When a writer fails to write something worth reading…

My first book – non-fiction was written in about seven months, accepted by a publisher, re-edited, printed and on the shelves of shops a few months later. All with very little complication.

My second book, the consensus has it, is the miscegenate offspring of a group sex encounter gone wrong. It is a literary mess stewed too long, wrought of the angst and idealism of 1970’s politicians, earnest social workers, wanker priests and pointy-headed therapists. It’s my fault (whose else could it be?). I uncritically stewed together fragments and parchments from different continents and epochs, stories told in the past, the future, the present, the imagination. It is a naively optimistic and hippy endeavour, to try bring together on paper in a kind of happy mass marriage, six fathers dripping creative sperm and five mothers fertile with ideas, some already pregnant, in the hope that their creative intermingling, their fantastic procreation will lead to literary brilliance, a competition killer, my very own Pulitzer baby.

But after sixteen months of painful gestation, writing, editing, re-editing, drinking cheap wine and neat vodka, boasting and more writing, it is a bastard conglomerate that has been born. And it is a dunce. As a novel, it is a schizoid compilation, personalities flying in twelve directions, grim, sardonic, comic, depressed and depressing, narratives confused and endearing, dull and extravagant. Editors, publishers, literary agents with unpronounceable European names handle the manuscript gingerly, as though it were a stool sample. ‘What is this?’ they ask. ‘Memoir? Fiction? Fantasy? Non-fiction? Reportage? Montage? Frottage? Who are all these people?’. And the comment I puzzle most over, ‘There is no narrative arc.’

‘Take it out the backyard and shoot it’, seemed to be the general opinion. I can’t. Ugly, ungrateful child though it is, it is still my child. I have packed all 320 pages off to the woodshed, along with other nasty things and let it lie. Perhaps a good wintery ferment and lengthy interbreeding between the characters and sub-narratives would bring forth a genius. But only dolts have so far emerged from the darkness.

What can I do? Every writer produces a hundred times the words that ever make it into print, I am no exception. A hundred thousand words, that so far are just taking up a few MB on my harddrive, and a disproportionate amount of my angst. Imagine, a story that begins with a young man, besotted with his own idealism, flying from anonymity to opportunity, economy class. Here is the first few lines…

It’s going to be a good year. I am doing all the right things. I am taking the risk. The big leap. I will land on their door step and it will all go from there.

The first thing is to get out of Small Town. At a library noticeboard, I see a sign: Air ticket Adelaide-Sydney, male, valid till end Jan, $100. I call the number and organise to pick it up. This is how dreams begin. Risk, good fortune and bravery.

So I become Matt Duffy for the flight, my heart pounding as I check-in, but there is only disinterest from the clerk. I have a single backpack and no return ticket and though the flight is short, I know I am travelling thousands of miles from where I have been. Matt, who I know only by the brief phone call and the five minute cash and ticket exchange, is back in Adelaide to pick up his girlfriend, and he has told me that I can have his room for a few weeks till he gets back. I study the Sydney road directory I have bought as we fly, tracing the unfamiliar territory. George St. Pitt St. Hyde Park. Bronte.

We land in Sydney and I become Owen again, safely. Fortune favours the brave, I whisper. Outside Kingsford Smith, I get on the green airport bus, and get off at Central and get on a 209 to Randwick where Matt has his place. He told me to look out for the hairdresser strip and to get down there. I marvel as I walk down the street, there just can’t be enough hair to go round. There are dozens of these hairdressing shops. I wonder what the collective noun might be. A swarm. A carnival. A clutch. A fancy of hairdressers sounds right.

Matt’s directions are clear and just like he’d said, behind the fourth hairdresser, hanging in the outside laundry on a nail, is the key. No one is in, but I find my way to Matt’s room and later that night I meet Mick, an actor. He tells me he has been signed for a role in Neighbours. It’s a Grumpy Dad role, he laughs. I think he means something by that, but I don’t know what, so I nod, and then more people arrive home. There is Jarvi, from Denmark. He has long hair in a pony tail, is studying stage management and writing a book of erotic fiction. He doesn’t have the huge ego required to be an actor, as he puts it. Jarvi tells me that Matt’s a law student, which I knew, and that his partner Liz is too. In the next days I meet April, who is an actor too. She drifts in and out, and has an uneasy disposition, a psychotic mother and a nervous, public faith in God. I never know if she will smile at me or snap and I keep a distance. But she has the most fantastic underwear: rich purple, embroidered knickers, creamy and lacy bras, very large, large enough to fold my fist inside, and things I didn’t know what to call, that look like cut-off bathers with suspender ties. Her washing day is a rich source of pleasure and fantasy, but I can’t warm to April….

More installments to come… perhaps.

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2 thoughts on “When a writer fails to write something worth reading…

  1. Sadly Phil that’s no recommendation!!

    How frustrating to have spent so much time and effort on something and for it not to be done/ready/acceptable/ok!

    I enjoy your writing on the blog, hopefully your books can capture some of that same style and tone.

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