Inspired by the excellent story in The Guardian about how Wyl Menmuir wrote his first, Booker-longlisted novel, The Many, I offer you the uncensored diary of writing my own, unpublished, second novel, The Last Newspaper On Earth.
Day one: Bursting with ideas. This will be the best book ever!
Day two: Put in a killer second sentence: “And then the murders began.”
Day three: Drink four coffees in quick succession. Manage to pound out 2000 words. And they said Graham Greene only wrote 500 words a day. Slacker!
Day four: Reduce the 2000 words I wrote yesterday to 500 as the rest are mostly caffeine-infused gibberish. Wonder if Greene had it right all along, seeing how he wrote Brighton Rock, The End Of The Affair and The Quiet American.
Day seven: Ask a friend to act as my editor. He says he’d be honoured, as long as it doesn’t take up too much time and that I know how to take criticism. “I’ll show YOU criticism,” I mutter to myself, an instant ball of rage.
Day 10: Wonder about padding out the plot with copy from 19th-century horror novels out of copyright. Laugh like a maniac. “This secret will remain between you and me, Bram Stoker,” I cackle as I hit control “c” and “v”.
Day 11: Friend/editor wonders whether aristocratic vampires have any place in a tale about the decline of newspaper publishing. “Of course they do,” I reply.
Day 20: Read a story, possibly apocryphal, about an author who shot himself in the foot so he would be forced to finish his novel. I stare down at my foot, wondering where would be the least painful place to shoot myself. Also wonder where I could get the least-painful gun.
Day 40: Friend/editor says the main character isn’t likeable.
“Is he based on you?” he asks impertinently.
Day 50: Spice up a dull scene where journalists are sitting around a table at a news conference with a sudden explosion.
Day 55: Make my character visit an orphanage so he will seem more likeable. Friend/editor loves it.
Day 60: Filled with sadness as I glance at the Amazon ranking of my last book. Is this new effort also destined to end on the scrapheap, next to the biographies of sporting heroes who have fallen out of favour due to sex scandals?
Day 61: My main character interviews a sporting hero who has suddenly fallen out of favour due to a sex scandal.
Day 65: Up to 20,000 words. Celebrate by throwing in a spicy sex scene for my unlikeable main character.
Day 75: Reward myself with a digestive biscuit.
Day 80: Wonder if Tolstoy also had days where he thought everything he wrote was crap. Day 85: Friend offers to install a social media blocker on my computer to remove distractions. “Hemingway never would have agreed to that,” I tell him.
Days 90: Wonder if it’s too late to change it into a children’s book. Anyone can write those! Just look at all the celebs who do it.
Day 125: Editing a particularly dense piece of text, my friend/editor says: “You should consider the reader’s point of view.” “Why would I want to do that?” I reply.
Day 145: In my novel, the internet is starting to affect newspaper sales. The fictional newspaper editor shows the staff a website that is eating into our classified sales. “As the editor hits ‘return’, the computer suddenly explodes,” I type.
Day 150: Break the 50,000 word mark. Huzzah!
Day 170: Friend/editor whittles the 50,000 words down to 40,000. Leave an anonymous one-star review of his own book on Amazon, accusing him of being a “pulpy hack”.
Day 171: Friend accuses me of writing the one-star review. I deny it. When the review is mysteriously deleted, we both mutually agree to never bring it up again.
Day 180: My character is disturbed by the number of redundancies in the newspaper industry. I go down to the harbour and stare moodily at the sea for a few hours.
Day 200: Italicise the name of a book, but don’t bother unitalicising the comma next to it. No one will notice it – or the gaping holes in the plot.
Day 201: Friend/editor notices the gaping holes in plot.
Day 210: My character has an Aaron Sorkin moment, standing up on a table in the newsroom and lamenting what will happen to the world if quality journalism continues to decline. Pathos!
Day 220: Up to 80,000 words! Friend says more needs to be cut. I remind him of a story from my days in magazines where a company actually sold their magazines by weight. “Is that what you plan to do?” he asks, incredulous. “Sell your books by weight?” “Why not?” I reply. “It works for chocolate.”
Day 250: Near the end. I wonder if I really need an end. Can’t it just end abruptly, like in The Sopranos? Maybe even mid-sentence? Or with an explosion?
Day 265: Hurrah! I finish the final sentence. Light a Cuban cigar, then choke as I remember I hate smoking.
Day 270: Friend/editor yet to get back to me. Does he love the ending? Or hate it? I can’t bear the almost Hitchcockian suspense.
Days 277: Friend hates the ending. “It’s simply not believable that our ‘hero’ goes back in time, destroys the internet from ever being created, and thus ensures the survival of newspapers forever.” “That sort of thing works for Doctor Who,” I reply meekly.
Days 278: Friend gets back to me. “I know how to rewrite your ending – and realistically save newspaper journalism forever!” he says. The simplicity and brilliance of his subsequent idea astounds me. I wonder why no one ever thought of it before.
My ebook military thriller The Spartan is out now on Amazon.