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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Setting my sights on Mary Wesley

Some weeks have passed since I finally emerged from the jungle of projects that have paid my bills for ten years and stumbled, blinking, into a clearing.

I really wasn't sure what to expect. For so long the jobs have been lined up, sometimes two and three deep, and in many ways I have revelled in it. After two decades of uncertainty, punctuated by spells as a barman, a bookie, a writing tutor and a lab assistant in the sugar-beet factory, my future was mapped out. As I worked through the various commissions, occasionally finding time for some of my own work, I would pause now and then to think about what I would do when I reached my modest target. That was, to accumulate enough money to allow two, maybe three years in which I could write what I wanted.

Out into the sunlight, French Pyrenees, 2008
And now, here we are - with just a few odds and ends to clear up. First, a couple of book launches: on April 1st,  the history of the York Brewery, which will happen - where else? - in said brewery. 3 o'clock in the p.m. if you feel like showing up. Then, two days later, my novel, Cody, The Medicine Man and Me, is published by Ouen Press (watch this space). Just this evening I have received a copy of the cover, and am still adjusting to the jolt it sent through me.

It'll be odd to find oneself a debut novelist at the age of 67. It's not unheard of, of course: think of Mary Wesley, who startled the literary world at the age of 71. But did she have a thirty-year career in writing and two dozen non-fiction books behind her? I think not - and, yes, Wikipedia agrees.

As well as bracing myself for those two events, I have been trying to sell a couple more projects, both undertaken for other people, as well as discussing a follow-up book with Robert Stone (Chasing Black Gold: ( 

But now, at last, I am free to arrange my planned work in an orderly fashion. I have a memoir that I wish to turn into a novel. I have a series of fifteen journals from western road trips waiting to be disentangled and woven into some kind of comprehensive narrative. I have a growing list of notes about my slow discovery of, and engagement with, natural landscapes over sixty years. I have a novel, written thirty years ago, that needs to be interrogated mercilessly, overhauled, possibly destroyed... but may just turn out to be worth saving. I have the first forty pages of another novel, set in the nineteenth-century American West. Twenty-five years ago it was condemned unceremoniously by a bunch of academics. But, now that I look at it afresh, I see that it ain't so bad after all - and have garnered sufficient self-confidence to be able to tell myself that they really didn't know what they were talking about. I even have a sci-fi novel, written for a private client (don't ask!) which I'd like to reclaim. It may have been buried for three years but it still smells pretty fresh. And then there is the half-baked notion that I might write a novel about the rich, I mean the stinking rich, and the unspeakable things that we might do to them.

Next week we fly out to Australia for six weeks. Upon our return, my future kicks off. Mary Wesley produced nine more novels after her 1983 debut, Jumping The Queue. She lived to be ninety. It's looking as though I need to do likewise. 


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