Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Mystery of the Missing Twenty Novels

The author is writing his blog when the phone rings. He doesn't mind the interruption - plus it's an international number - so he answers it.
   'Mr Watson?' A woman's voice. American. He doesn't recognise it.
   The caller introduces herself. It's a journalist, the one who interviewed him over the phone a few days ago. She explains she just wants to check a few facts.
    Fact checking. He's heard of this. In an increasingly litigious country it's become ubiquitous. He imagines she's written her piece and now, before it goes to the printers, she wants to make sure there's nothing in it that might cause him to want to sue her. Not that he'd do that anyway, he thinks, but she has to do what she has to do.
   'OK,' he says.
   She clears her throat; clearly she has a list. 'Right. You're thirty-nine?'
   'I'm forty,' he says.
   'You were born in London?'
   'I was born in the West Midlands. I live in London.'
   'OK. You wrote Before I Go to Sleep after going part time in your job?'
   'I did.'
   'You worked for the National Health Service?'
   'Yes,' he says. 'Technically I still do. But yes, that's right.'
   'Good. You didn't realise the book was a thriller at first?'
   'I suppose not,' he says. 'I just wrote the book I wanted to write and it wasn't until someone else read it and pointed it out to me that I realised that I'd written a thriller.'
   'OK. And it's the first novel you've had published.'
   'But you've written all your life?'
   He thinks back to the original interview. He remembers telling her how he used to smuggle books under the bedclothes, along with a torch, and he can't remember a time when he didn't want to write them. He'd explained how he'd dabbled in science fiction and fantasy as a child and even tried poetry as a teenager, 'Though thinly disguised as song lyrics,' he'd said. 'I wanted to be a rock star.' He remembers telling her he'd started novels in the past, but Before I Go to Sleep was the first he'd finished and been totally happy with.
   He smiles, and says, 'Yes. Yes I have.'
   'Any you told me you'd started novels before, but in the past you've always given up?'
   'So, how many novels have you written before?'
   'Well,' he says. 'A few. But none that I've finished. Or none that I've been happy with, at least. Certainly none that I'd show anybody else. So Before I Go to Sleep is my first novel.'
   'But how many have you started, before this one?'
   He begins to get nervous. 'Well, I can't really put a number to it. With some I got a fair way in, but with others I didn't write much more than the title and a few hundred words, or maybe a couple of thousand. You can't really call those novels...'
   'So, how many, would you say? Five?'
  'No, probably more than that...'
   'OK. Ten?'
   'No, I'd say maybe more. But don't forget that with most of them I didn't get any further than--'
   'No. Less'
   He can hear she's getting exasperated. He doesn't want that - he'd really enjoyed talking to her during the interview and she'd liked his book and said some flattering things. He wants her to be happy. He wants to give her what she needs.
   'OK,' he says. 'Twenty. About twenty.'
   She asks a few more questions, then they talk for a while. She says she'll write the piece up, and it'll go in the newspaper soon. They say goodbye, and a few days later it's there. The interview, in the Wall Street Journal. And in it, the journalist has written that the author has started 'roughly' twenty other novels before the one he got published. In black and white it looks a little bit too concrete, as if Before I Go to Sleep is his twenty-first novel, and he has twenty manuscripts mouldering in a bottom drawer somewhere. He wishes he'd resisted the urge to give her a number. Perhaps he should just have said 'A few', and made sure she understood that most of them were only a few lines here and there, or a character sketch, or even just a title, and it's misleading to refer to them as novels.
   But it doesn't matter, he thinks. And it doesn't, really, except that now other journalists have read that interview, and they've quoted it, and quietly dropped the word 'roughly'. And he doesn't want to sound like he's complaining, because it's lovely that people are even interested in what he's written before, and the interview was in The Wall St Journal, for goodness sake, and it was great, and the journalist was amazing and made the interview experience an absolute joy. But everywhere he goes people are asking if Before I Go to Sleep is his twenty-first novel. And it isn't. It's his first, and all the other writing he's done was just him serving his apprenticeship, and he wishes there was a way he could make that clear.
   So he decides to write about it in his blog.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

It's clear to me.

Now how about a link to the article ...