Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Not So Easy - John Dougherty

I’m having a coffee with my friend Ed. He’s just got home, and we have a lot of catching up to do.

“So - how did the writing go?” I ask. Ed’s been away for a few years: his wife was posted overseas, and of course the family went too. Although there was no problem about Ed and the kids going with her, he wasn’t covered by the work permit, so he’d planned to do some writing while the children were at school.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, I think, was the hope that perhaps it would provide a means of escape: whilst he loved teaching, there were too many times when the culture of tick-boxes and targets got in the way of the job. The idea of being able to choose to not return to his career when he returned to the UK was an appealing one.

Clearly, it didn’t work out. “I didn’t really get any done,” he admits. “I mean - I did some. I sat down and tried. And I kept trying. But whatever I wrote, when I read it back... I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like how it read. I never got the voice right...”

He shrugs; takes another sip of his coffee, warming his hands on the cup.

“When I look at your books,” he says; “well, your characters don’t all sound like the same person. Even the narrative voices: they’re different from each other, and they just... fit the story somehow. But mine?” He trails off for a moment, then suddenly becomes animated. “There’s no problem with ideas. I’ve got ideas. Loads of ideas. And I always thought that if I just had the chance - if I had the time - then I could write. But... well, I learned something.”

He looks at me. His expression is open, and genuine, and once again I’m reminded of why I like him so much, and why I’m glad he’s back.

“What I learned,” he says thoughtfully, “is that writing is hard.”

John's website is at


catdownunder said...

And sometimes writing is impossible...I feel for him!

Anonymous said...

Shame. Sounds like he was trying for perfection in the first draft.

John Dougherty said...

I know what both of you mean! Zornhau, you may well be right - I may suggest that to him. That said, I'm not somebody who can dash off a first draft and then painstakingly improve it; I have to do all the painstaking stuff as I write.

That's not to say there can't be huge changes between first and second draft; but even if the first draft has a lot of flaws, it has to work for me on the level that my friend is talking about.

Keren David said...

I was in your friend's position for a long time - the 'trailing spouse' abroad because of my husband's job, time and money rich, and,one would imagine, in a great position to write. I hardly wrote anything at all. Tellyour friend not to underestimate the stress of moving abroad, the way one is taken away from sources of inspiration(language, news, listening to people in the street!) and the knock to one's self esteem that comes from being the one without the big important international job. As soon as I came back to 'real life' I started writing. Being an expat wife/husband is really hard.

Gillian Philip said...

What Keren said, word for word! I had twelve expat years in which my career was mostly the beach bar. I should have written, but I didn't. I had to come home to be able to write. Your friend might find the same.

Katherine Langrish said...

And I was away for seven years, in two different countries, and like the others said, got no writing done at all... samll kids didn't help either..

Katherine Langrish said...

small, even.

Penny Dolan said...

Nice post, John. The "ideas" bit is only part of the work. The backside on the seat and the study and the craft - and the being in the right space yourself - are all part of it too.

Admirable of your firend Ed to understand and admit there's more. (Maybe we all need an Ed sometime? Do you loan him out?)