Until this year, I’d never written anything longer than a few thousand words (apart from my M. Litt. 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 shocking typist. But 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. 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.
You could carry on for years and finish by crossing it all out
I made up this short novel or long story as I went along – surely not the way a novelist should go about his procession? As usual, I was 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, quite easily, something you find impossible (and I said “seems to”) – but that is just the way it is. I 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, for example, but patently absurd, and often peddled by people who are basking in their own fame and good 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 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, you know
Or is it? I do think you can be proud of your efforts even if you don’t win a prize… but it is important what other people think. Because it’s possible that you do have some 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 bit harder. But I can’t say I am motivated by a burning desire to prove everyone else wrong. No-one else cares. Sob.
Writing a longish narrative piece was an immersive experience. It took me 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 going on while I was asleep or half-asleep. I am not sure if or when I’ll find the energy to write another one. There are a lot of other things in the world worth trying. Maybe I should get out the Winsor and Newtons and try a bit of painting.
I eventually managed to put together nearly 40,000 words of tongue-in-cheek “black humour”. And here it is.
NB For the avoidance of doubt: Maxwell isn’t anything like me. I mean, he went to Cambridge and lives in Stockwell, and he’s by no means a model citizen.