You know, eventually you run out of ways to kill characters. You’ve had it up to here with bad guys and their unhappy childhoods. You’re not sure you can stand another hero/heroine examining critically his/her reflection in a shop window/computer screen/mirror. The sex scenes all start to sound the same.
The pressures of writing a novel are not necessarily what non-writers think. It’s not the alcohol, the hours, the loneliness, the recreational drugs that get you. It’s that sudden worry….
Didn’t I write this before?
Learning to write novels should, in theory, be like learning to write a bike. Master the basics, take off the stabilisers and free wheel down the nearest hill, until the time comes to slog up the other side.
And yet the opposite seems true.
Every writer I know is worried he or she won’t be able to do it again next time out. The more books you write the harder it gets. It’s second album syndrome. (Multiplied by the lesser known third, fourth and fifth album syndrome.)
And if you’re staggeringly lucky – and I was – it hits the right desk, at the right time, when the right editor had a slot for that kind of book. All of those are key. Your book being good isn’t enough. The editor has to like that type of book and not already have one like that on her lists.
By the time we hit our second novels most of us know how lucky we got first time round. And we know just how damn hard it is to write a book, rewrite that raw copy, edit the result and send it off.
And by our third books?
We’re worried we’re repeating ourselves. Not realising that’s precisely what most publishers want us to do. This adds complications as we start to think this character reminds me of that one. Didn’t I use that plot device before?
And that takes me back to where I came in.
As a writer you worry you’ll run out of original ways to kill characters. Ideas for novels are ten a penny. Enough plotting software, character schemes, writing aids and how-to books exist to make us all bankrupt if we bought them all. The arrogance of assuming someone will want to read this I take for granted.
The really hard bit about writing is discarding, Didn’t I do this before? And replacing it with, I can do this again.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from novels he writes for magazines and newspapers. He travels extensively and undertakes a certain amount of consulting. Until recently he wrote a monthly review column for the Guardian.
Felaheen, the third of his novels featuring Asraf Bey, a half-Berber detective, won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. So did his last book, End of the World Blues, about a British sniper on the run from Iraq and running an Irish bar in Tokyo. He has just delivered the Fallen Blade, the first of three novels set in an alternate 15th-century Venice
His work is published in French, German, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Turkish, Japanese, Finnish and American, among others.
He is married to the journalist and novelist Sam Baker, currently editor-in-chief of Red magazine. They divide their time between London and Winchester…