Oh God, I’ve Just Found My Unpublished Novels

Reading & Writing


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 While I was looking through cupboards I haven’t opened for years I found four unpublished novels stashed in a drawer.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.

11 comments on “Oh God, I’ve Just Found My Unpublished Novels”

  1. Jo W says:

    Chris,you didn’t say how long it took to make the decisions-which to stay and which to go. I find when having a clear out,that a lot of time goes by looking through stuff,books,magazines,photographs. I think that’s why I don’t do it very often. I’ll leave that job to the ‘youngs’ when I go. 😉

  2. Rachel Green says:

    wow. You are the anti-hoarding hero.

  3. chazza says:

    No! Keep them,Chris. Sooner or later, an American university will want to open a Chris Fowler Archive and your hesitant steps, resulting in international fame, will be much studied by savants everywhere….

  4. Vincent C says:

    Have you considered scanning / digitizing them? In a spirit of full disclosure I should admit to being a pack rat and I find scanning a magnificent compromise. Once scanned, I can discard stuff that should never have been saved and at the same time retain access to it just in case I, or someone else, might need to refer to it at a later date – one never knows! Of course, that opens a whole new world of OCD – to be on the safe side just how many back ups of the digital files should I make and where should I store them!

  5. Kevin Etheridge says:

    No Chris, please don’t bin them. You must have felt something about them to have kept them all this time…they’re a part of your career as a writer. As Vincent C. says, scan them, or get someone else too…hell, I’d do it for you. Some of your fans might well like to read them….don’t bin something you’ll regret doing in years to come. Robert McCammon did that with a novel he wrote called ‘The Village’ about a russian circus touring europe in the lead up to World War Two…as he said, written at the wrong time, publishers loathed it, but everyone I know in the McCammon community who read it, loved it…and he binned it…regretted it since. He also wrote another called ‘Speaks The Nightbird’ that was going to be binned also….well……that one reignited his writing career. Stephen King felt the same about Pet Semetery and Insomnia; thought they were terrible novels and put them away in a drawer for years……. get them scanned at least…..especially after all the work you put in writing them…….

  6. admin says:

    I think binning ‘Pet Semetery’ would have been a kindness. But the die has been cast and they’ve gone. I’m also getting rid of nearly all my belongings before we renovate, and by doing so just realised I’m repeating exactly what my parents did at my age – starting again. Change is great.

  7. Roger says:

    ” Good first novels never materialise out of nowhere”
    Not necessarily: obvious examples are Raymond Radiguet and Philip Larkin, though the fact that both stopped writing novels – for different reasons – very soon suggests there is something different about good early novels.

  8. Diane E. Englot says:

    “Starting again” is a wonderful thing. Like the first fresh breeze of spring through an open window.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    There is a difference between “written at the wrong time, publishers hated it” and “badly written, no plot, recycled jokes.” Artists keep sketches and authors keep writing that has a possible future. If it hasn’t a future, bin it. And I’m a hoarder. Scanning is a good idea if there’s something, no matter how small, in there that might become something but otherwise it’s just a pile of type script.
    I don’t know how you do it, though, but perhaps starting fresh or hoarding is in the genes.

  10. Steve says:

    Life is change, and furniture to rearrange 🙂

    Interesting about your earlier books, quite different from what i would ever have expected from Roofworld or Soho Black. The one about a series of letters arriving out of order is a nice idea and actually I think it comes closest to prefiguring the later books so maybe not surprising it works the best.

    PS Got Strange Tide in my bag, to read on the plane back to good old FFM
    Thanks again for the fun 🙂

  11. John Howard says:

    Something tells me the a reworked version of “Gone With the Gin” would make an interesting inclusion to the 3rd part of the ongoing Admin autobiography series.
    Certainly one that I would pay money to read about. Even with recycled jokes.

Comments are closed.

Posted In