I've spent the last six months or so doing the literary equivalent to farting around as I've struggled to get my next novel off the ground.
When I started the book the only thing I knew was that I wanted it to be humorous, a complete change from by previous novel, the bleak and downbeat A Half Life Of One. I quickly discovered that setting out to make something funny is a bit of a downer in itself. Deliberately creating amusing scenes and sub-Dickensian characters; inventing witty dialogue; while all the while weaving an hilarious plot round this loveable cast of characters turned out to be a pretty depressing business. By the time I'd called myself back after fifteen or so false starts and twenty thousand crap words I was almost suicidal.
After every false start all I was left with was the central character. A misogynist, alcoholic, hapless, feckless, incompetent, selfish, unhappily-married, ageing dreamer. Me, obviously. A subject I know a lot about. And a vague but unlikely plot set in Edinburgh, revolving around the world of publishing. About which I know nothing. I have been to Edinburgh though.
I discovered that I could never get past the second chapter after I introduced the second major character, a young, unpublished aspiring novelist. Each time the old man and the novelist would enter into a conversation designed to move on the plot and each time it would go nowhere. The problem was that I couldn't get into the young man's head and worse, he couldn't get into mine. I was making him up as I went along, trying to lure him into some kind of situation round which I could hang the plot.
I was also trying to make him witty but that was like being at one of those parties when you get stuck with the bore in the corner and try with increasing desperation to liven up the conversation. All you end up doing is getting drunk and falling over. That's what I kept doing in the book, in a literary sense of course.
And so it went on until about a week ago. Then the young man said something I wasn't expecting and the scene took off in a completely unexpected direction. To be honest I was a little annoyed at his presumption. And a little scared. I was no longer in control. I embarked on each new session with increasing circumspection. Some sessions I wrote only a sentence, deliberately pulling the guy back. It was like we were fighting each other. The thing is, there's nothing worse than trailing up a blind allet, particularly if it's a hundred pages long. So a stalemate developed.
And then the other night I had a dream. More like a revelation. I saw the young guy talking and I eavesdropped on his conversation. What he said was so surprising and outrageous that I woke up and burst out laughing.
I was still laughing in the morning. As a result of what the young guy said I've suddenly got a plot. It seems that for once, being a dreamer has worked in my favour. It's not a complete plot by any means but it's enough to get me through the next hundred pages or so. After that, who knows? I'm sure I can trust the young guy to take me somewhere interesting. I'm certainly curious to find out. Excited too. God, I love that young man. He's some character. In fact, I'm sitting here just now chuckling with pleasure at what he's about to do next.