had a name, I had to open each one and examine the contents in order to discover if it contained the material that I was looking for. I found sections of old books, early drafts containing characters whose names subsequently changed, or who ultimately simply disappeared from the finished narrative. There were chapters-in-progress, false starts, even part of a chapter from a children's book that I started once and then never quite got around to finishing. Oddly, there were few deletions, a consequence of the way that I write, where each draft builds on the next in a slow accretion of detail. Still, it was, in a strange way, a kind of alternate history of the last ten years, a junkpile of might-have-beens.

I've spent a lot of the last two weeks dealing with the past of the novels, now that I think of it. File retrieval apart, I put together a 5,000 word piece on the origins of Parker and the novels, which may be published by Otto Penzler of the Mysterious Bookstore in New York as part of an ongoing series. It was appropriate to do it now, I think, as the publication of the tenth book approaches. Ten books. Ten years of being published. I'll be 40 next month. Lots of anniversaries with a zero at the end of them.

So, with that in mind, thanks to all of you who have supported my work over the past decade. I'm very grateful.

By the way, did I mention that I met Kevin Costner last week? Well, I did.
But that's another story . . .

This week John read

Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden
The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God by Joe Eszterhaus
AIiens by Bryan Appleyard

and listened to

Oracular Spectacular by MGMT
It's a Shame About Ray (Collector's Edition) by The Lemonheads
Rosemarie by Thistletown

Saturday, March 22, 2008


While computers have done a great deal to make a writer's life easier, there is one way in which words on a screen can never improve on paper. Barring a fire, or a careless spring clean of a room, words on paper can't be easily lost. But words on a screen are only one mouse click away from oblivion.

Yesterday, I began transferring, from laptop to desktop, the work on The Lovers that I had done in the US. The delay in the transfer was due to travel, and the completion of my office, in which I am, or was, happily established. I had about 25,000 words from the US, and before I left I'd managed to get about 30,000 done on my desktop. Due to the vagaries of builders, painters, and assorted other distractions, I'd failed to back them up.

I know, I know. My fault, right? I always back up what I write, but moving house tends to result in routines falling by the wayside. I've been struggling to find my feet, let alone a place to work, in the new house. I think I was just glad to be getting any work at all done while strange men were trooping through equally strange rooms.

So yesterday, in my nice little office space, I transferred one file marked 'The Lovers' to my desktop and, when asked if I wanted to replace the older file with the same title, I immediately clicked 'OK'.

Bang. 30,000 words gone. The prologue, the first five chapters, all gone. As I write this, I'm sitting in a state of near shock. That's three months of hard grind down the drain, and I've undone all that I managed to achieve in the US. A frantic call to the nice, clever computer man who services my Mac gave no joy: I'd overwritten the files, not deleted them. They're gone, and they're not coming back.

This is the first time that I've ever lost so much work. It's beyond frustrating. I was on target to complete the book in October, allowing for time spent touring The Reapers, and now I'm not. I'm not sure that I can even remember what I wrote: I can recall characters and situations, but not the dialogue. The prologue was good, I felt, and a long encounter between a girl and the parents of her murdered boyfriend was moving and more than a little eerie, but trying to reproduce it exactly will be like trying to snatch at smoke. Right now, I want to bang my head against the wall. It's my own stupidity that's caused this to happen.

So what to do? Start again, that's what. Open a new file, entitle it 'Prologue', and begin writing.

And yet that's so much easier said than done.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn . . .

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I'm in a rented apartment in Maine, trying to get some work done on THE LOVERS before returning to Europe and the various commitments that will keep from writing as much as I might wish during the weeks to come. Beside me is a small black notebook, a Moleskinne, one of those little hardback jobs witha pocket at the back. It's the latest in a line of such notebooks dating, I think, back to DARK HOLLOW, when it began to seem like a good idea to have something easily transportable into which I could jot notes for the novel in hand. Although it has only been in use since the start of the month, it already includes:

1) Twenty pages of interview notes from a conversation with a former NYPD cop whoused to work the 9th Precinct, an area that will play a crucial role in the next novel. He was extraordinarily helpful, so much so that I'm hoping to pick his brains at least once more before I deliver the book. My only regret is that I didn't have my little tape recorder with me to capture the rhythms of his speech. Next time, maybe. The pocket at the back of the book also includes a map of the precinct in question, drawn on a bar napkin, as well as three newspaper articles concerning, respectively, cars, Jews, and Peruvian death squads.

2) My own initial notes from a walk through Alphabet City, including the first of many poorly drawn maps in my own hand, this time of the area around Tompkin's Square Park. There's also a written description of the 9th's precinct house, and some details of the menu from a nearby Greek restaurant, as well as casual observations jotted down in almost illegible script. Someone once suggested to me that I should use a little recorder for myself, but I'd feel like an idiot walking down the street and talking into a metal object. I don't even use Bluetooth on the grounds that, when I was growing up, the sure sign of a lunatic was someone who talked to himself on the street; that, and tying a coat with string. Now everyone seems to be talking to themselves while walking down the street. I don't want to add to the confusion. Incidentally, I do not tie my coat with string. Yet.

3) More poorly drawn maps and scribbled notes, this time concerning Pearl River in New York. Pearl River is very Irish indeed. Being born there may well entitle one to play for the Irish football team. Even standing still for too long may affect one's nationality.

4) Various plot notes, some of them written under the influence of wine. Ditto supposedly humorous comments, snippets of dialogue, and the odd metaphor and simile. Many of these will not find their way into the finished novel, since they didn't seem half as interesting/useful/funny when I sobered up, leading to the alarming prospect that I may not be half as entertaining as I think I am when I've been drinking.

By the time the novel is eventually delivered, the notebook is likely to be close to full. When I'm done with it, I'll add it to the pile of notebooks that I've already used. I think I've kept them all, but only very occasionally do I return to them. I try not to repeat my research, and part of the pleasure of writing the books lies in finding new subjects and places to explore. Still, in these days of computers, word processing, and the electronic delivery of manuscripts, there is something reassuring about the presence of these little black notebooks. They help to remind me of how the novels were formed, and to chart my own progress through the world of my books.

PS This week, filming began on THE NEW DAUGHTER, with Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero, based on the short story of the same title in NOCTURNES. For those of you curious to know, principal filming is taking place in McClellanville, South Carolina, under the guiding hand of director Luis Berdejo. I still haven't read the script, which is a matter of choice (although someone who has read it was very impressed with it) but one interesting snippet of information reveals that a casting call went out for a thin, almost emaciated actor to play a "creature" role in full make-up, suggesting that John Travis, the screenwriter, has stuck to the original story's central idea of something very nasty indeed hiding in the burial mound on Costner's property. The film is due to be released in 2009.

This week John read:

The Quest by Wilbur Smith
The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greaves

and listened to:

Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend
Phoenician Terrace by Bevel
The Pearl by Harold Budd and Brian Eno

Monday, January 14, 2008


Five chapters into THE LOVERS, the new Parker book, and just as I'm starting to hit my stride, I realize that I'm now going to be sidetracked for a while. In an ideal world, there would be one book upon which to concentrate, so that each day time could be spent on that novel and a little progress could be made. In practice, though, that's just not possible. The list of distractions has begun to lengthen, and while some can be dismissed quickly, others cannot.

THE REAPERS is now four months from publication. Even though, in theory, it is finished, in practice it is not. The copy edited manuscript is due to arrive this week - or, rather, the first copy edited manuscript, as the UK publisher has reached that stage in the process before the US publisher - and will need to be returned by the start of February. It represents the final opportunity to make significant changes to the book, but as I have already moved on to the writing of the next novel it will be much harder for me to think myself back into THE REAPERS than it was before I submitted it. Reading the copy edited manuscript means trying to juggle a number of balls at once: checking the copy editor's changes; trying to spot any errors that I might have missed myself, but which might not be familiar to the copy editor; and keeping the overall narrative in mind at the same time with one eye on areas that might be improved. It's like trying to look at a tree and a forest simultaneously.

By the time I've finished the UK manuscript, the US manuscript will have arrived. I'll then have to apply the changes that were made to the UK manuscript to the second manuscript, while also trying to keep a note of any useful changes or errors that the US copy editor might have spotted that should be applied to the UK manuscript at the proof stage. This will be complicated by the fact that I have to travel to the US at the start of February for meetings and research, so I won't be at home surrounded by my research books and notes when I'm doing the American edits. The solution, in all probability, will be to photocopy the UK manuscript and bring that along as well, and hope any further problems that arise can easily be checked on the Internet, or can wait until I return home.

In the meantime, THE UNQUIET has just been published in Ireland and the UK, and I'm trying to do stuff to keep myself in the public eye in the hope that it will raise awareness of the novel by a kind of osmosis. Thus I've taken on some reviews for radio and TV, including ploughing through a long, if fascinating, history of the CIA. (I'll also be worrying about how THE UNQUIET will sell in paperback. Writers, upon publication of their own book, start looking at what else is out at the same time, and what kind of competition it constitutes. We also start fretting about the possibility that our time has passed; that everyone who wanted to read the book has already bought it in hardback; and that bookstores have somehow neglected to unpack the boxes containing our books, and they are now languishing under the Christmas returns. This is compounded, in the case of the UK, by first week jitters, and the fact that, although books now officially go on sale on the Thursday of each week, thelists are compiled from sales commencing earlier in the week, so that a book's first week on sale is effectively a half week for the purposes of the bestseller lists. Complicated, isn't it?)

Other little things also crop up: the first chapter of THE REAPERS is too long for inclusion as a teaser in the US paperback of THE UNQUIET. Should the prologue be used instead? The cover comes through, adapted from its first incarnation to more closely resemble the original US hardback. I like it, but there's a minor issue of font size to be addressed. Meanwhile, the US cover for THE REAPERS is now being looked at again, and is likely to change significantly from earlier suggestions. The UK publishers have been working on ideas for additional content, or 'added value', to go with THE REAPERS. If that is to be written, then I'll need to know soon, as it will represent a significant investment of time.

The script for THE ERLKING needs further work, and I'm due to meet the producers at the end of January to discuss progress. I'll need to set aside some time over the next week or two in order to do a rewrite, and then I'm going to hand it over to the director, who is also the co-writer, as I won't have time to do anything else with it until the summer, if then. I find it hard to keep one part of my mind thinking about that project while the other tries to keep THE LOVERS simmering. It's also alien territory to me, as I've mentioned before. I'm not comfortable with the process, and that has contributed to delays in tackling the script.

Various requests to contribute to anthologies, etc. keep arriving, but I really don't have time to do them. I have an idea for a short story, but I still haven't managed to write it. Two books have arrived seeking approving quotes, but I'm still working on the review books, and I also have a pile of stuff that I was rather hoping to read for pleasure. There's an author I'd like to interview, but I don't see how I can. It's disappointing for her publisher, and I'd like to help, but the dates don't suit, even if I could find time to read her latest book and do the research for the interview.

Tour dates are being lobbed around. I'm losing most of the first two weeks of March, all of May and June, and probably part of July or August as well. April is problematical too, as I have a minor, if nasty, 'procedure' to undergo, and am likely to be out of sorts, and out of circulation, for a week to ten days afterwards. Suddenly, the prospect of delivering THE LOVERS by next October comes to seem less easily attainable.

Still, I managed to get almost 2000 words written today, and this column. The frustrating part is knowing that I may not get as much work done again on THE LOVERS for a couple of weeks at least, and I'm kind of enjoying the writing of it. I also know that a structured approach to its writing - a routine, by any other name - is essential if progress is to be made. Sometimes, 'having written' is better than 'writing', but writing, for all the times that it can be
difficult (or, perhaps, because it is often difficult), is still immensely fulfilling.

Unfortunately, the business of being a writer occasionally gets in
the way.

This week John read

Voices by Arnaldur Indridason (and some of The Truth Commissioner by David Park, and a little of Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner

and listened to

In Rainbows by Radiohead (bought, like a good Luddite, on CD)
May Your Heart Be the Map by Epic 45
Autumn Fallin' by Jaymay