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


Minerva Koenig said...

Nice to read an unquestionably published author struggling with the same stuff I do.

TomH said...

Talent and craft aside, I can appreciate the insecurity involved. Were it not for that, the art of accomplishing might fall to the wayside. Speaking from the vantage point of auto mechanic and carpenter I can safely state the building of anything of value is begun by the first hammering of a nail or turning of a bolt... and then the problems begin.

Please don't ever take anything for granted. Because then the whole of it will suffer.

Sean Black said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean Black said...

I only worry when there's not that anxiety. It's a bit like the story about the party full of writers. They're all bemoaning their fate. How slowly their new book is going. What a struggle it is. How they feel such frauds.

Then there is one cheery soul in the corner who can't relate to any of this. Every day is a good day. He doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

Invariably, that person is the worst writer in the room.

There are days when, for whatever reason, you sit at your desk, and it just isn't happening. But the days when it's going well, and to quote Mailer, 'you know more about life and your characters than you thought you did.' Those days are pretty damn good.

exmearden said...

I'm gratified you read Daniel Silva - my other current favorite suspense author (next to yourself).

As I write, I write blocks which might be considered chapters. It is the bridge between I have difficulty with.

I noticed in The Reapers that you somehow trailed off on the Burning Man imagery towards the latter third of the book. I've been curious about that, and if it was a thread you somewhat abandoned because nothing more developed as imagery for you. Perhaps it's been too long a time since you wrote the novel to remember.

Thank you so much for your very fine, lyrical writing.

Eamon said...

Hi John,
Thrilled to know that you like (or at least listen to!)Depeche Mode. I'll be going to DM in Dublin in December. I'll be one of the dots among the other thousands!

Anonymous said...

Slogging through a close-to-final draft of my 24th (as yet unpublished) novel, I'm relieved to learn that even an author as well-read as yourself still experiences those insecurities that we beginning authors seem to go through every day. And I'd laugh in commiseration if your novels weren't the best damned books in the market!

The Reader said...

Good Evening Mr. Connolly

I have been a long time follower of your books and recently your blog as well. I was wondering if it were possible that I could get to do an email interview with you for

I tried to register on your forum but my request hasn't been accepted as of yet. I hope you do consider my request Sir, looking forward to hearing from you soon.


SoniaC said...

Oh Depeche Mode, John I admired you before, but listening to DM has elevated you even more. Looking forward to seeing you in Nottingham and reading the new book.

Paul Smith said...

You can always utilize if: something went wrong with your writing or you don't know how to complete your research article! The same situation is with all academic students!