Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m truly grateful they’re interested enough to ask. If no-one bothered, I swear I’d slit my wrists. One or two even say they’re waiting with bated breath, for which I’m even more thankful. (We writers live for such rewards.)
But it does feel a bit like emerging from the hospital with my new-born and being asked when I’m having the next. The Imagined Child has only been out a few months. My head is still full of it. My heart still belongs to it alone.
Jim Crace, who was just short-listed for the Man Booker, apparently announced in February that The Harvest would be his last novel, saying: : “Retiring from writing is not to retire from life, [it is] to avoid the inevitable bitterness which a writing career is bound to deliver as its end product, in almost every case.”
I sympathise, really I do. When I’m writing, I’m embroiled in it – sucked into its essence. There are times, usually when it’s going well, that the world around me shrinks and the world of the book feels the more real of the two. I live in it and for it.
Then it comes out. I have been incredibly lucky. I had great launches around the country, attended a number bookfairs, and the book has been received well. There even seems to have been a bit of a buzz around it. Readers and reviewers have been really generous.
But inevitably the noise dies down and you’re left alone again – just you and your book. Ideally, it would be good to have another draft to focus on, but I’m not quite ready to let it go. Of course, I do have The Thing that May Not be Named (the project I regularly live to regret, which starts with a P, ends with a D and has one letter in between). So I do have more than enough on my head at the moment.
In that sense I’m grateful for The Thing. The process of starting a new book would be too emotionally fraught right now. I feel as though I never want to do that to myself again. And yet, I do remember having the same feeling after the last book and … yes, I think I felt it after the previous book too, and…
Perhaps I just need time to recover. To get back into shape and lose the memory of the process. (You know how they say that, if anyone actually remembered giving birth, they’d never do it again?) I also need to work through the inevitable post-natal depression and feel less depleted.
Writing’s not for the faint-hearted. I know from experience that, when I’m writing, I can swing wildly between agonised and euphoric, but when I’m not … I don’t know, at first I feel faintly relieved to be free of all that intensity. But after a while, I feel not quite right. Not quite comfortable in my own skin, as though I’m losing touch with the most important parts of myself.
I wonder whether Jim Crace still feels the way he did in February. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the Booker would certainly represent a fabulous climax to a writing career. But then, there’s nothing that banishes post-publishing blues quite like a great short-listing.
Speaking of which, Allaboutwriting and Love Books have developed a Man Booker tradition over the past few years. Just before the announcement of the winner, Kate organises an uproarious evening, just for the hell of it, which doesn’t try to take itself too seriously.
On a completely spurious basis, Richard and I try to predict the winner – and invite the audience to do the same. We read aloud only the beginning of all six books, and try to analyse how well each of those beginnings captures our imagination and draws us into reading on. There’s always a sweepstake and plenty of wine and laughter. So do join us on October 15.