Friday, July 9, 2021

Rip It Up and Start Again

Have you reread any of your books since they were published? How did you feel about them? Did you like them? Do you think you have improved as a writer? If you haven’t read any of them, is there a particular reason? What do you think you would discover if you did?

by Abir

Morning. Abir here. This is my first post on here for over a month. My last two slots were admirably tackled by my good friends Imran Mahmood and AA Dhand. If you get a chance to read their books, please take it, because they’re both fantastic writers.


So what have I been doing in the interim? Firstly I got comments back from my editors on the first draft of the new standalone novel I’m writing. Let’s just say it felt like being hit by an elephant driving a truck at high speed. At least that’s what it felt like at first. I was about to throw myself out of a window when I remembered that a) I live on the ground floor, and b) the only way I’m going to grow as a writer is if I’m challenged to do better. Well these editors have certainly thrown down the gauntlet, (after having slapped me in the face with it first).


Rather than wallow in a slough of self-pity, I did what any self-respecting writer would do, I left home and went on a three day bender with some friends on the remote Scottish island of Islay. Now Islay is a strange place. Back in the day, it was rather religious in an austere, Presbyterian way; the sort of place where the churches are circular so that there are no corners for the devil to hide in. In three days of looking, we didn’t find a single pub or bar that wasn’t inside a hotel. But that didn’t matter, because what Islay lacks in pubs, it makes up for in whisky distilleries. 

The Lagavulin distillery - Ron Swanson's favourite place on earth

There are eight or nine distilleries on the island, soon to be joined by a few more, and they are world famous – Laphroaig, Lagavullin, Bowmore, Arbeg, the list goes on. Our plane landed on the island at 9.30 in the morning and we were all drunk as a skunk by 11am. I don’t remember too much after that.

That dram in the middle looks pretty serious.

Having returned from Islay with my ‘chi ‘very much back in balance, I got back to the task of writing, which is to say that I stared at the editorial notes and started crying again. What I needed to do was take my mind off things, and when I need to do that, I read books. I read a lot of them. In the last month I’ve read six novels, which is a bit of a record for me. Some for the first time, others I’m returning to because they’re brilliant books. 


The books I got through were:

 - The Cut, by Christopher Brookmyre;

 - I Know What I Saw, by Imran Mahmood;

 - Money in the Morgue, by Dame Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy;

 - The Less Dead, by Denise Mina;

 - The City and the City, by China Meiville; and currently

 - Razorblade Tears, by SA Cosby.


I admire the writers of each of them and feel that they all had something to teach me. 


Right. On to the business of this week’s question. The answer is I can’t stand to read my old books. Whenever I’m forced to read parts of them, either for a book event or simply to remember what the hell it is my characters did in them, it fills me with dread. I hate reading my own work. It makes me cringe. And the reason why, I think, is because I really have no belief in my ability as a writer. I read the works of others such as the authors listed above, and I feel their work sings, their prose flows, their characters are deep, their stories taut and thrilling. When I read my own work, I never get that feeling. I always think of how far I still have to go as a writer, so much I still have to learn. 

In honesty, the older the book, the harder it is to read. I find the first book I ever wrote, A Rising Man, especially difficult. There’s so much in it that I would change: from simple turns of phrase, to descriptions, to characters. And yet, that was the book that started everything for me. It’s won awards and been a best-seller. It would be wrong to change it.


Do I think I’ve improved as a writer? I hope so. Otherwise what would be the point? I hope I always continue to improve - heaven knows there’s plenty of room for it. I hope each book is better than the last, better written, more interesting, more complex. Because to stand still is boring. It’s painting by numbers. It’s going through the motions. I want the pain and the challenge of an editor’s critical comments, because that, I hope will push me to write better. And even though there may be some dark nights of the soul, some days when I just feel I’m not good enough, those moments will pass. Especially with the help of some good whisky.


Have a great weekend, friends, and stay safe.


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