Why am I wandering round my workroom putting books back on shelves and filing documents? Why I am rearranging books for God’s sake, and putting pens back in jars and screwing up scrap paper? Why am I drifting away to consult the Foxtel mag to see if there are movies I want to watch or record? Why am I leafing through the review pages looking for a book to download to my Kindle? Anyone who knows me knows the answer – I’ve finished a book.
The book, an as-told-to autobiography, has occupied me for eight months. Interviews, transcripts, emails, phone calls, interstate visits, web research, it has been engrossing work and now it’s over. Like most, possibly all, writers, I’m working when I’m not writing. What was it he muttered in that interview? Did I get that in? Why didn’t I ask him about his dreams? Must make a note of that name and see if there’s more to say. Engrossing, involving, worrying, and suddenly all gone.
I read an interview with the woman who, in my view is the true queen of English crime – far superior to P D James – Ruth Rendell, in which she said that her husband nags her to get back to work when she’s finished a book. Not that I put myself in her class, but my wife has done the same. ‘You’re moping,’ she says, ‘start another book.’
The moping, which I prefer to think of as the big absence, is a peculiar phenomenon. In my case it doesn’t cut in immediately. There can be a few days, but not as much as a week, when I enjoy a feeling of liberation. When I can read recreationally, exercise, enjoy time with friends and family. But this doesn’t last. Before a week is up I begin to feel the absence of something – a feeling that something is missing, that time is hanging heavy, that the day is incomplete. It’s emotional; something like, though admittedly not as intense, as grieving for someone who has died. Perhaps more like regret for the loss of a friendship.
The remedy is simple – start writing. In the 80s, when there was a lively market for genre short stories, it was easy enough to deal with the absence, the gap, by filling it with a short story. A week’s work, perhaps. At that time, when I had three serial characters on the go, the choice for a more long-term cure was simple – which character was most due for another outing? It’s harder now with only the Cliff Hardy character extant. Luckily, other opportunities arise – a book review, a request for an essay, a questionnaire from a student studying crime fiction, a column such as this. Anything to get the fingers tapping.
And then it will be time to start another Hardy book. Two months of work with all the mental gaps filled, all the psychological pressures eased as I hear the voices, see the action and write it all down. All is well, until next time.