I have never been able to explain why I write. It is something that I have always done. I’m not sure if I write because I love it, because often the process is torture, not just for me but for those around me. I don’t remember choosing to write. I just wrote, not very well I might add. It was also not an easy thing for me to do, but I always approached it with a sense of discipline – actually I’m lying, I have no discipline. When I sit down to work I tend to spend a lot of time not doing anything. I call it hanging around waiting for the Big Bang. I do a lot of hanging around. The worst time is when I’ve gone to bed on a real high thinking about the next days work and where the story is going. I have amazing conversations with my characters and we drink a lot of wine. We discuss the narrative from all angles, the symbolism, the existential agenda, the resonance of meaning within the action – you name it, we talk about it. But the next morning nothing happens. All those great ideas vanished into the magic hat of my vanity. And then the doubt kicks in. Sometimes the doubt is so bad I leave stories alone for weeks on end. If I look at them – I hate them. I am inconsolable about my wretched lack of talent, overcome with self loathing. And then somehow I start again. And something amazing happens. I might trash what I wrote before – but this is liberating – OK, liberating when one has the benefit of hindsight. It took me five or six years to write Heaven Sent, nearly all the work I wrote in the first four years ended on a pyre. That wasn’t fun, all those false starts and blind alleys, though sometimes it was satisfying to edit great swathes of work in the same way that pulling a scab can feel great.
Although I said that I never chose to be a writer, I always wanted to be a writer. I only ever imagined myself writing. Perhaps I have a limited imagination, lets face it life would certainly have been easier if I had imagined myself as a lawyer, or a builder, or, heaven forbid, a banker. But I was incapable of imagining myself doing these things. I did imagine myself as a theatre director and a filmmaker and I have been lucky enough to have written and directed both theatre and film – but always deep down I wanted to be at my desk, writing. I never sit at my desk and wish I was standing behind a camera or trying explain my ideas to an actor. I collaborated for so long and the collaboration made my writing lazy and collaboration wore me down.
For me writing is about discovering life. It is about examining what makes us tick. I know for others writing is about exciting plots, twists and turns, bubble gum hits of entertainment. I’ve never read work like that, it doesn’t interest me. I want to be taken through a story by a writer and shown things, be offered questions about morality, sociology and the human condition. That’s not to say I don’t want to be entertained, and I would consider myself an entertainer, there is nothing more boring than a mire of formless theories and opaque imagery – but ideas must be present in what I read and necessarily present in what I write. I don’t write for a bigger house, or a flash car, or a wide screen telly. I write to understand and to try to express this understanding in as interesting, thought provoking and emotionally engaging way that I can. I consider my time on the earth as precious and limited, I don’t want to waste it on trinkets.
My wife however, does remind me that the children need feeding and clothing and that our hideous Tory government has just robbed them of their free university education and they also have their sights on the National Health Service-
Oh and this hideous inner voice within me has just shouted, “fuck the arty farty ‘poet in the attic shite’, write a thriller, the mortgage needs paying!”