The last time I blogged I was on a train back from London, and – what do you know? – it’s exactly the same this time. I spent last night doing a great panel with Sophie Hannah, Rod Reynolds and Jane Corry at First Monday Crime (thank you to everyone who turned up!) and then returned to my hotel room to watch two women screaming at each other in the middle of the street. It’s difficult to say exactly what sparked the row off because they were both so drunk their blood was probably 99% ethanol, but one of them was wearing a Batman: The Killing Joke T-shirt, so – when she’s not absolutely steaming – she’s clearly a woman of pretty good taste.
In fact, seeing artwork from The Killing Joke emblazoned across her chest got me thinking about writing deadlines and reading choices. At the moment, I’m a month out from my Raker 8 delivery deadline, so I’ve basically been chained to my desk (except for last night, and Bloody Scotland this weekend) every day and every night for the best part of two months now. I’m not sure if that suggests to you that things are going really well or really badly (the truth is probably somewhere in between), but it’s a pretty cyclical event. Around June, maybe July if I’m lucky, when the dust has settled on the previous novel (thank you to everyone who bought Broken Heart, by the way!), I’ll have a grand realisation about where I am in the new book, what I’m trying to achieve, and how far I still have to go, and I’ll think:
Or, if I’m really lucky, it'll be a combination of all of the above.
I’ve talked quite a lot on this blog about that self-doubt that plagues a lot of writers (and definitely plagues me), so I won’t go over it again, but the last 2-3 months of a write are always pretty hellish for me. I’ve spent so long with the novel by that stage (Raker books take me about 9-10 months to finish), I know all the characters so well, the situations I’ve put them in, where I’ve been and what I’ve done, that it’s almost impossible to see the novel clearly, either in part or as a whole. Because of that, you don’t focus in on the small things that work, you tend to zero in on the things you have worries about, the things that don’t quite come together as well as you’d like, and – after a while – the whole process just becomes a perpetual series of uncertainties. Ultimately, when that happens, I fall back on the one key lesson I’ve learned over the course of (almost) eight books: just finish it. Just get to the end. Just get it onto the desks of the people you trust the most to read it, and judge it, and respond in the way you need them to. In my case, that's my agent and editor.
It’s at this juncture that I always feel I should point out that I love writing. I really do. I love it. I feel privileged to be able to do it at all, let alone for a living, and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. And, of course, those hellish last 2-3 months aren’t hellish compared to the life some people are forced to endure. But, within the context of writing books, it can be quite a challenging time, and also a somewhat isolating one. I don’t get out and about as much, I lock myself away in my office with only constant cups of tea and my own thoughts for company… and another thing that happens is that I completely and utterly abandon my 'To Be Read' pile. Or, indeed, any book pile.
Because here’s something you might not know: I stop reading books in those last 2-3 months. As in, I stop reading altogether. Actually, that’s not strictly true, but I certainly stop reading crime and thriller novels, as well as anything that looks like it might be really good. The reason is pretty simple: it interferes with my head space. To be in someone else’s world, to see the amazing things that the best authors are doing within the genre that I write in, and outside of it too, all feeds into the anxiety I have about my own, current work. The problem is, I’m a writer. I love reading. Reading is like breathing to me. Which is where we come back to The Killing Joke. Well, not The Killing Joke specifically (I read that years and years ago – and it's bloody great if you haven't had the pleasure), but graphic novels in general.
I grew up as a huge comic book fan, and still am, and because it’s such a different medium to the one in which I spend most of my life (or, at least, it can be – there’s actually some insanely good thriller writing in the field: see the work of Ed Brubaker), it’s a way to continue to read, to get enjoyment from other people’s work, and to escape for a half-hour before bed, without ever impeding on the constant Raker-related buzz I've got going on in my brain. I think it’s important too, at the end of every day, just to wipe the slate clean a little. I’ve spent all day (and, at this point, most of the evening too) with Raker, so – much as he and I get on – it’s nice to spend time with someone else. What makes graphic novels and comic books even better at this time of the year is that they operate in short, sharp blocks of about twenty-two pages an issue, so you can step in and then step back out again in a way that’s not always possible in books.
I’m not sure if this is something that other authors do, or even worry about, but for regular readers of the blog, it's probably not all that surprising. After all, you can just file this one away alongside other weird Weaver quirks, like not being able to write novels on a laptop.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
Black Flowers by Steve Mosby
Long Time Lost by Chris Ewan
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt
Behind the Badge by Andrew Faull
The Devil in the City by Erik Larson
The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
The Fade Out Acts 1, 2 and 3 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder and Jock
Author of the David Raker novels