I’m getting old. For the first time ever, I’ve seen the year of my birth (1976) next to an author’s name on the jacket of a book. Normally, they’re either much younger (22, 25) or they’re just a year or two older (for example, Zadie Smith, 1975).
That’s it, I’m old now. It is now officially too late to be labelled a ‘young writer’.
I still remember my grandmother telling me that I really should try to have a novel completed in my early twenties as it’s so uncommon and it would just be so good for marketing purposes, and just so good for my own CV (and pride). I tried, I tried, God knows I tried, but the only novel I finished was a children’s novel, and I was already 26. And it was no way near being ready for an agent or a publisher to even glance at it. And it still isn’t.
On Thursday last week, I went to WH Smith in Oxford and spent part of the money that was on the gift card I got for my 30th birthday last month from my in-laws. I went for something completely different: a novel written by a guy, Jon McGregor, called So Many Ways to Begin. I fancied a man’s point of view this time. He writes very well and is very good at creating atmosphere, with sounds, smells and the small things that his characters do. His first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, was apparently very well received and he won the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award. I’ll let you discover So Many Ways to Begin (I haven’t read his first novel), but the other thing about Jon McGregor is that he now lives in... Nottingham! Where I spent my first four years ‘chez les Rosbifs’! There must be a hidden link. Maybe one day I’ll find out what that is.
My point is this: whenever I see or read a book written by somebody who’s around my age, I get all competitive and think ‘I can do it too! In fact, I AM going to do it!’ Either that or I get very depressed and think ‘I started this story/novel a year ago and look, I’ve only written ten pages’ (or two, or just a few ideas). But still, somehow, it gives me renewed impetus to carry on writing.
I got this feeling the other day when I read Petite Anglaise’s post (on 21 November – see link on right-hand side) about her (potential) new den in Paris that will help her carry on writing her memoir about her life in my birth place. It gave me the kick in the bum that I needed – I was all inspired again. ‘Stop wasting time, just do it now! Today, tomorrow, and every single day after that! Just WRITE!!!’ So Petite, if you read this one day, thank you and good luck with your memoir. I can’t wait to read it as I’m sure it will be as good as your blog, if not better.
One of the things that I have to come to terms with is the fact that no matter how much I love reading novels and thinking up ideas for my own and starting what will be ‘great novels’ in my wildest dreams, I probably will never be a novelist. No matter how much I would love to say ‘I’m a novelist’ some time in the near future, it probably won’t happen (I have to write ‘probably’ – never say never, as they say). I may be able to say ‘I’m a writer’. But if one can only be considered a writer if they are published, then even that is less than certain. (Julia Cameron, for one, disagrees totally with this idea, but even if I told Petite in one of my comments that ‘Of COURSE you are a writer’ even if her memoir hasn’t been published yet [but it will, she has a contract!], somehow I can’t apply the same principle to my own situation – I WRITE, but I’m not a WRITER.) ‘I’m a writer.’ That would be good enough for me, I suppose, but there is something even more mysterious about ‘being a novelist’.
I read today in my writing magazine (Mslexia – a wonderful magazine for female writers of all ages) a very good piece of advice: think of your novel in little scenes, and just write those scenes as they come to you. Don’t think about ‘the whole novel that I have to write’ – only think about these snippets of dialogues and those little ‘happenings’. This advice might help me with my current novel (three pages!). (Yes, I’m still going to try, and probably all my life! Just because I love novels too much and because I love coming up with ideas, sentences, character profiles, similes, non-cliché images. I have been writing stories since I was 8 years old after all – you can’t stop me now I’m 30! I will just carry on till I die, whether I get published or not.)
Still, on Saturday morning, I got up at 6.45 (I was wide awake) and I wrote for five hours non-stop. I think this might have happened once in my life – but only once: when I was writing the final chapter of my children’s novel. I was inspired and it just had to be finished that day, I had decided. I think I wrote for seven hours, in fact. But these five hours on Saturday were not devoted to my novel, as I would have liked them to be. They were spent revising many pages of the self-help book that I’ve been writing for nearly two years, adding more pages to it, and reviewing the proposal that I started putting together a few months ago. It felt good – really good.
But it wasn’t a novel, and I am 30 and getting too old to be a ‘young, fresh talent’.