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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Resisting the Murder and Mayhem

I was thinking about the writing process, well what else is a person to do? Anyway I was berating my slow method. I am very disciplined at first drafts. Day after day churning out the pages. And it’s quite solid really in terms of a first draft. The difficulty with rewriting is the distance necessary. You get so close to it, you can’t see the woods for the trees. So it takes a while for all the rewrites to happen. My ‘follow-up’ to The Eskimo in the Net is currently sitting ‘finished’ on my desk while I have just completed a first draft of a new novel. I still need time for the ‘follow-up’. Not sure if it is really finished or not.

The Eskimo in the Net came out in 2003. My publisher had a theory how it would be good to get another book out within a year and then maybe wait a few years for the next. Well here we are three years later and not a finished copy in sight.

I notice other writers I know who published around the same time and have their quota on the boil. I thought I worked hard, but I was beginning to wonder if really I was just not getting down to it. You get a bit panicky. The world is passing you by.

But somewhere within I know this is just an ego thing - publishers, marketing, sales. And so when my Dad sent me a clipping from the Sunday Independent in their Bookworm section I was heartened to read how Eamon Sweeney (the next big thing in Irish literature and a fine writer to boot) withdrew his third novel from his agent because he had “written it for the wrong reason.” He found himself thinking of his advance, his profile, the publishing world’s demands. He says when he started out writing it “had been its own reward” and he “needed to get back to that place.” Good on you Eamon.

And good on Catherine Bush who recently, despite being short listed for the Trillium award for her novel, substantially rewrote the paperback version because she felt rushed to finish the hardback draft.

Also from the clipping, the Observer’s literary editor Robert McCrum wondered if the serious novel had lost its way amongst the demands of marketing and publishing. “In 2006,” he wrote, “the novelist has become a cross between a commercial traveller and an itinerant preacher.”
I couldn’t agree more. For years a number of top publishers looked at The Eskimo (which is a sort of existential literary mystery) and wanted more action - murder and mayhem. I resisted, and I believe I was vindicated. I’ll bide my time, write the books I want to write because I believe they will produce the best works of literature and not get too caught up in the celebrity nature of the business.

There are already far too many books out there, and most of them are unfinished.

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