For anybody in the publishing world - and, strange as it may seem, that does include those at the bottom of the pile, namely the writers - August can be a horrible month. Everybody seems to be away. Silence descends. Nothing seems to happen. No calls or emails are answered, and no decisions are made. If, like me, you're waiting to hear whether your agent has made any progress with one, two, three separate projects, forget it. If you can.
In theory, at least, all of that means that August is the perfect opportunity, if you're between books - as I am right now - to get your head down and concentrate on some piece of writing you've been shelving, on account of never having enough time. Ha! And again, ha!
As my least favourite month limps towards its end (it is, statistically, Britain's wettest month too), I find that I have dithered. I have spent a morning here and an afternoon there corresponding with the young feller in Nebraska who's making a film about the Sandhills, and whom I've promised to assist - if I can. I have spent two half-days doing my tax returns for 2011-12. I have spent far too long - days and days, as is my wont - polishing an application for a writer's residency in Ucross, Wyoming. And that has led me down a dark and overgrown path that leads to a twenty-year-old attempt at a novel, Son Of A Gun. That's the piece I began in a rage in 1992 and hope to complete, should I get to spend a couple of months in the Cowboy State, where the third of its three sections is set. All of which means that I have paid scant attention to the thing I promised myself I would confront in earnest this summer, the provisionally titled Work As Playtime - although I am now considering More Jobs Than Birthdays.
I don't know whether other writers have this problem, but I find it far, far easier to write somebody else's story than my own. I know that I have good material to draw on for what is, effectively, a memoir; but I cannot for the life of me find
(a) the right voice - or perhaps I mean a consistent, credible voice rather than a cacophony of impersonations - or (b) a narrative thread which will tie together ten or fifteen chapters, each set in a different working milieu. (I could add (c) a narrative persona with whom the reader might readily empathise.) However, I remind myself that I have three or four completed chapters that seem to work, and will take a deep breath before tackling, this very morning, the story of my years as an Immigration Officer at Dover and London Airport - and hope that none of my revelations breach the terms of the Official Secrets Act, which I signed back in 1970.
I have neglected to mention the opening of the football season. Last Saturday I made my way to York, supped a couple of pints of Guzzler in the Maltings with my mate Al, grabbed a plate of fish and chips along Gillygate and set off to watch City's first game back in the Football League after an absence of eight years. Big crowd - 4,591 - great atmosphere, but a poor result: we lost 1-3 to Wycombe Wanderers. Wycombe weren't that good, apart from a glorious 35-yard strike for their second goal; we simply didn't play our natural game. Overawed, possibly? Hard to tell. Still, Tuesday night City went to Morecambe and twice came back from a goal down to snatch a 2-2 draw. They're up and running.
This coming weekend I shall be in London, visiting Carolyn Cassady, 89-year-old widow of Neal (aka Dean Moriarty, hero of On The Road). She tells me she has tea, coffee, white wine aplenty and is looking forward to catching up. It must be over a year since I was down there. Expect a full report, a couple of anecdotes, and maybe a photo or two, on Monday. As a taster, here's the house in Orando, Florida, where Jack Kerouac lived in 1957 - and where I stayed in 2004 as JK Writer in Residence.