The hardest thing about writing novels is the isolation. You write tens of thousands of words, your own words about your own chosen subject matter without anyone else having taken a peak. You have no idea whether you are producing the first great novel of the twenty-first century or a pile of poo. My first draft was rubbish, I know that for sure, but Earnest Hemingway said that all first drafts are shit (his words, not mine) and he should know. However, when I’m exhausted and the work is hard-going, this uncertainty creeps around me like a demoralising mist. And I find myself writing similes like that… Seriously though, you need to keep lying to yourself about the worthiness of your goal in order to carry on. Learning If by Rudyard Kipling off by heart and reciting it in the mirror (preferably whilst wearing a false moustache, a flat tweed cap and putting on a Lancashire accent) is also of some value.
The second worst thing is that people don’t take you seriously. Especially when you’re ill. For one thing, if your genuinely incapacitated for work, folks don’t expect you to do anything much with the energy you do have except watch daytime television and perhaps take up cross-stitch if you’re really plucky. Another issue is that folks assume you must write in order to vent your pain and frustration. One friend, excusing himself for some careless remark or other, said he had thought I was writing the novel as a therapeutic exercise, which presumed not only that I had some psychological baggage I needed to exercise but that writing about violence and death was the way of getting it out of my system. I spent the following weeks devising an excruciating yet brilliantly simple way in which I could dispose of this so-called pal, this snake, this pseudo-chum, without anybody ever suspecting me… Ha ha ha ha ha!