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!

12 comments:

karen ball said...

'The volcanic power of my own insecurity.' I think you've just summed up creative motivation! This is a great post and rings lots of bells with me. Can't wait to see book number seven.

Nick Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Green said...

Ah, Gore Vidal... he who once commented that a book was 'Meretricious... and a Happy New Year.'

Penny said...

And the lucky seventh book WILL arrive, Charlie. Its probably starting to whisper in the corner at this very moment, so keep listening and be comfortable.

bookwitch said...

I like six. Very nice number.

Book Maven said...

W H Auden said he was only a poet when he was actually writing a poem. I think all writers suffer from that "will I ever be able to do it again?" syndrome.

But the more books on the shelf, the more reassuring it is.

Many congrats on Book Six but you know you COULD tell us what it is.

Ms. Yingling said...

It might help to step away from being a writer for a moment and be a reader. Return to being a 12-year-old boy and think about what you would like to read. Then write that. I've not had the pleasure of reading your books here in the US, but I am constantly on the look out for good horror books, and yours look good! Hope things improve.

madwippitt said...

Oh that horrible period between finishing one book and wondering what the next is going to be ... six is a great number ... thirteen on the other hand is terrible - all that superstitiousness attached to it making you wonder will it bomb? Or be the last one?

Anna Wilson said...

If you were a one-book writer you wouldn't be having these feelings - the anxiety is part of the process. Those words are wriggling around in the depths, making your stomach churn and your brain buzz. Once they've burst forth into the light, you'll be able to breathe steadily again. Good luck.

Charlie Butler said...

Thank you for the kind comments, everyone! Mary, my sixth book was The Lurkers (or possibly Death of a Ghost - they came out about the same time), which was all the way back in 2006. Since then I've written another (unpublished) and had a couple of short books out for Barrington Stoke, and done some non-fiction (for adults), but that's where it stands at the moment. This will of course change, but I'm trying not to worry too much about exactly when!

Katherine Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine Roberts said...

Seven is a magical number, so will hopefully be a great book for you!

But it sounds as if your dry spell is more of a publishing problem than a writing problem... I can identify with this, since I too am screaming in the middle of a personal dry spell that started when my wonderful agent died three years ago (and I'm on unlucky 13!)

Crises of confidence comes from repeated rejection/indifference to your work and ideas. If the ideas are still there, then more books will happen. The important thing is to keep doing the work.