Oh God, I’ve Just Found My Unpublished Novels
You all know the story about the Beatles and Hamburg, about how awful they sounded before they left and how professional they were when they returned after playing hundreds of gigs. The same applies to writers. Good first novels never materialise out of nowhere. They’re reached after many many hours, days, months, years of writing.
‘Roofworld’ was my first published novel but my seventh actual book.
I’m getting ready to move house for a few months and am having to decide what stays/ goes. While I was looking through cupboards I haven’t opened for years I found four unpublished novels stashed in a drawer. I think the word ‘juvenilia’ might be too kind. The question is; whether to dump them or not. They were typed. For the Youngs, this was a method of transferring words to paper by stamping each individual letter against a piece of cloth soaked in ink called a ‘ribbon’, using a mechanical machine called a ‘typewriter’. You’ve seen them in old films and antique fairs.
One of these novels is ‘Gone With The Gin’, a thinly disguised version of what happened when I opened a disastrous nightclub in Soho. It’s overlong, too cutesy and full of recycled jokes. I think that’s a definite bin-job. Another, ‘One Night Stand’, is about two young lovers who share a night, then decide whether to stay together, and feels drippy and horribly dated. Oh, and it’s written in that difficult-to-master declension, Second Person. Into the circular tin filing cabinet it goes. A third, ‘Urban Guerilla’, doesn’t seem to have a plot but consists of vignettes about urban life, and God, it’s overlong. There are some funny bits, though. Nah, I’ve grown up a lot since then.
But my favourite was my very first, ‘Letters From Home’, in which two sets of letters written from the UK to France and back during World War One pass each other, with ensuing misunderstandings. It’s the right type of juvenilia, and ended up being serialised on the radio. I was 24 years old when I wrote it.
That decides it; ‘Letters From Home’ stays – the others are binned. So that’s why writers throw away early books; they’re a bit shit.
What’s interesting, though, is that none of them are horrific or suspenseful in any way – they don’t fit into any existing genres or categories at all. I should have heeded the warning signs right there and stopped.
Ah, but if we go way back to my much earlier writing, from 14 or 15, we find a suspense story called ‘The Long Dark Corridor’, which contains the seeds of ideas I’ll later explore. That one can stay. Lesson learned; not everything should be kept for posterity.