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Friday, 19 October 2012

Suddenly I see myself working on three books at once - or is it four?

I can hear the gears crunching in my head, and I fear for the many moving parts up there. Any day now I’m going to have to make a huge shift - and there will be resistance.

Over the past few weeks I have given a lot of attention to this memoir, More Jobs Than Birthdays. At first it was a sort of ‘well, let’s fill in the time before I start the next book…’ But look at it now. I did yesterday afternoon: set out all the chapters I planned to write, listed the ones I have written (some in rough draft, some polished to a high degree, one or two still fragmentary) and guess what? I’ve got 47,500 words down. If I finish the current one, a chirpy little interlude about the time I worked my way through college, cleaning windows in Albuquerque New Mexico - if I complete that  by, say, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week I’ll be but 20,000 words, or four chapters, short of a book-length manuscript. I have the bit between my teeth, the wind in my sails, and several other metaphors waiting in the wings. But what’s this heaving into view? Mike Pannett, threatening to bombard me with audio tapes - starting on Wednesday.

To be fair to him, we did sit down earlier in the week and agree that now - now - was the time to start writing this memoir of his time in the Metropolitan Police, the first of two. With us in the Station Hotel in York was our agent, who agreed that he would produce it, through his infant publishing company. And, yes, I hold up my hands and admit it: I asked for a deadline. Because, I explained, I work better when the pressure’s on. 

I asked for pressure, and I’ve got it.  

We’re aiming for publication in mid-August, perhaps early September. The finished manuscript needs to be delivered towards the end of May. If I get this residency in Wyoming I could be away for all of March and April, and if I do I’ll be working on my old novel, Son Of A Gun.

Rather than submit to the cold sweat, I sat down and did a few sums. There are, if you take out a few days for Christmas and the odd half-day for visits to the dentist, the podiatrist and so on, about 16 working weeks between now and the end of Feb. Call it 100 working days. And given that I’ve already composed 17,000 words of the book, that leaves me something in excess of  53,000 to go. I can usually count on doing 1,000 a day, so on paper - on paper - it’s a viable proposition, even bearing in mind that I have to take whole days transcribing the taped material and figuring out how to shape each incident into a self-contained chapter, several more, I suspect, trailing around South London doing on-site research. Among my first jobs will be to walk along the Thames Embankment, familiarising myself with the site where the pleasure-craft, the Marchioness, capsized some years ago, killing around fifty people. Mike was first on the scene, hauling bodies from the water. On top of all that I must allow a good fifteen days for re-writes, after Mike and his missus have suggested additions and amendments to my first version of each chapter. And, of course, waiting in the wings - taking its place in line - will be the coffee-table book, Mike Pannett's Yorkshire....

I can do it, I think, but it’s going to be tough, because wrenching my mind away from the book I’m currently writing is not going to be easy. I am at that point where it’s all starting to come together. I am deeply engaged with it. I am re-living whole chunks of my past life, remembering details of people and places I’ve barely thought about in decades. I can see the finishing line, can hear - if not the roar of the crowd, then at least the scraping of my chair as I leave the desk and go out to celebrate its completion.

We have a saying in England: it never rains but it pours. It seems very apt right now.

I do apologise if this is a bit tedious to read, but among the things I aim to do on this blog is to portray the realities of this writer’s day-to-day work. My next posting should offer more in the way of light entertainment: a report from York - I’m off to see their match vs Dagenham tomorrow - and another on the all-day course in landscape photography we’re attending in the Yorkshire Dales on Sunday.