Until this year, I’d never written anything longer than a few thousand words (apart from my MLitt thesis, and that was more than three decades ago). But I suddenly got the urge to write a story. Its origin was an entirely uneventful trip to an art gallery in Mayfair.
I am a terrible typist. However, when it comes to writing fiction that doesn’t matter too much because I find it very difficult to decide exactly what I want to say and how to express it. (Typing is the least of my problems.) Even then, I will carry on cutting, pasting and tinkering. Everything is provisional. Almost every word gets changed. Often, after a faux pas, it gets changed back.
I made up this short novel or long story as I went along – surely not the way a proper novelist goes about his job? As usual, I am doing it all wrong.
I can’t draw or paint to save my life but I know people who are really good. I have friends who are brilliant songwriters, and I’ve had a go myself – but I don’t have what it takes. A former housemate of mine has won two BAFTAs and an Oscar, so I know talent when I see it. It is a little bit annoying when someone you know seems to be able to do with ease something you find impossible (I said “seems to”), but that is just how it is.
I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that you can achieve anything if you keep plugging away. It’s a stirring call-to-arms if you are a schoolteacher but patently absurd, and often peddled by people who are basking in their own fame and fortune. When should you face up to the fact that you can’t do it, pack it in and move on? Or admit that what you were once quite proud of is – at best – mediocre. Can you happily shrug your shoulders and say, “I know it’s not brilliant, but at least I had a go? It’s not all about winning”.
Or is it? I do think you can be proud of your efforts even if you don’t win a prize… but it is also important what other people think. Because it’s possible that you do possess talent, but not for what you’ve been plugging away at. I believe I can become a better writer, even at 63, and I am prepared to try a little bit harder. But I can’t claim to be motivated by a burning desire to be the best in the world or prove everyone else wrong.
Writing a longish piece was an immersive experience. It took almost a year, off and on. Where do our ideas come from and how do they develop and join up? I haven’t a clue. A lot seemed to be happening while I was asleep or half-asleep. I am not sure if or when I’ll have the energy to write another one. There are a lot of other things in the world worth trying. Maybe I should get out the watercolours after all.
I eventually managed to put together 40,000 words of tongue-in-cheek “humour”. This is an excerpt.
NB For the avoidance of doubt: Maxwell isn’t anything like me (he went to Cambridge and lives in Stockwell, for goodness’ sake, and he’s by no means a model citizen).