I am blocked.
Like a hat in a Woody Allen short story. Like an artery. Like a sinus. Like a pervert on Twitter.
I figure maybe writing this will help.
At the beginning of September, I finished the first draft of a novel. It took me eight years to finish, on and off, with a break of about six years and a complete rewrite over the past eight months, in between extended bouts of sub-editing.
I don’t yet know whether it will be published or not, but I have a very nice agent who has been good enough to read it and who thinks we can sell it. The novel is about 320 pages long.
It’s about two estranged brothers getting to know one another, but more generally about families, the secrets they keep and the lies that they tell. It is set in Bologna, Lipari and Tulse Hill. When I first started writing it – in 2002 in Bologna – my goal was to write something that would make me feel better than the last unpublished novel I’d written, which lost me a couple of friends. I say friends….
I read Tropic of Cancer when I was 22 and had just moved to London. It killed me. That’s what I want to do! I thought. I want to move to a European city, get drunk every night and have sex with prostitutes. I want to talk about art, freeload off my foreign friends and write poignant, obscene poetry about the beauty of human degradation.
When I was 32 I moved to Italy. After four days in Milan, which I found unwelcoming and dour, I moved to Bologna. An Italian student in London had told me that Bologna was Italy’s least square city, so I always had it in mind if Milan didn’t work out.
I loved Bologna. I stayed there for four years and have never felt happier in any other place. It was vigorous and sexy and achingly beautiful. There were prostitutes too. Lots of them. Sadly – and part of me does feel sad about it – I never got to know any of them. But I did reread Tropic of Cancer and, as a kind of writing exercise, I started to try and write something similar.
It ended up being called Birth Marks and Love Bites, and it was a mess in many, many, many respects. Also, it wasn’t very pleasant. In fact, it was kind of horrible. But fun! There’s a chapter here, the story of a couple, an old lady and a dog. It’s one of the best bits.
I know, I know.
The first person who read it disliked it a lot and told me why. The second person liked it a lot and told me why. A couple of other people read it and said that they’d enjoyed it but I didn’t believe them. And most of the others I showed it to (another five or six people at least) never spoke to me again. Not necessarily because they’d been horribly offended; more probably because they’d read a bit of it, disliked it and not particularly relished the idea of having a conversation about it. Which is entirely fair enough. There’s nothing worse than having to tell a friend or an acquaintance that you think the thing that they’ve created is crap. I’ve been on both ends and it’s extremely awkward either way.
Anyhow, I sent chapters and synopses off to London and got another bunch of rejections and felt very miserable.
It was then that I decided to try and write something commercial. Wilfully so. It would be about ordinary people in increasingly extraordinary situations. There would be thrills, chills and romance. It would have a plot! Imagine.
So that’s what I tried to do.
When I’d finished, I showed it around, and people generally said they liked it, but inevitably no one wanted to publish it. When I read it a few years later, I realised it was mostly crap. So I kept about a quarter of it, and rewrote the rest. And here I am.
About a month ago, the agent read it and was nice enough to print it out and write all over it, so now I know exactly what I must do to finish it properly and prepare to try and sell it. I have to turn twin brothers into one character, and rewrite about five chapters set in the past to make them more realistic. It should be easy, I think, because I know what I have to do, but it’s proving the hardest part so far.
I had all of this week – a week off between subbing gigs – to get through it. Plus I had another week two weeks ago.
I haven’t done it.
I’m very very peeved about this.
So now I’m thinking, I can either beat myself up over it, or go and eat a Jamaican pattie and watch some crap at the cinema. Maybe that will ease the blockage.
Yes. I have made my choice. Bruce Willis, here I come.
Have a good weekend, you.