I wonder how many books have never seen the light of day, because the potential author of that book kept thinking “What’s the point?” Whether you secretly think it (perhaps so secretly that you keep it from yourself) or whether you find yourself sighing out loud when you sit down to write, “What’s the point?” is a serious book-stopper.
Lots of writers — both aspiring and published — suffer from ‘What’s the point?” Anyone who has ever seriously thought about writing a book has considered the huge number of books out there. Books in bookshops. Books in charity shops. Manuscripts of books piled high on the desks of agents and editors. All the the books that aren’t published. All the books that are published. All the books that don’t get reviewed or win prizes. All the books that sink without trace.
Here’s a copy of the bound proof of The Marlowe Papers on my writing desk at the end of 2011. At the beginning of 2011 there was no inkling that such a thing was likely to exist. The novel in verse had been written and the four friends to whom I’d given typescripts had all come back saying it was amazing, but then friends generally say that. That’s why they’re friends. My agent (of a decades standing) had said it was ‘a real treat’ and like nothing she’d ever read before. That phrase set the fuel-light blinking. If you know anything about publishing, you’ll recognise that being like nothing an agent has ever read before isn’t necessarily a Good Thing. If something is not like anything else, it doesn’t fit into a comfortable marketing pigeon hole. You can’t tell people it’s The Next [Insert Successful Author/Book Here]. And my patient agent knew very well (having submitted, and oh-so-nearly-sold three previous prose novels of mine) that I am very good at writing things that editors think are wonderful but the marketing people can’t work out how to market.
Some weeks had gone by and I’d twice e-mailed my agent with ideas of editors who might, nevertheless, be interested in taking a glance at it. No response. This was the engine cutting out and the vehicle coasting to a stop on the hard shoulder. Agents, I’m told, never ‘sack’ their authors. They just ignore them until they go away. So there I was with four-years’ worth of passion-project in my lap and no way forward. How did I turn things around so spectacularly?
Within hours of posting my previous post, I began to suffer abdominal pain. Not being keen on doctors, hospitals, and Western medical procedures generally, I went to bed with pain- killers and a hot water bottle and lived with it for approximately 18 hours (hoping it would pass off of its own accord) before finally surrendering and submitting myself (at 10pm) to my local Accident & Emergency department on the advice of our GP’s out of hours service. It turned out to be appendicitis, I was admitted at 4am to the Acute Medical Ward, and had an appendectomy on the morning of 5th November. In the UK this is Bonfire Night, one of my favourite nights of the year, but unfortunately I could experience nothing more than my own kind of internal fireworks, and they weren’t very pretty.