The creative zone chez Paul – where no one can hear you scream…

It’s a funny old thing, but when you are convinced you’ve always wanted to do something, and then you actually get to do it, sometimes the experience may not be quite what you expected. I hate that phrase – ‘Be careful what you wish for’, but like most hateful phrases, it has more than a grain of truth.

Could I be talking about writing a novel, I hear you cry? Well, maybe.

The first thing my course has taught me is that I have spent the last 38 odd years consuming books like fast food. When I used to travel for a living, I could read an average size novel in a day – a day of 14 hours of assorted aircraft journeys and endless queuing you understand. But even when my life settled down to a living-in-one-place, pile-of-books-by-the-bed type of existance I would still canter through novels. I would read anything and everything, seeing it as a challenge if I didn’t like a book. I’ve relaxed it now, because life’s too short, but for years I had a rule that if I started a book I had to finish it, no matter how long it took. And I truly believed that this huge consumption made me a literary expert. I’d read so much, I’d forgotten more books than most people had read.

But I’ve been brought up short.

Being asked to dissect passages of prose, not the themes mind, but the technique of the writing – and then asked what effect it has – has totally stumped me on more than one occasion. I’ve found myself mumbling like a fifteen year old English Lit pupil, “Erm, dunno, I just like it, like.” Suddenly, reading quickly and voraciously is not the skill I thought it was. Because while I have enjoyed probably 90 per cent of the books I have read, in my reading of every one of those books, I have been totally bewitched by the author. I am a novelist’s dream reader. I trust the narrative voice; I never question the way I’m being led through the novel, or what I’m being encouraged to think. Basically, a book has to be truly badly written before I even notice the way it’s written (any guesses?)

And when I talk about the way a book is written I don’t just mean the clever metaphors/ narrative voice/ passages of beautiful description type of thing - I mean things like the way the prose looks on the page. I mean the punctuation. I mean the typeface! Did you know that a novelist can choose to use single or double inverted commas to show speech? I thought there were rules to govern these type of things. But no, these are also ‘creative decisions’. Blimey.

So, while I knew writing would be hard work, and something one could be easily distracted from (hello blog) I had no idea I would be stumped by the mechanics. But really what did I expect? If it was easy I’d have done it by now. All these years that I’ve been saying ‘I will do it’, now I have to actually learn how to.

And the other strange thing? On some level, I don’t want to. I don’t want to unscrew all the nuts and bolts and take the back off and look at the workings. I remember when I started working in television and I learned the tricks of the trade when it came to filming and editing. Now when I watch some amazing footage I think ‘How did they get that shot?’ And in some ways I don’t want to unravel the mystic around the novel.

But, let’s face it, I am far from having to worry about that! The second big lesson from the course is to just get it down on the page – and keep on doing it – you can sort it all out later – but don’t even stop for a minute to think about later – just keep going. For the minute, that’s what I’m trying to do…