Tomorrow, I’ll receive a parcel in the post. It will contain the proof copy of a book that I’ve written. This is the second book I’ve written but I’m no less excited by the whole process. I think that, even if this was the hundredth book I’d written I’d still be equally excited. This latest one has been a difficult write. I thought I’d have a go at doing a sort of psychological, mystery, whodunnit, thriller thing. I really like the result but it was a hard slog getting there.
The thing is… when you can’t reveal who the killer is until the end, it makes it really hard to build suspense. Alfred Hitchcock used to say something about how suspense is gained by giving the audience privileged information which is unknown to the characters in the film (e.g. there’s a bomb under the seat on a bus but no-one knows it’s there). With a mystery it’s the opposite; the audience (reader) is denied information and left to figure it out herself. This makes it much more difficult to build suspense because the reader can’t be allowed to know that a character is, for example, unknowingly getting into bed with a killer. The reader thinks the character might be getting in bed with a killer but the suspense is half of what it would be if the reader knows beyond doubt that the character is getting in bed with a killer.
I’ve been going through suspense of my own over this book. There’s been re-write after re-write, delay after delay. So when the parcel arrives tomorrow I’ll be like a kid at Christmas. It’s taken me three years to write this book (my last one came out in 2010). The amount of money I made from Ghost Road was pretty small. I have a day job, of course, as most writers do. I work in mental health and that keeps me busy nine to five, five days a week. I’m a qualified social worker but don’t work as one. To do that would mean longer hours, bigger responsibility, less chance to write. John Fowles said that you could be a teacher and a writer but you can’t be a good teacher a writer. Instead of being a social worker, I work on a mental health outreach team; a bit like social work lite, I suppose. It suits me. I also have family commitments and other stuff going on which means that I only really get one night a week which is properly devoted to writing (granted, I make notes and do a lot of ‘head work’ throughout the week). I can’t remember the final word count for the new book but I know that it’s not far short of 500 pages. Writing one night a week, it’s a hard slog to get a complete novel done. So why bother? A book makes a modest amount of money, it’s hard work, it takes a massive amount of time…. why the hell bother? What’s the point?
Because I love it, that’s the point. It’s really good fun to write. I’ve heard some writers say how every word is agony; I don’t feel that way. I love every minute of the time I’m writing. It feels exactly the same as when I played with Action Man or Star Wars figures as a kid; I’m creating a universe and controlling everything that happens in that universe. It takes me out of a world where it can feel like I have very little control or power into a world in which I am God! Maybe there’s a touch of the megalomaniac in writers.
Tomorrow, though, I won’t be a megalomaniac. Tomorrow, I’m a kid at Christmas.