Did anyone say obsessive-compulsive?
Cheap profundities and tramp steamers

Any day now

Life has been full of small, perhaps ordinary things which between them seem to have shifted my horizons slightly.

First of all I dropped down to my new gym for the first time, and had a good session. It's really frightening just how unfit you can get when you're a writer. In a life where the most exercise that work gives you is going downstairs to put the kettle on, it can be really hard to persuade yourself that it's more important to go for a walk than it is to get another couple of hundred words down. But the trouble with exercise is that it's not just you who needs to get into shape, it's the exercise: it has to be the shape that fits the rest of life, and when life changes shape, what used to fit suddenly doesn't. The gym that's beyond the far end of the school run fits until you're no longer doing the school run, and the one that suits the dead afternoons when you've written yourself out by lunchtime is no good if your day is now full of work that you can do even when your brain's lightly fried. But - ah - that exercise high... I floated home, and believe me or believe me not, am shoving things aside to make a slot for the next session.

One of the products of that high has been a title and a synopsis for the new, nameless novel. My agent asked for them, and I was interested to realise that it felt possible. Usually I can't work out how to sum the novel up until it's written, and not easily then: 'What's it about?' is still the question I find hardest to answer, whether it's for an interested friend or a radio host. And usually I wait for a title to emerge as I write, only sometimes of course it doesn't. By the time I realise that, the dull working title has stuck and I can't think of any thing more. (For the same reason my children had many a soft toy who never got further than 'Bear' or 'Rabbit'). But I have planned this new novel - in pencil, admittedly - and I do know what I think happens. With earlier novels I resisted telling anyone, whereas now I'm happy to tell my agent, though I shan't be posting the synopsis publicly any time soon. I'm surprised that I am happy to do so, though. Perhaps it's because, while you could call The Mathematics of Love a double concerto, and A Secret Alchemy a triple one, and most of the time I didn't know where the soloists would go next, the new novel which is still publicly nameless is more of a chamber opera: in my head it looks a bit like one of those models of an atom, with all the electrons orbiting round a central point, their paths intricately interwoven.

Then it was the last teaching day at Goldsmiths, and a definite sense of demob-happiness in the corridors, though I still have a pile of essays to mark. Not only is it the holidays, in that sense if no other, but I've decided not to teach the literature seminars next year. It's time to concentrate on the PhD and get it finished, on editorial reports, on the new writing-mentoring scheme that a novelist friend is setting up, on the production process for A Secret Alchemy here, and with a time delay like a satellite connection, the same in the US... and there's the little matter of Easter eggs to buy, and my cameras to dig out and dust off, because I'm going on a photography course.

But above all there's the new novel. I feared that writing a synopsis would put me off, because it's very much biased towards the bones of the plot rather than the interweaving of all the elements which the actual novel will be. If the success of a novel isn't in what the author does but how they do it, synopses are still crudely about what they're doing: in that way they say everything and nothing, and are terrifying in how they can make your work seem the merest formulaic rubbish. But not this time: at some moments I want to write it so badly that everything else in front of me is slightly faded-looking. I dare say my desire won't last. When I get down to it the material will be a lot more recalcitrant, I'll do more research and discover that my most brilliant idea founders on stagecoach timetables or gender roles, and so on. But it's a long time since I started a novel, and just now I feel as excited as a child setting off to go round the world: any day now I'll look down and see the gap appearing between the ship and the land, and know that we're off.

Comments