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Marathon

27 June 2004

It is supposed - by poets and short story writers, largely - to be a truism that writing a novel is the literary equivalent of running a marathon, all grit and graft and bloody-minded endurance. Which is all well and good, except that it suffers the slight drawback (for a truism) of not actually being true. In these two respects, at least. First, that actually you write a novel just the same way you write a short story, one page at a time. With, if you're me, very little more advance planning. If it resembles any kind of physical activity (and I'm not sure it does, but bear with me) it's much more like a walking holiday in foreign parts. You start out slow and uncertain; you take a few wrong turnings, some of which matter and some of which don't, some of which lead to delights and discoveries; some days you cover miles, some days tens of miles; and as you go along, you begin to work out where you want to go. It's a tale that grows in the telling, built around the landscapes, the enterprises, the people you meet along the way.

All this is in no way like running a marathon, which is all about training and planning and regularity, knowing your course and your speed and your diet and all long before you begin; and the other thing about a marathon (or at least it's actually a part of all that, but just at the moment it feels like a thing all of its own) is that you know just exactly where it will end. Some runs, hard runs, it might feel further than usual, but actually itís not. You come into the stadium, you do one lap of the track, you come round the final bend into the home straight and maybe it looks like half a mile but actually it's less than a hundred yards and you can see the tape and it ain't moving, it is where it is and that's just where you have to get to.

A couple of weeks ago I was chugging along with the novel, two and a half chapters to go and I knew what had to happen in each of them, no problems, just a matter of getting the words on the paper - and then a couple of new characters walked into the book. Bit late, guys - and I couldnít send them out again, theyíre just too good to waste. Happily I do at least have a second volume ahead of me, so they can play out their significance in that, I donít have to make them justify themselves immediately; but it did still add a few daysí work at this end. Sigh.

And then, Monday last, I e-mailed my agents with the happy news that I had a chapter and a half to go, ten daysí work, no more. And sent the e-mails and went for a walk, and by the time I got home again it had doubled to twenty. Not my fault, I just had some smart plot ideas that will pay serious dividends later - but it really did feel like there I was, running steadily for the tape, and the bloody idiots holding the tape are running off ahead of me, giggling, like itís a game of kiss chase. Grrr...

Apart from that, itís been a week of interesting gigs, where I wasnít really performing at all - hosting an evening of short story readings fused with soundtracks, interviewing G. P. Taylor in front of an audience, like that - and I suspect I ought to be talking about those things because they lend interest to the otherwise exceedingly dull life of a writer; but at this stage of a book I can see nothing but the book, and I think it shows. Ask me again in, oh, about twenty days...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.