My writing journey
151 days ago
Today’s the day. Even though it’s been available online for a few weeks, today is the day that Dead Man Singing is officially published in the UK. As detailed in a previous post about the process of publishing the book, it’s been a long wait – eight and half months since the Book Guild said ‘yes’, more than two year since I started writing the book, and more than 30 years since the Richard Thompson gig that (eventually) inspired the story. But it’s been an even longer journey than that.
As a small child I loved creative writing at school. I would make up bizarre and fantastical stories, usually with a cast of characters consisting chiefly of myself and my friends. I remember starting to write a highly derivative and episodic Roy of the Rovers style football story, probably when I was 11 or 12, but it petered out long before I got near the end. But the idea of writing a book was an ambition of mine even then.
For years, as an adult, I held off writing fiction. I didn’t feel that I knew what I wanted to say, so I didn’t make a start. If I could give that younger me one piece of advice, I’d tell him not to worry about that, just to focus on telling a good story – the meaning of a story comes out in the telling, whether the author intends it or not. I wasted a lot of years when I could have been cultivating my craft. If you want to do it, get on and do it; don’t worry about whether what you do is good enough – it won’t be, at first, but you have to write badly to learn how to write well.
On graduating with an English degree, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I decided to take a couple of years as a Church Youth Worker. Two years turned into nine, and then I moved into a job writing and editing educational websites for a Christian charity called the Damaris Trust. I wasn’t writing fiction, but I was writing and editing for a living, sharpening my skillset.
Where I am now is all my sons’ fault. As I read picture books and, in time, first chapter books with the boys, I was inspired. Some books were so brilliant that I wanted to try for myself; others had a similar result for a different reaso. Billy Bragg says that Spandau Ballet inspired him to take up music in the same way that Margaret Thatcher inspired him to get political; there are books that I read to the boys that are definitely my Spandau Ballet – they made me think, ‘this got published? surely I can do something better!’
Once I started writing, I committed to spending five years trying to get published, before taking stock. Five years later, I was much improved, but still unpublished. Picture books had given way to chapter books, and there was just enough encouragement amongst all the rejections to make me think I had a chance. More importantly, I had rediscovered my love of writing stories. Even if nothing came of it in terms of publishing, I wasn’t just writing for that or for my boys now; I was writing for myself too. I kept going.
The switch to writing for adults came during the 2019 lockdown. A story (not Dead Man Singing – that came a couple of years later) started to take shape in my mind, and I jumped in. To my surprise, I found that I preferred the longer format, giving the storytelling more room to breathe, more room to head in unexpected directions, and more room to layer the story with clues, hints, red herrings and literary slight-of-hand.
So, my five-year target proved a little optimistic – Dead Man Singing was accepted some fifteen years or so after those first picture books were sent off – but I wouldn’t trade the journey for a quicker one, and I’m more than happy with where it has taken me.
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