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). 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, but when it comes to writing fiction that doesn’t matter because I am in no rush. I find it very hard to decide exactly what I want to say and how to express it. I proceed laboriously: cutting, pasting and tinkering. Everything is provisional. Almost every word gets changed. Often, after a faux pas, it gets changed back. I cannot be the only person who works like that, but I am sure many writers do not, otherwise they would not be able to achieve what they do. Practice makes perfect.

You could carry on for years and finish by crossing it all out

I started writing, making it up as I went along – surely not the way a novelist should go about his profession? As usual, I was doing it all wrong. I can’t draw or paint for toffee, but I know people who are really good. I know several people who are consummate 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. I recognise talent when I see it.

Ragno nero or black spider?

It is a little bit annoying when someone you know seems to be able to do, quite easily, something you find impossible ( I said “seems to”). I don’t subscribe to the view that you can achieve anything if you want it enough.. It’s a stirring message if you are a schoolteacher, trying to inspire young minds… but does anyone really believe it? You hear it peddled by people basking in their fame and good fortune.

When should you face up to the fact that you can’t do it, pack it in, and move on? And admit that what you were once quite proud of is – at best – mediocre. Is it acceptable to shrug your shoulders and say, “I know it’s not great, but at least I had a go?”

It’s not all about winning

Or is it? Yes, 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 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 bit harder. But I can’t say I am motivated by a desire to prove everyone wrong. No-one else cares, and why should they?

Anyway, I digress. As soon as I started writing I knew it was going to turn into a comic piece. Perhaps that is my natural style. Perhaps I really am shallow, as someone memorably once said of me. The protagonist is sarcastically known to some as “The Scholar”. As for the Black Spider”… you’ll have to read on to find out, he said archly.

Writing a longish narrative piece took me almost a year, off and on. Where do our ideas come from and how do they develop and join up?. A lot seemed to be going on while I was asleep, or half-asleep. I eventually managed to put together nearly 40,000 words of tongue-in-cheek “black humour”. And here it is.

For the avoidance of doubt: the protagonist, Maxwell, isn’t anything like me. I mean to say, he went to Cambridge and lives in Stockwell, and he’s by no means a model citizen.

There are a lot of other things in the world worth trying. Maybe I should get out the Winsor and Newtons and try my hand at painting after all.

2 thoughts on “The Scholar & The Black Spider

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