Reading something I wrote four years ago

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I wonder if many other people, specifically writers, have ever done this?

I did a NaNoWriMo a few years ago, 2009, and got winner goodies such as the CreateSpace code, the one that allows you to get a copy of your book printed through Amazon’s self-punishing publishing platform for physical goods. It was just a proof, but I spent some time designing the book’s contents and covers. It may have been the last time I used my old Adobe Creative Suite applications, the ones that were mellowing on my old iMac, the one I recently smashed up and took to the recycling centre. So I think I designed the book in InDesign and Illustrator, complete with drop caps and other fancy-pants details.

And I got one copy printed. What I intended to do was go through it looking for the kind of errors you don’t spot on a screen. But something happened, and I didn’t get around to it.

What happened? Sometimes work takes over, gets too intense for any side projects, might have been that. Or it might have been my usual writing pattern: I decided quite quickly that it wasn’t any good. So I put it on the shelf and forgot about it.

I recently finished another NaNo project, and went all the way, this time to kindle publication, and it’s even available in print-on-demand paperback. All of which prompted me to pick up my single copy of The Obald and start reading it.

I honestly expected to discover that it was as awful as I thought it was, and to quickly lose interest. 273 pages into it, and I’ve abandoned what I had been reading (“Robert Galbraith’s” The Cuckoo’s Calling, since you ask) and I’ve been really enjoying it. Embarrassing as it is to trump your own blowhole, it’s actually pretty good. The nice thing is how much of it I’ve forgotten.

The Obald has a long history, in truth. I first wrote a version of it in 1983. It was, then, my second or third novel. I was 20 years old. It followed the usual pattern: initial enthusiasm from me; initial rejection from the first couple of publishers I approached; dejection; abandonment.

I take no for an answer maybe up to three times, then I give up. No stamina, no staying power, no gumption. Fragile ego, call it what you will. I’ve called myself on it many times over the years. I simply lose belief in what I’ve written. It was actually a work of great imagination, then. There were ideas in it that turned up elsewhere, not stolen from me, but in the Great Minds Thinking Alike run of things.

Anyway, thinking about it years later, as I prepared for NaNoWriMo, I thought of how a lot of the ideas in it had (sort of) come to pass. The first was written at the height of Thatcher’s powers, after her Falklands triumph, at a time of high paranoia and social division. I wondered how I might write it differently, now. In between times, I’d taken part of the story and written a short story (published in the late Slow Dancer magazine). And then I turned part of that into a poem, which quickly became a song (long gone).

It was an idea that wouldn’t die, so I wrote it again. This time I did it in two halves: the first set in a version of 1983, the second in a version of 2013.

Reading it again today, it’s clear that it doesn’t deserve to die. So I’m planning to do something with it. When I’ve finished reading it: I’ve forgotten how it ends. Here’s the blurb:

‘You’ve got to stop using the phone,’ she said.

‘Sorry. Last time. I need to get in touch with our friend. Can you pass a message?’

‘I’m going to London with her tonight.’

‘What? Why?’

‘I’m going to show her where I think it is,’ she hissed.

It’s 1983, and Culture Club are in the charts. Somewhere beneath London, an unnamed government department is beginning to use a computer database to keep tabs on domestic extremists.

Near Geneva, work has started on the 27 kilometre tunnel which will eventually house the Large Hadron Collider. Protesters against Cruise and Polaris missiles are mobilising around Europe. As NATO undertakes a military exercise, Soviet Nuclear weapons are pointed at the West.

Meanwhile, a young woman who doesn’t belong is trying to help her father prevent climate catastrophe.

Ronnie Collins tries to fly under the radar. All he wants from his job is a payslip at the end of the month and no hassle. He has enough trouble trying to sort out his sort-of relationship with his sort-of girlfriend without worrying about the mysterious and attractive person across the street and what she’s up to.

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2 thoughts on “Reading something I wrote four years ago”

  1. it’s refreshing to hear somebody actually admit that they like their own writing. Too many writers think that an attitude like that is arrogant, which I dont believe is, or should be, the case

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tim. My relationship with my own writing is on-again, off-again, in truth. Sometimes we’re into each other. Sometimes we see other people. Sometimes we need more space. Four years of space, in this case.

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