Quitting writing?

I’m a writer. I’m compelled to write, and I love writing, but I nearly gave it up in 2012. The manic combination of a house renovation, an infant daughter and a stressful job scrambled my brain and body into exhaustion. I was slowly developing a second novel, but had few opportunities to write and only worked late at night with one thousand splinters in my fingers. With a brain like mush, I struggled to weigh the rewards against the mental torture and hours spent away from my wife and daughter. As driven as I am to write, I quietly considered quitting to concentrate on my family, my house and my films.

I was on the verge of abandoning the novel when my old university friend Ali Shaw got in touch. Ali is the amazing, award-winning author of magic realist novels The Girl With Glass Feet and The Man Who Rained. He is represented by Susan Armstrong of the Conville & Walsh literary agency. Sue was looking for new authors, he said – did I have anything I could send over?

I submitted a short story about a WWII fighter pilot. It’s an older story, written in 2010, but it remains one of my favourites. It was published in the second issue of Gutter magazine, and it’s fun to read aloud. I also sent a summary of my second novel, Riptide Heart. Sue called me up a few days later to ask about the novel. At that stage – October 2011, I think – it was about half-done, but Sue’s interest galvanised me into getting it finished. For the next eight months, on the rare occasions I had any sustained time to work, I crammed everything I could into my limited hours. As a result, the novel was written in frantic bursts – 1,000 words in 20 minutes, or 2,000 in an hour. On my last day of writing, I churned through 11,000 words in 14 frazzled hours. I spent another month redrafting, then sent it off.

I was proud of the story, but wasn’t expecting good news in a hurry. When Sue replied a fortnight later, I assumed it would be a rejection. It wasn’t – she loved the novel, and wanted to represent me and my work. This took some time to sink in. Even now, months later, I struggle to believe my luck.

I’ve now finished a second draft of Riptide Heart, and I’m about to start work on the third – which I hope to have completed in time for the 2013 London Book Fair. Sue has a fantastic editorial eye, and her observations have helped immeasurably in shaping my redrafts. Long conversations with writers like Ali and Iain Maloney, and my long-suffering partner Monica Metsers, have all helped too. Writing needs community as well as space. More than anything else, I’ve found I need people to read the project with some distance from the words. Working in such intense sessions means that sometimes I can’t see the wood for trees.

Regardless of what happens with Riptide Heart, this last six months has reminded me of how much I need to write. Like dreaming, writing is one of the ways I decode my world. Affirmation has helped me focus.

I’ve started this blog to record the process of working on Riptide Heart and future novels – I’m already planning the next. I’ll be posting updates about my writing, my films, the occasional book review, and links to things I think are interesting. So there.

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