I’m sure that many writers can remember something that inspired them enough to fall in love with writing; maybe it was the first time that they read the words of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Jules Verne… well, for me it was the opening title sequence of the TV show Murder, She Wrote.
It all seemed so simple: casually tap at a typewriter like Jessica Fletcher, splice this action with various shots of me looking intrigued or laughing, and voilà! What more did I need? After roughly forty-five seconds, I would face the satisfactory conclusion of punching in my final word, leveling my healthy manuscript on the table, and then laying the bundle of paper into a conveniently placed folder with the title already embossed on the front cover.
However, as I sat at my gran’s typewriter and attempted to compose my first story as a child, I was left disappointed. For a start, typewriters were crap, not only did I have to keep manually cranking back and forth along the page to cancel out certain words using Tipp-ex, but if I wanted to alter a previous line, then it wouldn’t even print at exactly the same point, leaving the text looking crooked and messy. I didn’t remember Jessica Fletcher having to deal with that.
Secondly, the whole forty-five second thing; I was sat there for at least an hour, and the story wasn’t magically flowing from me like a fountain of creativity, I could barely reach half of a page. The more I thought about her thick wad of paper, the more I found myself disillusioned with the whole process. “How am I going to find the time to look intrigued or laugh when it’s all going to be such a struggle?” I asked myself, before giving up and wandering off for a nap.
And this was how the situation remained until about fifteen years later, when for no apparent reason, I decided to sit down and attempt to write another novel. I had a computer now, and I instantly realised that at least half of the previous annoyances had been eradicated. Not only could I jump around the page to change any wording at a whim, but spell check? This almost seemed too easy.
I sat there for three months, two-finger typing on the keyboard until I’d reached over 60,000 words and could officially label this piece of literature a novel. Assuming that this point was the digital alternative of laying my manuscript into an entitled folder, I patted myself on the back for getting it done so quickly, and decided to see what people’s opinions on my first book would be.
It took a while for most of them to respond with any feedback at all; for the most part they seemed to start ignoring my phone calls and then sound jittery when I eventually caught up with them, insisting that they had a lot of things going on, but that they would continue reading it soon. Were they not entertained by my epic masterpiece? How dare they.
So I started reading it through once more, just to reassure myself that they were being arseholes, and yet, something strange happened. The more I read it, the more I found things that I didn’t like; descriptions, characters, dialogue, plot… the whole thing was awful. I did have some sort of a concept, and there were a lot of words; however, reading it was a tedious task steeped with so much repetition that it felt like my brain was wading through a quagmire. I didn’t see Jessica Fletcher having to deal with this part either, she always looked so confidently smug with what she’d written.
Several drafts later, and I realised that much of the repetition was down to vomiting out everything I had inside of me, and that I needed to shape this bile into some kind of a gourmet cuisine: trim off a piece of pepperoni here, add more sweetcorn there, digest something else for a different flavour and – Okay, so it’s not the most pleasant of metaphors, but hopefully you get my point. It took me almost three years of on and off re-writing to eventually reach a draft that I thought was not inherently irritating in some way, and I learnt a lot during this time.
But still, I had to face it, with every publisher and agent sending me back automatic rejections, and without the money for editors, there would always be faults. I didn’t have the acclaim of Jessica Fletcher, and it would be all down to me, both a daunting prospect and… well it’s just a daunting prospect basically, there isn’t really a flip side. I couldn’t write up my works in between jetting around the world to be greeted by the cream of society, I would be self-publishing an e-book alone and just hoping for the best.
So here I am, my book is pretty much complete, and yet I’m still at the opening chapter of my overall story arc as a writer. Jessica Fletcher may have looked smug when she punched in that final word and placed her concluding page with the others, and now I think I can see why: because she had worked fucking hard to get that far. Admittedly, she probably did have a team of editors waiting to help her, an established fan-base, and an undoubtedly large cash advance from her publishers, but nevertheless, I don’t hold that against her. I can appreciate the lengths at which she went to to not only become a world-renowned author, but also a top amateur sleuth. Week after week she’d arrive somewhere just prior to a murder being committed and then manage to put someone behind bars in time for a little joke before the closing credits. One death after the next, and there’s Jessica Fletcher again, always in the vicinity of the crime… come to think about it, maybe that smug air of satisfaction didn’t have anything to do with writing a novel at all; maybe I was actually witnessing the world’s most successful serial killer plotting another homicide.