Friday, 6 November 2009
Screaming and Screaming Until I'm Six - Charlie Butler
Like many writers I go through periods of wondering whether I’m not really a complete fraud – not least when, as now, I’m in the middle of a prolonged dry spell. In those circumstances it’s comforting to run one’s finger along a row of spines and remind oneself: “I did that!” But it’s difficult for that thought not to be followed closely by another: “But suppose that’s it?”
That’s why it matters to me that I have six novels under my belt. Six is an important figure. When my first book came out, my euphoria was punctured slightly by my agent saying to me, in a way she intended to be encouraging, “No one thinks you're a one-book writer!” From that day forth, the fear of being a one-book writer haunted my footsteps like the Ancient Mariner's frightful fiend. I wouldn't even have the slight comfort of being a flash in the pan, since my first book was signally failing to ignite. Flush down the pan, more like...
Eventually I completed my second book. But, within a few days, I heard an interview with Gore Vidal in which he carefully distinguished those dilettante authors with “only one or two books” in them, from true professionals such as himself who had been born “writers for life.”
So, out came books three, four and five, forced to light at least in part by the volcanic power of my own insecurity. But all the time, I held to my breast the precious fact that Jane Austen and E.M. Forster, two of my favourites, had published only six novels each. And no one doubted that they were real writers, right? Possibly even realler than Gore Vidal! Okay, so I hadn't got Addison's disease, or fallen in love with a policeman, but I did have my own problems to explain my relative lack of prolificity... I decided that, if I could only make that quota I could relax, and treat anything else as a bonus.
I will slide over the inevitable comparisons between my Book 6 and theirs: Persuasion, A Passage to India and The Lurkers do not make a natural threesome. But never mind the quality - just count them!