Never allow yourself to feel happy. For a minute maybe, 30 seconds. Anything longer just invites trouble. I have known this for years yet still I fall into the same trap. This time last week I was feeling optimistic. Been hitting the gym hard, not eating bad, not really drinking. Even had some book money come in. Then Monday morning I’m sitting in the armchair with my heat-assisted eye-bandage on – 15 minutes, aids the recovery of my eye glands which dried up after my TWO cataract operations this summer – when the phone rings and I see it is my agent Robert.
Robert is more than agent to me. He is a friend. More than a friend. A literary guru. The man with the plan. A father-figure, in terms of trying to keep my book-writing career alive. And a genuine good guy. He and I discussed an idea he asked me to develop a few weeks back. I spent the next few weeks working on it when I wasn’t doing the things you have to do to feed the tax man. It was hard. Too hard, I thought for the first few days. At my stage, 40 years in as published writer, too hard is the signal usually to give up. But I really liked the idea and kept pushing with it. Until finally…
It became the most absorbing piece of writing I’ve done for some years. I would go to sleep thinking about it, dream of it when I was sleeping, then wake up thinking about it. The more it went on, the better the piece got too. He had only asked me for 2500-3000 words. I ended up with over 4500. I got really excited. Began to realise I had made some sort of breakthrough with my writing. The last time I felt like that was when I was working on my Zeppelin book 10 years ago, doing the italicised passages, which some people (my editor at the time included) hated but most readers loved. Indeed, it’s the defining characteristic of that book, for me. The special sauce.
So anyway after three weeks or so it is with great excitement I send Robert this huge breakthrough I have made. Then spend the next week or so (he never gets back instantly) dreaming of what an amazing fantastic book this is going to be.
Then the call. Midway through the 15-minute eye thing. I take off the heated blind and put the phone to my ear. We talk. And… he hates it. Says it is “toxic.” How he can’t even imagine how he would be able to sell it to any reputable publisher in London. He hates it so much I feel I have actually offended him. I end up doing my best to make him feel better about the rejection.
And I don’t mind. I really don’t. I get it. He’s right. It is toxic. It was meant to be. But toxic isn’t what is selling right now. Not in nicey-nice London publishing circles anyway. I wonder if James Ellroy ever had his agent tell him he had no likeable characters in his books? Which invites the response: “Well, yeah, but then you’re not James Ellroy, Mick.”
Or William Burroughs. Or Charles Bukowksi. Or Brett Easton-Ellis.
I’m just a rock slob writer. Expert of the thing no one proper respects or cares about. Master of unlikeable abyss people.
So… at first I decide I can ‘cheer up’ the piece. Put some ‘heart’ into it. Some love. Then realise a few days later that that’s not gonna help. It needs to go in the bin. I need to come up with something that’s fit-for-purpose. Like David Hepworth and his books. Or Barney Hoskyns. Both of whom I like very much. So I settled down to Barney’s Small Town Talk – and there it was. The thing Robert means. The good stuff. From the heart. About people you do end up caring about. So now I’ve got another idea. Which I hope to get round to. Maybe after Xmas. Or the new same old year.
Tuesday I woke up to the flu. Man flu. Take the pills and power through. Then my accountant emails. I have X-amount of VAT to pay – by Friday. X equalling ALL THE FUCKING MONEY I ACTUALLY HAVE RIGHT NOW, almost down to the penny. More toxicity. So I go out that night for ‘just the one’ with ‘the boys’ – and end up falling over. Wife and kids angry with me. Rightly.
Wednesday. Man flu now full on proper dog shit flu. Possibly aided by unscheduled ‘Irish water’ influenced fall. I can’t walk, can’t talk. Can’t read. I do manage 10 shits within 24 hours though, so that’s something to think about it.
Thursday. Flu flu flu flu flu flu flu. And now depression over my rejected story. I haven’t read it since talking to Robert. No point. It’s gone. I feel foolish ever thinking it was great. Stupid. Offensive. Go out with wife for brief peek at new West Gate Centre in Oxford. Have lunch at Byron’s Gourmet Burgers. Wife manages to hurl half a bottle of hot sauce my way while vigorously shaking to get it out of the bottle. Bald head and glasses covered. As is back of my seat. Much laughter. From my wife and the waiters.
Today. VAT payment went out. I am flat out multiple zeros BROKE. Flu abates though. Great joy. The Dolan Twins release new EXPENSIVE merchandise on website and my teenage daughters suddenly remember who I am and start texting and phoning begging for £50 each to buy stuff.