Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been four years since my last confession. That is to say, since I last wrote a word of creative fiction. It was four years ago that I submitted my novel, Killing Beauties, a work of historical fiction based largely on the real lives of two seventeenth century women, to my publisher. It failed to set the world alight. I think it sold four copies in 2022. And yet I call myself a writer.
And it is largely true. I have cared for little but the production of words since the music business washed its hands of me some twenty five years ago. In that time I have produced a PhD, several academic articles, essays on cricket, parkinson’s, and other topics. I have written, amongst other things, a book on Parkinson’s disease (in need of updating), a book on cricket, two unpublished novels, Elytra and Intimacy, both dark and violent tales concerning the destructive loss and subsequent reassertion of identity and the damage it causes, several short stories, the best of which might be Sanctuary, a meditation on euthanasia, Don’t Disturb Mr. Evans, a fictional essay on death and the loss of the self from the memory of others, and Noel’s Ark, a sketch on the Bible and the extinction of the dinosaurs. I have also begun, and abandoned, a memoir on my life as a musician and my philosophy of music—mostly on the grounds of hubris. Amongst the things I have not written is an essay arguing that Frankenstein is not a meditation on the dangers of science, but a work warning us of the sheer folly of writing creative fiction.
When I work, I do so primarily as an editor. As such I am brutal and invasive. You do not want me let loose on your fiction. But then again, I don’t want to read it, either. I edit in academia. I take articles, theses, and books, tear them apart, and build them back better. I work in history, philosophy, anthropology, medicine, education, music, even silversmithing. Most of my clients hate me, but grudgingly accept that I do a good job. Well, I presume they do, as they thank me, pay me, come back for more, and sometimes even recommend me to others. They know what they are signing up for.
I am also utterly incapable of effectively self-editing.
When I moved house six months ago, I did so with over sixty boxes of books. I have read most of them—or, at least, most of those I acquired before 2010. Those that made it out of their cardboard prisons now sit on shelves and in piles, smirking at me. It is virtually impossible for me to read fiction now. I cannot hold a book without shaking, which is inconvenient (the thought of e-books fills me with an illogical horror, and listening I find strangely unaffecting), and fiction can no longer hold my attention. I can edit, but that is an activity completely different from reading, and I can read ‘academically’, which is similarly different. It’s also quite challenging to write. I have been awake thinking about this since 3am. I started writing at 5.30. Now it is a smidge past 6am and, as my first dose of levadopa is not for another hour (levadopa is quite a time sensiive medication), I am shaking like an idiot and tapping out all manner of extra characters alongside the ones I intend. Before correcting, it looks like this.
Over the past decade, I believe I have read four works of fiction: Heart of Darkness (which was more of a revisitation); The Road (which I read for a teaching assignment); and two books written by fellow Unbounders, Gibbous House (for which I wrote perhaps my best ever review) and The Sterling Directive. Anything else I scanned for the important bits.
I rarely blog these days, because I rarely feel I have anything to say that is worth anyone’s time (no, I am not sure why you are still reading, either).
Why have I written this? I’m not sure. Perhaps at 5.30am it seemed like there was a reason; if so, I have mislaid it now. I think it was meant to be a powerful and dramatic statement of intent. If so, it is certainly a failure. Mostly, when I write, I do so to uncover what I believe. About a topic, a person, a character, a thing. Perhaps I want to believe again.
But I’m not convinced I can.