Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BUSY DOING NOTHING . . . ISH

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

12 comments:

Emily Cross said...

May i ask was 'the book of lost things' a similar 'break'book? if so, i hope that this story does see the light of day! I love the parker series but by far 'lost things' is my favourite of your novels!

So IMO, experimentation = V. good.

Helen said...

I am re-reading all the Parker novels in preperation for when the Lovers is published and am really looking forward to it. Your "break book" sounds intriguing and I do hope it gets to see the light of day.

Reader said...

John,
Are you aware that you are mentioned (kindly) in a mystery/novel entitled "Vampyres of Hollywood"? (pg. 134)

normski-beat said...

Glad you're back on the blog, and late festive greetings to you. You do realise that having mentioned your 'odd' book, you'll HAVE to publish now or you'll forever be asked about it? Just bought The Reapers in paperback, that'll be my social life gone...

Edel said...

Ever wondered why so many writers become reclusive? I think it's the publicity tours that do it.

Dana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

I don't know if I'll ever follow on directly from The Book of Lost Things: it was pretty much self-contained, and ended as it should end, I think. I'd like to return to those general themes, perhaps, but I'm just not quite sure when, or how, as yet.

ksuicide said...

I'm glad to see you are still alive and kicking.

I still have those pictures for you by the McMurdo base sign. I'm not really happy with them, but then, I'm not a professional photographer. *shrug*

~cheers
K

John said...

Send them on! We really need to set up a proper gallery on this website. I'll get our wonderful webmaven to look into it. In the meantime, please send on the pics to madeira@xuni.com.

ksuicide said...

Will do. I will get them off to her tonight.

~cheers

Josephine Damian said...

You do know you have the right to say NO! to all these superfluous requests?

Yaho said...

John,
I'm a little behind reading your blog and just finished reading the January one. Seeing as you're so busy (even more than I imagined), I feel bad now about that 50- question interview I sent you (although I'm very happy about your answers and it was sort of a necessary evil with so many books to cover).
I would have prefered a live (in person or on the phone) interview, but thought it would be much simpler and easier for you by email. Other writers seem to prefer it as it is not easy to fit a phone or in-person interview in their schedule.
You were very kind to do it and I appreciate a lot.
Next time, let's do it in Maine or Massachusetts or Canada! And the beer(s) is(are) on me!
Gratefully,
Jacques