I am so annoyed with myself, I could kick myself all round my office. I’ve got three quarters of the way through the current draft of my next book and I’ve set it in deep winter. I’ve had great fun describing the city in which the dénouement takes place – the heaps of dirty snow piled up against the kerbstones, the skeletal trees, the wind flinging grit and sleet in the faces of the characters. Then suddenly I realised that it can’t be winter. This is because of a tiny but absolutely critical detail that is present at the climax.
How could I have allowed this to happen? Simple. It’s that business of letting the story take control. It always feels like so much fun at the time. ‘Now the narrative is really coming to life!’ you tell yourself. ‘All I have to do is let it tell itself.’
This is the way that people who aren’t writers sometimes imagine writers working – fingers flying across the keyboard in a trance-like state as inspiration takes hold of the writer and he or she becomes merely an instrument in the creative process.
And what do you end up with? Mush.
Twenty five years writing and I still haven’t learned that if you’re going to leave the story in charge of itself, you have to watch it like a hawk. Otherwise it’s like giving a toddler a can of petrol and a box of matches and saying, ‘Go and play, kid. Just don’t bother me.’
All right I know, I’m going over the top here, having a tantrum in fact. And yes, I acknowledge that it’s all a question of balance and that it’s precisely this business of letting the narrative off the leash that makes the writing enjoyable for both the writer and, ultimately, for the reader.
But right now I've got no time to be reasonable. I’ve got to go back and strip out all that stuff about people having to pull sledges along the streets or falling into huge drifts of snow and replace it with description of an altogether milder season. It will be incredibly tedious and it will take absolutely ages.
But it serves me right.