Since publishing Comrades Come Rally one of the first questions people ask me is – what made you write it?
It’s a good question, although, an occasionally worrying one, if the person has read it and I think I can detect a tone of critical disbelief. So far though, they have assured me that it isn’t a reprimand, and to be honest, I choose to believe them. But the answer isn’t easy.
It certainly wasn’t from a dream of getting rich by outselling J.K. Rowling and purchasing an island next to Richard Branson’s. I’ll be lucky to get into the three hundreds so J.K can sleep soundly. And I can do likewise, on the impossibility of the latter purchase (it would be hell wouldn’t it – like living beneath Heathrow’s main flight path as wannabes fly to see him, seeking fame, fortune and cheap Virgin space flight tickets to the Moon).
Nor was it from pure ego. I know it used to be called vanity publishing, but strangely, for someone who can spend hours gazing into a mirror to see if that shirt will go with that jacket, it wasn’t for that either. In actual fact, I have found the need to self-promote rather embarrassing (just take my word for it that I am blushing right now). Okay, if thousands of people came up to me and said the book was brilliant and so was I, I could handle that, saying ‘aw shucks’. But having to do it myself is rather…er…tacky.
I have heard some authors say that the story demanded to be told. Well, as the original idea occurred to me twenty odd years ago it wasn’t that clamorous. There have been flower pots which have been more exacting. That said, I did want to write a private eye detective story set in Britain; I did want to set it against a socialist revolution and I did want to reclaim the suit from bankers and politicians. A trio of noble aims you will agree, but they were not knocking inside my head on a daily basis.
Others have said that reading novels and believing that they could do better had been the spur. Well, like anyone else I have read some right duffers. Including it has to be said, some which have won trunk loads of awards. I have just sat there gob smacked, pondering whether the writer was a relative of both the publisher and the literary judges. Or perhaps they just went to the same school. But then there have been many more which have just made me go – shit! That IS bloody good! And slunk off, feeling totally unworthy.
Actually pointing to what made me want to write it is difficult. Like many people (who are often the ones who ask the question this blog began with) I have always wanted to write a book. As a kid I loved writing stories and was at school at a time when creativity and imagination was the premium, which as a teacher myself, I worry is being eroded by a fanatical concern with the technical aspects of language. Children leaving primary school with semi-colons and non-finite verbs, but also feelings that writing is a chore. But for me it was a joy.
So with such a love it was obvious that my first job at 16 was…er…as a mechanical engineering apprentice. Needless to say, I was crap. (Actually, saying I was crap is being far too kind to me – I was positively life threatening on a lathe). I soon left, pompously announcing that I was off to be a man of letters/a journalist/a novelist. Well, I can say that I close to that. I unpacked boxes of novels; I piled up pallets of collected works of journalism and shelved selections of letters. I was no teenage literary wunderkid, but a processor in the goods inwards department of a book wholesaler.
But I always wanted to write. Over the years, ideas came and went, but some started to stay. What was keeping me from writing it was the same as with most people – life, work, housing, relationships etc etc. I started, then stopped. Then started again. It was unfinished business. It was only when my partner pushed me into starting; into thinking, that you get one life and to try and live it with as few regrets as you can, that gave me the impetus I needed. Some people’s dream is to have children, others to climb a mountain or running a marathon. Some might want all three (though probably not at the same time). Mine was to write a book. I should give it a go, otherwise, I could end up reproaching myself for not doing so. What made me write it, was simply so I could say to myself – I did it.
So I made a serious start. And that occasions the next question people ask me– where did you get the ideas from?