Condensing the cloud of unknowing
Familiar notebooks, notebooks as familiars

Filling the vacuum

So of course I can't stop thinking about the new novel. No, not A Secret Alchemy, the next one. Yes, I know, but nature abhors a vacuum, after all, and the vacuum of the book-shaped, struggle-shaped hole in my mind now is more than my nature can stand. Besides, it's fun, this stage. Undemanding, in a way: it's like having a big pot on the back burner, and tossing in anything that seems like a good idea. Other times, it feels more like lying on my tummy on the bank of a stream, holding a stick in the water, or shifting the stones about, and seeing what different eddies and ripples and waves I cause in the endless flow. Either way there's a childish, holidayish pleasure about it, a waking-up-on-a summer's-day openness: what shall we do today?

But not just yet. Though I have been known to grab a notebook and draw a pattern of ideas or a heading to register some thought about the new novel, I am not, not, not allowed to settle down and get stuck into the heavy thinking. I can't even do the heavy reading for a while: I've got Ricœur on The Rule of Metaphor to read. It's the first hard-core Theory I've tackled which hasn't had me giving up in despair (at my thick-headedness) and disgust (at the author's incapacity to write a decent sentence. How dare s/he talk, in that case, about anyone else's sentences?). I need my trusty Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theories at my side, but together we're doing just fine. There are lots of other books too, none of which I've found yet, and some of which I fear don't even exist. Ah well, at least I can search the nation's libraries from the comfort of my desk chair, and then end up, as always, at The London Library. Nick Hornby's The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is the prescribed light-but-useful reading for now.

Then there's a short story I want to write - well, a couple, really. True short story-writers quite rightly get fed up with the world not taking such a great art form seriously. 'When are you going to write a real book?' is something they're sick of hearing, even from agents and publishers, so I apologise for treating their art as a palate-clearer and vacuum-filler. But writing stories slakes the desire to start the new novel, and then I'll have to decide whether to try to sell them. It's not something I've ever done, pitching work, so if you know anyone who wants a couple of nice stories, brand-new engine, low mileage, one careful owner, let me know...

Besides, I'll regret it if I do try to start the new novel, because it isn't ready: the pot on the stove has to be full to the rim and boiling before there's enough steam to power the long haul of the first draft. And the other thing is that A Secret Alchemy isn't really in the past. The publishing process sometimes seems carefully designed to keep you and your novel, like parted lovers, constantly tantalising each other with little tugs on the old string, bits and scraps of contact which reek of the old days: the trembling excitement, the long afternoons in bed, the late-night phonecalls, the rows, the tears, the makings up, the surprise weekends away. Unlike with an old lover, I'm contractually obliged to allow those tugs, and do as they demand. Not that I mind: as they say, there's still something of the old magic there.

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