Monday, August 31, 2009


An interesting question cropped up on the forum recently regarding editing. I found the Straub story particularly interesting: the idea that an author would publish an unedited version of his manuscript alongside (albeit with a different publisher) the edited, mainstream version of the book. I don't know Peter Straub, but it made me wonder about the relationship between Straub and his editor, and whether he views his unexpurgated version as superior to the edited version. Did he make the cuts reluctantly, and did he feel that they compromised his vision of what the novel should be? All quite fascinating.

My experience of being edited has always been overwhelmingly positive, and I don't say that simply to ensure that my editors don't drop me like a hot stone on the grounds that I'm not sufficiently fawning, although it would be nice if they didn't drop me, and I can be more fawning if that helps. Like many authors who are published on both sides of the Atlantic, I have two editors. When I finish a book, I send the manuscript to both of them on the same day, then wait for their responses. Usually, one will reply sooner than the other, but eventually I'll have the responses from both. Curiously, they're never the same. I don't mean that one may like a book while the other doesn't: that's never happened, thankfully. Instead, one will spot weaknesses, or suggest small changes, in areas that have not troubled the other editor at all, and vice versa. By and large, I think that I've only declined to follow one or two editorial suggestions over my entire career, as they tend to be eminently sensible.

I'd like to think that I help my cause by not delivering a book until it has been rewritten a number of times, a hangover from my time in journalism. Then, if a piece was handed back to you for changes, it was because you'd done something wrong, and it was a badge of shame, like getting lots of red marks on your homework. By the time the book goes to my editors, and my agent, I've usually reached the point where there are few major alterations that I feel can be made to it. Actually, this only lasts as long as it takes for the manuscript to arrive in London and New York, as by that time I've had a day or so to think about it and have already started making further alterations, on the grounds that a book is never finished. What I'm saying, I guess, is that the relationship with my editors is not adversarial in any way. Oh, I want them to have to make as few changes to my deathless prose as possible, largely on the basis of the homework analogy used earlier, but I'm quite happy to have my work improved by them, especially as it's still my name on the cover, and readers will then assume that I'm brilliant all by myself instead of, in reality, not being terribly bright but being ably supported by some very bright people.

Thinking about THE GATES, it was one of my editors who suggested that the demons should be a little more threatening at some point. In my manuscript, they were largely inept, with the exception of Mrs Abernathy, the chief villain. It was my agent and my principal foreign rights agent who suggested altering the footnotes in the main chapter so that they were integrated more fully into the main body of the text, which, visually, made a lot of sense. My agent, too, wanted more made of the relationship between Sam and Nurd, and he was right about that as well. Mind you, those suggestions come in the form of a single line. "Why don't we have more of Sam and Nurd?", my agent might say. "Brilliant", I think, followed by, "Hang on, how do I do that?" I then spend a couple of days fretting about it, dismissing it as impossible, or so difficult as to be nearly impossible, before sitting down and just getting on with it. Rarely will I ask my editors or my agent HOW something might be done. They make a suggestion, and then I figure out how to make it work. After all, it's my book, and I'm the writer. Often, what seems quite hard to achieve when first raised in an editorial letter can usually be achieved quite easily by a bit of tweaking, but despite having written twelve books now, I still get that anxiety attack when I'm asked to make a general change to the text, rather than a specific change to a line or word.

I wonder, too, if the fact that I write up, not down, is a help. By that I mean that my first draft tends to be short, the second draft a little longer, and so on until the book is ready to be sent. I write by accretion, so the chances are pretty slim of of me delivering, say, a book like THE STAND to which, some years later, I might choose to restore 200 pages of cut text. There is very little pruning done to my books. It's just not the way that they're written.

For now, though, I'm between edits. THE GATES, to which I was making changes right up until production, is done. THE WHISPERERS is on one of the early drafts, and it will be December before my editors see it. At this stage, I am my own editor, and I'd like to think that I've written enough books by now to be able to spot when something is drastically wrong, and correct it before it has to be pointed out to me.

I'd like to think that, but I suspect my editors will prove me wrong.

This week John read:

BAD BOY DRIVE by Robert Sellers

and listened to:

TAMPER by Jim O Rourke

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Greetings from Maine, where I am currently sequestered in an effort to get some writing done. The word‘sequestered’ is carefully chosen, as I’ve largely cut myself off from human contact: I don’t have an answering machine switched on, and I’m generally ignoring e-mails that don’t come from my editors or my agent with exclamation marks appended to them, and warnings that my contract/home/ life may be in danger if I don’t answer.

I’m working on THE WHISPERERS, the next Parker novel, and trying to make up for the time that I spent writing THE GATES. In a sense, THE GATES was an indulgence: it wasn’t part of a contract, and there was no guarantee that my editors would like it, but it was a book that I desperately wanted to write. Now I’m paying for the time I spent writing it, to some degree. I’ve holed myself up in Maine, and set a target of 10,000 words over the next ten days to add to what is already done, even allowing for the fact that THE LOVERS is due to be published on day seven, with the three days after that devoted to signings.

The curious thing is that, less than three days into my stay here, I have 7000 words written, mainly because I have no routine beyond that which I set myself, and no immediate obligations to other people. It’s selfishness, admittedly, bordering on rudeness, but necessary selfishness, and it brings with it a certain amount of annoyance to other people, particularly friends who might have anticipated some degree of contact. On the other hand, it does mean that when the mood strikes me to write beyond the day’s immediate target, I can do so without a trace of guilt. Ultimately, I need to get some writing done.

Take today, for example. Up in Brunswick, which is about a 30 mile drive from Portland, the Frontier Movie Theater was showing, for one day only, Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN. Now, TORN CURTAIN isn’t a great Hitchcock movie. To be absolutely fair, it’s a bit of a misfire, although it does have one brilliant, excruciating murder scene. No Hitchcock movie is entirely bad and, anyway, how often does one get the chance to see one of his films on the big screen? I was sitting in the parking lot out at the mall, having stocked up on supplies, when I began to think about THE WHISPERERS. I’d written about 1500 words that morning, but I knew where I was going with the plot, and there was a coffee shop across the street that offered bottomless cups of coffee. So, instead of heading out to Brunswick, I sat down in the coffee shop, took out my laptop, and began writing. Admittedly, the coffee shop didn’t make much money from my presence there, but 1500 words eventually became just over 3000, and I didn’t feel guilty as I ate a quiet dinner over a book in a restaurant that night.

A digression: I seem to be having a vintage movie week. In New York last weekend, Robert Vaughn, the last surviving member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, was introducing a screening at Lincoln Center as part of a festival of Steve McQueen movies, and I went along. I sat two rows behind Vaughn, who was gracious and funny in his introduction, and found myself watching his responses to a movie that he claimed not to have seen in many decades. As I did so, I wondered at how it must feel to be watching the ghosts of these men that he had known flicker upon the screen. There was McQueen, stealing the movie by constantly performing bits of business whenever the camera was on him, even at the risk of upstaging and antagonizing its nominal star, Yul Brynner. Rarely can a movie have provided so many stars of the future–McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Vaughn–with such iconic roles. Even Brad Dexter, the forgotten member (ask any pub quiz team to name the original Seven, and Dexter is the one with whom its members will generally struggle), shines, and I felt a particular pang at the sight of Horst Buchholz, brimful of energy and bravado. I thought, too, that I saw Vaughn respond to the sight of the young actor, now, like all the others, gone from this life, yet still with this enduring memorial to him in his prime. The audience applauded when Vaughn’s character, a gunman tormented by the fear of death, eventually overcomes his dread and kicks in the doorway of a makeshift prison cell, gun blazing, to rescue the farmers imprisoned within. There is a unique joy to be gained from the communal experience of watching a classic movie in a theater, surrounded by people who feel nothing but love for the movie and its stars. I imagine that the experience was very moving for Vaughn; he was there not only in his own capacity, but as a representative of those who had gone before him.

Afterwards, I stayed on to watch another McQueen western, NEVADA SMITH, which I had never seen before. While by no means a bad movie, it seemed relatively minor after THE MAGINFICENT SEVEN, grim, and overlong, and one-paced. THE MAGINFICENT SEVEN is brilliant, NEVADA SMITH merely competent.

Such matters have been on my mind recently, for THE NEW DAUGHTER, the first movies to be made from my work, is nearing completion. Last week, John Travis, the movie’s very talented screenwriter, saw it for the first time in a small screening room, or at least saw 98 per cent of it, as the last fine-tuning is still being done.

John, who is a harsh judge of his own work, emerged hugely enthused. I’m sure that he won’t mind some of his comments being reproduced here:

It's an adult, very well acted and directed, beautifully shot movie with a real sense of dread the whole way through, well. In fact, it's almost a little Spanish.


maybe it’s like David Cronenberg directed it. It's kind of like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but with monsters instead mobsters...

I’m relieved, to be honest. I wanted it to be good, not only for my sake but for the sake of the people I met on the set of the film, all of whom were kind and talented and deeply committed to the work in hand. Furthermore, the film seems to be a throwback to an earlier era of movie-making, as it has been made without recourse to CGI. Instead it relies on make-up, and actors, and the use of light and shade. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

In the meantime, there’s THE WHISPERERS. Next Tuesday, June 2nd, THE LOVERS is published in the US. I have one TV interview to record this week, and then I leave Portland on a research trip. With luck, I will have the bones of THE WHISPERERS in place when I get back to the city.

Mind you, it still would have been nice to have seen TORN CURTAIN on a big screen...

This week John read

The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith
Men of Men by Wilbur Smith
Hundred Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker

and listened to

Vecatimest by Grizzly Bear
Manners by Passion Pit
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

Just a reminder that I'll be signing copies of THE LOVERS at The Great Lost Bear, Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine, from 7pm on Tuesday, June 2nd, the day of publication. Every book bought on the night will receive a special limited edition t-shirt, and will be specially stamped. Advance orders will also receive a t-shirt, as long as stocks last, and a stamp on the book. Further details are available from Books Etc at, or 1-207-781-3784. And check out more tour dates here.

Monday, April 20, 2009


It’s a curious thing, but when it comes to writing books I seem to have no long-term memory. I don’t mean that I can’t remember what I wrote yesterday, or that I have trouble keeping track of what I’m working on (although if you asked me where I was at, say, 3pm last Thursday, then I might struggle to tell you. I’m a shoo-in for having a crime pinned on me at some point, simply because I won’t be able to offer a convincing alibi unless I can hold on to all of my bus tickets, movie stubs, and coffee receipts and produce them as evidence of my movements.)

No, it’s rather that, having written twelve books now, I’d expected the process of starting a new one to become a little easier. I’d know that a certain pattern emerges at the beginning: a good run at the prologue, and maybe the first chapter, then a certain confusion as I try to maintain my momentum over the chapters that follow. There would be a certain lack of confidence in the worthiness of the idea, and my ability to carry it through to a conclusion over 100,000 words or more. Eventually, I’d have a draft done, and then I could begin revising, honing, finishing.

Having written all of that down, it may seem like I have a handle on what I’m doing, but even after expressing it in those relatively clear terms, there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. It’s as though the earlier books were flukes, somehow, works that were completed and published despite my best efforts rather than because of them. This new book will be my undoing. This is the book too far, the one that will expose me for the fraud that I am.

I started THE WHISPERERS earlier this year, while I was in Maine. At the same time, I was working on a new draft of THE GATES, and one book kind of provided a breather from the other. Perhaps, on one level, I didn’t believe anyone would want to publish THE GATES, and I thought that I’d better try to make some progress on the novel that my publishers would want. Well, probably want. Then, as I became more and more intent on making THE GATES as good as it could possibly be, regardless of whether or not it would be published, I had to put THE WHISPERERS aside. This week, at last, I returned to it.

Was progress as slow in the early stages of THE LOVERS, or THE GATES? Did I have these doubts? I suppose so. I can’t really recall. It must have been the same in each case, but I forget all of those difficulties once the draft is done and it becomes clear to me that there is at least something there with which I can work. It may be disjointed, and rough, but it has some form of beginning, middle, and end. There is a plot, even if it may have gaps in it. There are characters, even if some are as yet little more than cyphers. There is some good writing, even if it is outweighed by the bad.

Most of all though, the potential has become the actual: the idea has taken concrete form. From now on, the element of craft kicks in, which may have something of the same pleasure to it as a carpenter feels when the shape of a cabinet emerges from what had previously been a collection of wood, glue and nails. (I sometimes wonder, too, how important the original idea actually is. This thought struck me with renewed force after reading an interview with a famous American writer who farms out his ideas for others to write. It seems to me that there is no shortage of ideas for books; after all, I don’t know how many times each year I’m told that someone has a great idea for a book, if they can only get around to writing it. That’s the thing of it: writers write. The idea, if written down, might only take up a line or two, but what determines the worth of it is the act of taking that idea and expanding upon it. It may be that there is no such thing as a bad idea for a book, just one’s inability to bring it to fruition, for whatever reason…)

In the end, I got about 5000 words of THE WHISPERERS written this week, to add to what I managed to get done in Maine. Yesterday was good, today not so good. I eked out a thousand words, then left myself with a kind of cliffhanger as a character continues to tell his story. I know what’s coming next – or I think I do, which is better than not knowing at all, I suppose - and I’m hoping that writing it will provide me with some momentum when I return to the draft. I tell myself that it’s early days. The book will come. I just need to stick at it.

I only wish that I could remember how I did it last time...

This week John read:

Who Goes There by Nick Griffiths

The English Assassin by Daniel Silva

and listened to:

Sounds of the Universe by Depeche Mode

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My editors, and my agent, have now read THE GATES, and everybody seems very enthusiastic about it, which is a relief. It's always a bit of a risk taking time out from the books that I know will sell in order to write something that no one may be particularly keen on when it's done. It's also a matter of finding the time, or making the time, to pursue such experiments. I've written before about the demands on a writer's time, of which the actual writing of books is only one, and of how I find writing a book a year as much as I can generally manage.

And yet, and yet . . .

Some years ago, probably around the time that I was touring THE KILLING KIND in the United States, I was asked what I planned to do next. I can remember answering that I wanted to write a strange children's book about a small boy who… well, that remains to be seen, or read. At that point, I'd been thinking about the book for a year, but the problem was that I couldn't quite figure out how to write it. I mean, I knew what it was going to be about, but I really had no idea how I was going to make it work.

Then, perhaps three years ago, I made a start on it. I got three chapters in, and abandoned it, because it just wasn't right. I still have two of those chapters, and they're on my desktop as I write. They're entitled "The Singing Rock" and "The Lady Maresin". Neither of them made it into the finished version of THE GATES. In fact, nothing of those original chapters remains in the book that I eventually wrote.

Part of the problem, I think, was magic. I just didn't want to write a book about magic. There were too many books about magic out there already, and magic gives the author an easy 'out'. How was that done? Well, it was magic. Magic is like playing the joker in a card game. It can be anything that you want it to be, but it's kind of a cheat, and it gets irritating very quickly, which is why there's only one joker in a pack of cards.

So I didn't want to use magic, and I couldn't work out how to write the book that I wanted to write, and anyway there were all of these other books to write, and maybe it wasn't an idea that was ever going to come to fruition, just something that might have been. But it just kept nagging at me, because it was such a lovely idea, and I could almost see the boy who would be at the heart of the novel. He was quirky, and eccentric, and he had a small dog on a leash…

And then, early last year, I had a flash of inspiration. I don't get them very often, as I don't think my mind works in quite that way, but when it came it unlocked the book. What's more interesting than magic? Well, I thought, science. Science is interesting. No, strike that: science is fascinating and, what's more, it's real.

Let's be clear on something here: I'm no scientist. I studied physics in school, and passed it, but not with any flying colours, and subsequently no scientific institutions were knocking on my door desperate to recruit me for their secret projects. But the most jaw-droppingly amazing things that I've read about over the last few years have all come out of the realm of science, and the more I've read about it, the more I've come to realise that I know only a fraction of the things that I should know, and want to know, about the nature of the universe, about quantum physics, about how stuff is put together.

After finishing THE LOVERS, I worked flat out on THE GATES. It was a labour of love. I so wanted to write it, and I didn't care if it was going to be picked up or not. Oh, it would have hurt a bit if it had been rejected by my publishers, but I wouldn't have regretted a moment of the time that I spent writing it. I was able to let my imagination run riot, while at the same time retaining a thread of pure science. At times, it felt like a bit of a balancing act, and I've asked the physics department of my old university to check the science to make sure I haven't mangled some very complicated stuff too much, but I hope that the enthusiasm behind it is communicated to those who read it. We'll see.

So THE GATES is a book that combines quantum physics and, well, Satanism, I suppose. It's littered with odd little footnotes, and the occasional drawing. Some of the footnotes are just little nuggets of information about the universe, while others contain pieces of advice, or short essays on, say, the word "the" as it relates to historical figures. Mostly, they're funny, although I hope that they're kind of curious and interesting as well. The kids who've read it have really loved it but, thankfully, so too have the adults. If THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS was a children's book for adults, then THE GATES is, in a way, an adult book for children. It will probably appear everywhere in time for Halloween.

Now you know, sort of. More to come over the next few weeks and months. As for me, it's back to THE WHISPERERS.

This week John read

Nice To See It, To See It, Nice: The 1970s in Front of the Telly by Brian Viner
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

and listened to

Fever Ray by Fever Ray (which is just stunning)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I sometimes think that my publishers don't pay me for writing, which I kind of enjoy most of the time, despite what my peers sometimes say, but for all of the other stuff that goes with writing. (And if you're wondering what that means, the rather good Irish novelist Colm Toibin recently opined that the only pleasant thing about writing was the money, which was a bit unfortunate and did him no favours at all . . .)

Anyway, this week was a period of copy-edits and proof reading for THE LOVERS, both of which are horrible things to have to do, although checking copy-edits rather shades it in the horrible stakes. Basically, the copy-edit is the stage that follows editorial suggestions. Someone has gone through the manuscript very carefully, checking punctuation, grammar, and looking out for inconsistencies in the narrative. It's a job that requires terrifying degrees of knowledge and concentration, and also, I think, requires one to be fairly anal. Basically, it's the equivalent of those times in school when your teacher sat you down and went through your homework with a red pen. It's awful.

Proof pages, meanwhile, are what the author receives once the book has been typeset. It's a last chance to check for errors, but also requires the author to go through the proofs, line by line, looking for misplaced commas, absent periods, and the odd word that has just been mangled somewhere along the way. It's tedious, and you can only do a chapter or two at a time before you need to give it a break, as otherwise you start skimming.

The whole process was complicated to a head-wrecking degree this week because the British publisher's copy-edits, and the American publisher's page proofs, arrived at the same time, with the same delivery date. Now, I'd already done the American copy-edit in Maine, and I'd photocopied the manuscript so that I would have a record of the changes I, and the copy-editor, had made in order to apply them to the British version. (I've noticed over the last decade that having two copy-editors is a mixed blessing: each one spots errors that the other one missed, but the result is that I have to juggle manuscripts, and publishing schedules, in order to make sure that the same changes are made to both editions, which is difficult at times.) So, using my dining table (as my desk wasn't big enough), I had the photocopied American copy-edited manuscript in one corner, the British copy-edited manuscript in another, and the American proof pages in a third.

Then, to further muddy the waters, I had an early copy of the manuscript that had been marked by Peter English, the very helpful, patient, and tolerant ex-NYPD cop who has been advising me on police matters for THE LOVERS, so that ended up in the final corner. I think you can see where I'm going with this...

The US copy-edits needed to be added to the British copy-edit. The British copy-edit needed to be added to the US proofs. Peter's changes needed to be added to both editions. Changes made to the US proofs needed to be added to the British copy-edit.

The word you're looking for is "Ouch!"

Meanwhile, I discovered that a major character in THE LOVERS shared a surname with a recurring character from the series, so that had to be altered. Since it was all on paper rather than on a screen, the only way to do it was to carefully hunt down each reference to the new character, and alter the name by hand on two separate editions. Alongside all of that, I did a final rewrite of THE GATES, and sent it off to my agent and editors, which provided a welcome break from agonizing over THE LOVERS. My agent liked it, so now it remains to be seen if my editors want to publish it.

To be honest, my head still hurts a bit, but it's all done. Tomorrow, I'll get back to writing THE WHISPERERS.

And do you feel sorry for me?

Sigh. I didn't think so...

This week John read

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

and listened to

The Best of Laura Nyro by Laura Nyro

Zidane (Original Soundtrack) by Mogwai

Friday Night Lights (Original Soundtrack) by Explosions In The Sky

The Falcon And The Snowman (Original Soundtrack) by Pat Metheny

Thursday, February 05, 2009


This week, we concluded filming on the documentary. It's been a pleasure, I have to say. I was probably more than a little cautious at the beginning, but the crew and the producer couldn't have been kinder - or better company - and, in the end, I appreciated the opportunity to explain myself and what I've been doing for the past ten years or so. In addition, Maine came up trumps, and everyone and everything (including the weather) smiled upon us, including the various law enforcement agencies, and the people who agreed to let us film in their bars and restaurants and houses.

Still, when I returned to Maine from Washington yesterday I was grateful to be able to resume writing. I was intent upon finishing THE GATES, the odd little book upon which I've been working since last year (and about which, in truth, I've been thinking since the second or third book), and so I sat down this morning and didn't move from my desk until the draft was done. By the time I sat back in my chair, the light had changed and I had almost 4000 words written. I still don't know if anyone will want to publish it, but I've enjoyed every minute of working on it, and it has made me smile.

As a reward, I went to see GRAN TORINO, the new Clint Eastwood movie, and, once I'd managed to get over what felt like Clint's early mugging for the cameras, I enjoyed it a lot. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the action I found myself thinking about the next book. It's something that I discussed with the documentary crew: how, at various points in a book, it becomes impossible to concentrate properly on anything other than the novel in hand.

For months, I've been trying to figure out how to start the next Charlie Parker book. I think I know what the catalyst will be, but I've been struggling to find my way into it. As I sat watching GRAN TORINO, I realised out how the novel should begin. Actually, I was working it out as I walked down to the movie theatre in Portland, but it came together as I sat in the dark, watching Clint utter racial epithets about his new Asian neighbours. What I was watching had no connection with what I intended to write, but there was something about sitting in the darkness, watching the film unfold while my mind sought to accommodate what it had been considering earlier with what it was now confronting, that brought everything together, and I knew how the next book should begin.

Actually, I've been a bit distracted of late, and not just because of the documentary. THE REAPERS came out in paperback in the UK recently. This was its first full week on sale, and I wanted it to do well. I was worried that it wouldn't make the top 10 list, mainly I was trying to finish one book and start another, and my confidence was in need of a boost. I probably made life very difficult for my beloved agent as a result, but I think he understood that it wasn't simply a matter of sales but of giving me the impetus that I needed to keep going at a moment of transition between two very different projects. Thankfully, the book seems to be doing okay, and I can almost feel some of the tension easing from my body. After all, if it hadn't been doing well, then what business did I have working on something that might never appear in print? Shouldn't I have been trying to get my career back on track? And what would be the point, if the mysteries weren't being read? The same thing happens twice every year: the first time when the last paperback appears, and the second time when the new novel is published in hardback. Perhaps, after a decade of publishing, such matters shouldn't concern me, but they do. I want my books to do well so that I can keep writing them and, in truth, so I can buy a little leverage to pursue odd experiments like NOCTURNES, THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, and THE GATES.

Something did put a smile on my face yesterday, though. I was browsing in the wonderful Bullmoose music store in Portland, and saw a CD by a band named The Loups. Hmmm, I thought, that's a good name for a band, perhaps because it reminded me of the villainous wolf hybrids in THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS.

Then I saw that the band's EP was called Holding Hands with the Crooked Man, and wondered if it might possibly have anything to do with my book. Via MySpace, I sent a polite email to the band, asking just that question, and got a very lovely email back from the band's lead singer enthusing about my work. It was just a nice piece of snyergy, and now I'm the proud possessor of the EP, the first inspired, however peripherally, by something that I wrote. Even better, The Loups are a local Portland band so, with luck, I'll get to see them live before I head back to Dublin.

Now, I must finish re-reading HAWKSMOOR for the book club.

Tomorrow, I begin the new book. I think it will be called THE WHISPERERS...

This week John read

Twelve by Jasper Kent
School Days by Robert B Parker

and listened to

Temple of Low Men by Crowded House
Blood Bank by Bon Iver
The Beatles by The Beatles

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I have been very remiss about this blog lately, even by my fairly lax standards. There are good reasons, though (he says, vainly flicking through a large book marked ‘Excuses’).

To begin with, I’ve been filming a documentary entitled THE HONEYCOMB WORLD, which was commissioned by RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, and will be broadcast early next year. Well, I say filming, but I largely sit around talking about myself while other people film me, so I’m not sure if I qualify for the verb ‘filming’. Next week it all gets a bit busier, though, as the crew and I head over to Maine to do a week there. Cue pictures of me looking thoughtful, or perhaps just trying to remember what my feet feel like, as it’s rather chilly in Maine at the moment.

At the same time, having finished the fairly minor edits for THE LOVERS, I’ve returned to an odd book that I’ve been humming and hawing over for quite some time. Basically, I set aside three months to get it finished, with the intention of having it done by the end of February. It may never see the light of day but, if it does, it’s likely to appear between THE LOVERS and the next Parker novel, which is due in the middle of 2010.

That urge to experiment, to try new things that may fail, is one that’s becoming increasingly difficult to indulge as time goes on. The will is there, but the time simply is not. By taking a few months to work on this book, I’ve set back the next Parker book by a similar amount of time, and I expect that I will be looking for a certain degree of indulgence from my editors when it comes to delivery dates later this year.

Nevertheless, it was important to me to work on this project. There was no way that I could start work on the next Parker book immediately after finishing the last one. I just didn’t want to, and I was finding it impossible to keep ideas for it straight in my head. At the same time, I didn’t want to not write. Time is too valuable, and there are all sorts of ideas that I’d dearly love to pursue. I’d feel guilty just sitting around, waiting for some set date to approach on which I’d promised myself I’d return to Parker, so instead it seemed appropriate to start something else.

The first result of this is that I have a clear head of sorts, and I’m about ready to start on the next mystery novel. The second result, and the bad news, is that I’ve had a near constant headache for three months, mainly because the focus on this other book has been so intense that it’s taken a bit of a toll, I think. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed doing it, and even if it never appears in print the pleasure of it has been enough, but I seem always to be aware of a ticking clock somewhere in the background; or rather, a series of ticking clocks, each set to a different time, as the various demands and requests pile up.

There are invitations to festivals, some of them so far in the future that I’ll be able to travel to them by teleportation, or in a rocket ship, but I have to make a decision on my attendance NOW!; there are publishers looking for publicity tours, sometimes in different countries at the same time, so that along with teleportation I’m starting to take an avid interest in cloning; I promised to write an introduction for a book of short stories, and then found that the subject matter required something close to a thesis, which made my head hurt more; three requests for contributions to short story collections have come in already this year, even though I don’t really write many short stories, and anyway I’m already semi-committed to delivering a story to a collection by March, even if I haven’t written it yet; I’ve promised to write an essay for a book on Irish crime fiction, and I haven’t written that yet either; someone sends me an interview to be done by e-mail, with over 50 questions (e-mail interviews are one of the reasons that I curse the Internet, because essentially, if I agree to do one, I end up writing it myself; as a journalist, I tend to avoid them like a plague, as they’re an unfair imposition on the person being interviewed), yet he’s a nice guy, and I know I’ll end up doing up, but 50 questions is a lot; I have three books on quantum physics that I’m trying to read (don’t ask), and quantum physics is guaranteed to make my head hurt even more than it does already because of the odd book, and the thesis-type introduction . . .

And it’s still only January!

Then there’s the small matter of starting the next Parker book, which I’d rather like to do. For the first time, I’m very much inclined to take a year away from all of the ancillary stuff, and just write. After all, that’s what I’m supposed to be, isn’t it? A writer. And writers write. If there comes a point when the extraneous, associated things are taking too much of a toll on writing time, then that’s probably the point at which the writer needs to sit down and figure out some alternative arrangements. But the business of being a published writer has changed so much in the past decade that, increasingly, writing is only part of the job description, and the challenge is to find a way to keep all of these sometimes conflicting demands in, if not a perfect balance, then an imperfect balance that constantly threatens to fall apart around your ears but somehow does not.

Oh well. Even in the midst of all of this, I still occasionally take a moment and think, well, there’s nothing else that you’ve ever wanted to do more than be a writer, and you’re very fortunate to be doing it at all. And so, given the day that is in it as I write, with Barack Obama trying on various ties in order to pick just the right one for the occasion, it’s worth recalling, once again, James Thurber’s wonderful observation:

"There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunnelling into a bank, or being President of the United States. I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on."

Now, it’s back to work for me . . .

This week John read

A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva
The Damned United by David Peace
All The Dead Voices by Declan Hughes

and listened to

To Lose My Life by White Lies
Rocking Horse by Kelli Ali
Laughing Stock by Talk Talk