BALANCING ACT

Most writers have day jobs. Only the holy few are able to make a good living without other means. If you’re able to work in an allied field so much the better. I count my blessings that my day job as a consultant editor, advising new authors on their stories, allows me to do this. However there is always a downside to ‘riding two horses:’ time.  

Since the pandemic kicked off I’ve been busier editorially than ever. The novel I really wanted to write was put back and back. In some ways this was a good thing because it gave me a lot more thinking time. I have a theory that (and I’ve probably mentioned this before in other posts) the longer the thinking time, the shorter and more joyous the writing time. It allows the writer to fall for that lovely delusion of the story ‘writing itself.’ There comes a point, however, when your notebooks are filled with character profiles, plot developments, twists, and that key climactic scene, until your head is bursting. Trying to find the time to write when you have manuscripts stacking up, like airplanes waiting to land, (pre-Covid, you understand) is a big balancing act. This said, I did, indeed find time to craft a first draft, which is now printed out and awaiting my first reader – my eagle-eyed other half. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written too, which resonated more strongly when I was asked to work on a novel by a writer whose story paid homage to Maigret. Hold that thought. 

For those who are unfamiliar, Maigret was a detective created by Georges Simenon. On a biographical note, Simenon was born in 1903 and died in Switzerland in 1989. During his writing career he wrote seventy-five Inspector Maigret novels, as well as short stories. To do justice to my author’s story I thought I should brush up on my Simenon. Somewhere, back in the dark ages, I’d read him, but couldn’t profess to be an authority. This was the time to ‘phone a friend’ who is a big Maigret fan. ‘Which ones most define his work?’ I asked. After a bit of discussion, three novels were suggested, the first of which was The Carter of La Providence. The first thing I’d say when the books arrived (and something I’d forgotten) was the brevity of the story. I reckoned the novel would fit four times into the one I’d just written! This is in no way a criticism – quite the reverse, in fact. Characterisation in Simenon’s tale is rich. You get a genuine sense of barge life, which is as fascinating as it’s alien, a thumping good murder story and it’s all wrapped up in such a way you can polish it off in a couple of nights. Thinking about this, I had a rummage through my bookshelves and unearthed novels by Francoise Sagan and Colette both writers I’d been obsessed by in my teens. Their stories are also modest in size and I don’t think this was just a ‘French thing.’ I wonder how and when the transition was made to much bigger tomes. When I hear people say, (more often than I like) ‘I don’t read because I don’t have the time,’ maybe a good place to start would be with some of the old greats. 

My ‘reading for pleasure’ pile has stacked up in an alarming fashion through 2021. (No sooner than I finish one than two more mysteriously appear.) During the Christmas period I intend to take serious time out and knock a dirty great hole in it. Whether you’re reading, writing and/or spending time with loved ones, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy New Year.