The Haunting Of Nathaniel Wolfe has now been shortlisted for two awards, the Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year and the Hounslow Junior Book Award. That’s very gratifying but it also feels slightly weird and distanced, if I’m honest, because the follow up, Nathaniel Wolfe and the Bodysnatchers, has already been published.
What’s more I’ve finished a new book in a different series which is due for publication next year; I’m currently working on the second book in that new series; and I already have a very strong idea for another book when I’ve finished this one. So that makes me almost four books away from the one that is currently attracting attention.
That’s what publishing is like, of course. There’s always an enormous delay between finishing your manuscript and seeing it published. As a result, by the time readers are asking you about a book, you’re struggling to remember the plot. Even the names of the characters escape you. At a meeting with my editor recently I couldn’t even remember the title of one of my books
The fact is that once a book is finished you’ve moved on emotionally. You’ve been carrying all this stuff around in your head for months and you simply had to get it down on paper. Otherwise it was threatening to consume you. Once that’s done, you heave a great big sigh of relief and forget all about it. At least that’s what it’s like for me.
After the completion of a novel there’s usually a period of tranquil satisfaction – what I call the Tuscany Syndrome. You feel like you’re on holiday in Italy sitting beside a shimmering pool with a glass of red wine next to your deck chair. In a little while you might go for a walk to the little church down the road that is absolutely full of Renaissance masterpieces. But maybe you’ll just have another swim first. Or even a little snooze.
Exactly how long that feeling lasts depends on the kind of person you are. For some it might be six months; for me it’s about a week. Then I wake up one morning feeling as if I’ve forgotten to do something incredibly important like pay the mortgage or send off my accounts to the Inland Revenue, and I realise it’s started all over again: I’m beginning to worry about what I will write next.
The anxiety phase usually lasts about a fortnight before it turns to outright panic. Although I’m a reasonably prolific author I have an absolute terror of discovering that there’s nothing left in the attic of my imagination: I’ve written all the books I’m ever going to write and I’m nothing but a dried up husk. I’ve had this fear for the last twenty five years but each time it descends I am completely convinced that finally it’s for real. Then all of a sudden I get a new idea and I’m back on the merry go round once more.
I have an friend who produces a book about every six years. Slow down Brian, she keeps telling me. Spend more time in Tuscany! But just when I’m starting to believe she might be right, an ominous shadow spreads over the swimming pool. I look up to see an airplane blocking out the sun. Even from down here I can make out the livery of a low-cost airline. It’s an omen. Reluctantly, I get to my feet, pick up my towel and head back to my villa to start packing. The holiday is over. There’s work to be done.