Most Tuesday evenings I go to Housmans Bar with my two best mates: Colum and Derek. We sit and sip beer brewed locally in Bishops Castle, flirt with the pretty young barmaid and put the world to rights. We’ve become such a fixture that the staff have taken to placing a card on our usual table. ‘Reserved for the old gits’, it reads, and been embarrassed to discover that everyone seems to know which particular old gits they are referring to.
For the past eighteen months the opening topic for discussion has been the novel I’ve been writing. Before I’ve even placed my bum on a chair or taken a sip from my beer, the question is asked.
‘Have you finished it yet?’
Each week I smile, take a sip of beer and say something like, ‘I’m up to 10,000 words and counting.’
I wait patiently while Colum makes a quick calculation. Then he says something like, ‘That’s only fifteen hundred words more than last week.’
Then Derek chips in with, ‘We’ll both be dead before we get to read it at this rate.’
And you know, there have been weeks; weeks when I’ve been struggling to write anything at all, when I’ve found myself wishing that was true.
One wet Tuesday, they hit me were it really hurt. In answer to the usual question I’d proudly announced that I’d passed the half way mark, and confidently predicted my masterpiece would be completed and on my kindle before my next birthday.
‘You’ve been writing the bloody thing for two years already,’ they moaned. ‘Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in just two weeks.’
Damn them, I love that book. I wish I’d written it myself. The title alone is enough to make you want to read it. It was an instant classic and one of my favourites. What can I say, I’m a plodder and always have been, but I’m tenacious: whenever I start something, I keep going until I’ve finished it no matter how long it takes.
‘He probably spent some time thinking about it before he started writing it,’ I suggested.
Thankfully they didn’t challenge me on this or ask me how long I’d spent thinking about my novel. In fact it had a long gestation period. It had begun life as a play for radio which the BBC enthused about but didn’t pursue. I shoved it in a drawer for a year or two before getting it out again, and deciding to rework the story into a full length novel. If only I’d known what I was letting myself in for.
Towards the end of March this year, I typed the very last word: number 72,617 to be precise. I’d expected to feel euphoric, and I did for several minutes, but after that I felt bereft. I’d lived with these characters of mine for the best part of two years: controlled their destinies, put words into their mouths. It was like having imaginary friends, and I hadn’t had an imaginary friend since I was ten years old. It was a solitary childhood. OK? The consequence of spending the summer holidays reading books and improving my mind, instead of playing footie on the common with the other lads from my neighbourhood. By the time I got to Secondary School, I was a crap footballer but I had a very large vocabulary.
Sitting in Housmans with Derek and Colum a week or so after completing Back Dated, I waited impatiently for them to put the usual question.
‘Have you finished it yet?’
‘Yes,’ I replied with a smug grin. ‘So, are you going to buy it?
‘Buy it?’ they chorused. ‘We were expecting complimentary copies!’
Still, you can always rely on the family. They’ll all want to buy a copy . . . won’t they?