Warning. Drunk & Depressed Writer

I keep threatening updates and they never come. Here’s kind of why.

It’s coming up on four years since my first book came out, and two years since my last book came out. I’m going to sound ungrateful as fuck but four years on, I feel like I’ve got nowhere. My three novels sank without a trace, maybe because they weren’t very good, maybe because my publisher… I’m not getting into that. Everyone at Freight has a story to tell. You, dear reader, decide. Maybe I was cursed from the start, when one of my oldest friends and I ended up head-to-head in the Guardian Not The Booker. Maybe then the writing was on the wall, or at least heavily featured below the line. Word to the wise: never, ever make your friends choose between you and another mutual friend on a public forum unless you are incredibly sure of yourself. It’s entirely possible your self-confidence will never recover. Not really.

Sobering. And I don’t like things that are sobering.

But you go on, don’t you?

Still, it’s hard not to feel discouraged.

Since I handed in The Waves Burn Bright I’ve written another novel. I’ve begun and ended a successful series of stories based on living in rural Japan which I’d hoped to turn into a book. I’ve started three other novels and I’m spending a huge amount of my own money researching a non-fiction book that everyone’s told me is a brilliant idea except anyone who could, you know, help financially to make it a reality.

I didn’t mean for this post to become a whine/rant but it’s clearly going that way. Feel free to bail out now.

The novel. I love it. It’s what I want to be writing. It’s fucked up and weird and makes no sense unless you read it and even then maybe not. But that’s what novels are supposed to do. A novel that fits into the idea of a novel is a failed novel. Every novel should be, you know, novel. It’s literally what the word means. If Will Self is right (and he’s not, ever, just on principle) and the novel is dying, it’s because we’ve accepted the idea of The Novel. The Novel. Mr Dickens makes exceedingly good ones. The English Novel. With its endless chapters and mirroring sub-plots and the way it sprawls just like the empire. The novel is as multi-faceted as the human mind, and until we’ve got that figured out, the mind that is, the novel isn’t dead. It’s us. It’s publishing. We’ve given up. We’ve got Netflix and phones and why do we need novels?

Because novels are the closest thing we have to replicating empathy in art. Because the novel is the closest we’ll get to experiencing life through someone else’s brain until we find a way to hack the brain.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.

But I still have high hopes for the novel as a form. And I would like to at least die on the north face of those high hopes.

I think all I’ve done so far is make it, breathless, to base camp with all the other tourists.

I don’t intend to fuck around making snow angels.

I’ve written three novels that obey the rules of what novels are supposed to do and while I’m so grateful and humbled to have even one book published, let alone four (including my poetry collection), each of them feels to me like I’m limbering up. I feel like the batter swinging the bat. I’m getting the hang of the weight and heft. I can sense which way the wind is blowing and can feel the catcher trying to put me off. But the pitcher is still playing with his cap and I haven’t swung yet. I feel like I’ve still got three strikes and a few balls ahead of me.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve had my strikes and I’m out. Maybe no more balls for me. Maybe I had my chance. Maybe this is how it ends, as a footnote in someone’s PhD 40 years from now. The also-rans. Mentioned by an undergrad in a case study on publishers who failed. A wannabe ten minutes from base camp dead of hypoxia and hypothermia.

The novel’s been out at a publisher I had hopes for and so far nothing. I’ve started three others. A story about a Japanese punk band. A sequel to First Time Solo. A science fiction novel. I start. I write words. They trail off.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.

You tell yourself that every word is practice. The first couple of novels I binned, they were practice. Then I stepped up. I’m proud of First Time Solo, Silma Hill and The Waves Burn Bright. Realising that the one after The Waves Burn Bright might just be practice, that hurt. Being told it was no good when I think it’s progress, that hurt. I didn’t see that coming. A sucker punch, right in the gut. I hit three in a row then…

In the analogy, what is a strike and what is a hit? Is publishing a hit? Or is publishing the swing, and the call “strike” comes after?

I lost money on every book I published. Not the publisher’s money, my money. For three books, four times I flew back to Britain to promote them. I paid for the flights from Japan, the hotels, the trains and spending money. I absorbed the loss of income taking time off from my day job. I was paid three figures for my first novel and very, very low four figures for the second and third. Literally as low as you can go and still use four figures without a decimal point. And at the end of it all the liquidators offered to sell me the unsold copies of my novels at 20% off RRP, shipping not included. I couldn’t afford that. They all got pulped, I assume.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.

Sights on the future. I wanted to turn The Only Gaijin in the Village into a book and thought I could. Shows what I know. My editor rode me longer and harder than ever anyone rode Shergar. It seems, for my sins, I am gullible. I trust people too much. Take them at their word. I was strung along for six months. Lied to my face a couple of times. There’s one born every minute.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.

It should be hard. Of course it should be hard. That’s where the challenge is. That’s what makes it interesting. But it could just be a little easier.

Just a little. Because in that, is all the difference. (One for all the West Wing fans. Coz Sorkin’s a writer and probably needs a hug too).

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4 comments on “Warning. Drunk & Depressed Writer
  1. Marija Smits says:

    Totally agree that it could just be a little easier. The whole Freight thing… that was horrible. And I’m sorry to hear about what happened with your last editor. Sending empathy and encouragement your way.

  2. Donna Rutherford says:

    Iain Maloney, this a great piece of writing. Relatable on many levels for so many writers. Keep swinging that bat 🙂

  3. mk says:

    Come on man! I’m addicted to your “The Only Gaijin in the Village” 😉

  4. Hi Iain, sorry to read about your experiences. Did you ever consider self-publishing? I got the fun back, and that was important for me.

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