I’m more than three quarters of the way through the first draft of my next novel, Roundabouts. If someone gave me the option of tossing it into the nearest rubbish bin and starting again I’d jump at the chance. After sixty five plus readings from Malcolm Orange Disappears I’ve become very fond of my first novel. This next book is a different fish and, right now, like a terribly bad mother, I’m struggling to find any love for my second born. The characters are still fresh and a little awkward to me, the stories not quite as familiar as the flying children and the weight of it is hanging over me like a two ton sandbag waiting to descend upon me every time I give myself a day off.
I remember struggling with these same feelings at roughly the same point last time round. I had three chapters left in which to draw together a swirling spaghetti pot of plot lines and no clear notion how this could be done. I had no idea if what I was writing was any good or not and a horrible suspicion that I’d have to content myself with the fact that the book on my lap top screen was never going to be as good as the book in my head. To extend the bad mother metaphor a little further, birthing the bloody thing had almost killed me and yet, with edits and rewrites and all the circus which goes alongside promoting a new novel, I fully understood that the exhausting part of bringing a book into the world had barely begun. Back then I had no time limits and I took full advantage of this, stretching the writing process out over some three and a half years. There were days I wrote like a runaway train from morning ‘til late evening and whole months when I never went near the manuscript.
This time round I’m wrestling with all the same fears and foibles but I’m also writing to something of a deadline. With travel and the unexpected demands of promoting Malcolm Orange Disappears, it seems unlikely that I’ll have a first draft ready for my initial target of November 1st. January 1st 2015 is now seeming like a much more realistic time frame. This will give me a couple of extra months to write the last two chapters, slip in the factual sections based on the Bob Dylan research I’ve been carrying out in the US and allow me the luxury of actually being able to sleep at some point between now and Christmas.
Tomorrow I’m leaving DC and I’m off to lock myself in a hotel in Baltimore for three days. I know virtually no one in Baltimore and have no plans for my time there. This is completely intentional. I fully intend to find a quiet corner in a nice bar, look at the sea, put some Bob on my headphones and focus on getting chapters thirteen and fourteen written before I head back to the day job at the beginning of November. I may well be MIA again for the next few months when I return to Belfast. I don’t want this draft to drag into the New Year. I’m slowly realising that novel writing is not so far removed from bricklaying. It’s equal parts craft, imagination and sheer hard graft; a long, slow commitment to that final full stop.