In the last few years, I’ve not attempted to write a novel on my own. I’ve co-written a novel with David Bridger, and we’re working on the second in the series. I’ve written two novellas in the Hopeless, Maine setting. Before that, during lockdown, I accidentally wrote three novels worth of material. However, the Wherefore books were written one short story at a time with a structure more like a soap opera, and collaborative partners, so that was a very different sort of thinking.
I’ve been asked to write a sequel to Fast Food at the Centre of the World – that one’s being published as a book this year having only previously been out in the world as audio files. It would be fair to say that while I’ve been thinking about themes, I’ve also been procrastinating a lot. It’s been a year since I last sat down to deliberately write a novel, and I have no idea if I can do it. I wrote that one to a tight remit in about a month for a project that didn’t work out – I was working with other people’s plots and characters, it wasn’t purely mine. This was not a good experience.
This isn’t an unusual issue for writers, or for anyone working creatively. Any time you aren’t doing the thing it is all too easy to feel like you aren’t someone who does the thing. Gaps between creations can loom large. Even if your creativity is central to your identity, there’s only so long you can go without doing it before all kinds of uneasy feelings creep in. It’s not like I haven’t been writing – I write every day. Novels loom large for me. They are large creatures, unruly, and requiring a lot of care and attention. And sometimes, as with last year, things can go badly wrong. It’s a lot of time and energy to invest in the hopes of making things work.
I started Fast Food at the Centre of the World on a plane to America, visiting Tom for the second time. The central characters were his, although I have developed them a long way from his original ideas. I started writing with a keen sense of the world, and very little idea where I might be going. I’m in the same position now, knowing the setup but not knowing the story. I prefer working this way, but it is a bit exposed.
What’s focusing my mind is the support from the people who are into what I do. Mark Hayes was out on Twitter this week telling me that he wants to read it – without even needing to know what I’m working on. It’s a powerful gesture of support. Others of my closest people are being tremendously supportive and encouraging.
Writing can seem like a really solitary thing to be doing. It isn’t – not for me. I depend a lot on my collaborators, on the people who inspire me, and the people I write for. Those are usually the same people. Writing is an expression of relationship for me, not just with people, but with the world as a whole.
I know I’m going to be including themes of fast fashion, AIs, disability, fatigue, parenting and the madness of late stage capitalism in this book. Maybe also looking at eco-fascism, and certainly thinking about regeneration and community. There’s usually a lot of Druidry in my fiction even though it isn’t always overt.