As with so many walks of life, there’s never really a right time to write any book. Or indeed a right age. Young and old alike have penned memorable writing. It’s as much about the writer’s daily/weekly volition, and countless factors that include whichever way the weathercock whims of the publishing industry happen to be blown, to the more puzzling element of luck. Thankfully there is always the odd writer who pops up on the radar with some words of wisdom that ignore the whoosh of time…
The Past (by Tessa Hadley)
“60 years old.” This is the first fact I stumbled upon when l looked into Tessa Hadley. Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith are fans. And the esteemed (UK) critic and novelist Philip Hensher, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008, calls Hadley’s latest book the best novel of this year. Yet I was interested in her first novel.
I’m quite interested in writers who have published novels later in life, having done other work and/or written shorter stories – Borges, for example. Or J.K. Rowling. Or, as Hadley herself cites, Penelope Fitzgerald. There are so many more. Hadley wrote her first novel at 46. Snap. That’s the end of our similarity but it’s affirming to read a few lines and glimpse another’s experience as having been, in fact, quite familiar…
For the split-seconds between the next few ticks and tocks we shall invoke the (seemingly?) key incantation of 2016 as far as fiction goes… the next big thing according to (nearly?) everyone (even remotely?) interested in contemporary fiction: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimar McBride.
There. The deed is done.
That is, for now – surely Google has a special algorithm hunting down these very words so, heads up, I shall be invoking this magic incantation again within the final paragraph just for a Google bot to spot.
Having savoured vast chunks of my life more as an outlier than any other archetype, I tend to spy these mainstream peaks of mass interest as driven by identikit groupthink and commercially-oriented claptraps. Perhaps Bohemians will become the classic that so many seem sure of… time will tell.
Arundathi Roy is another recognisable name in current literary news – and an author that blurs typical timelines. It sounds disingenuous to state this fact but her ‘most recent novel’ was published twenty years ago. Perhaps it’s useful to note a couple more facts: Roy won The Booker Prize for that first novel, so undoubtedly there was a solid argument to take a deserving break, satisfy media demands and other engagements, take some plaudits, live a little, and, importantly, get the next book right. Secondly she has not exactly rested on her laurels – she’s published non-fiction and she’s also waded into politics in her native India. Good work – arguably more fruitful work in a lifetime than pumping out books alone.
The Day After Tomorrow (by Felicia Yap)
That title became one of the book trade’s big stories of 2016 – if for no other reason than it commanded a “healthy six-figure sum.” Felicia Yap’s novel was/is apparently a box ticking bounty for lip-licking publishers who bid for her manuscript, literally auction style.
No need for an algorithm here (see recent post), just a short list to tick off for that green light from publishers:
New writer? (tick)… thriller? (tick)… dystopian setting? (tick)… storyline oscillates by way of a character’s amnesia? (cool, that’s a bonus). Bingo, full house, hey presto. You don’t need to be a hard-nosed lit’ agent to sniff out an instant payback from this odds-on best seller. Again, time will tell.
I don’t clock watch. I prefer the long view. I can happily focus on the minutiae of the here-and-now moment yet I always hold a sense of the full lifeline. There are a few probable reasons: one stems from two decades of journalism when I wrote about ‘what is about to happen’ and ‘what just happened’ as well as events or issues from much dimmer pasts. In contrast the fiction I’ve published to date has been situated in the near (matter-of-years) future – just because it suited the story and its sense of possibilities. The Feng Trilogy was partly inspired by the Rosetta mission to Comet 67/P that has reached its climax in October 2016 after a twelve-year journey through Space… a slow burn, mostly solitary, mission that captured my imagination and fired up The Feng Trilogy. Any why not? Not every book can have a meteoric boost like The Lesser Bohemians by Eimar McBride.