Writing ... and writing

I’d like to dedicate this post to my father, Geoffrey, who died on Friday.

The plot was beginning to take shape, its long chronological lines appearing, dare I say, quite gracefully in my mind’s eye.  But my writer’s tale is not one of romantic poverty or greats arcs of streaming consciousness liberated between bar jobs and waiting tables.

I had been a senior(ish) executive who’d done such glamorous jobs as running Robert Maxwell’s law publisher or managing ad campaigns for dialysis machines and chemicals.

Sadly, none of that had provided financial security so I turned to writing and advising businesses on communications.  And thus I found myself churning out speeches, brochures, websites, in fact the whole panoply of message-carriers, in fractured parallel to composing the novel.

The main lesson I learned was discipline and compartmentalisation.  If I’d been earning all day, don’t touch Grosse Fugue.  Creating a complex corporate communications is the antithesis of literature.  That’s not to say, it can’t be satisfying, only that it’s a completely different writing experience.  If during periods of high endeavour, the itch needed scratching, go back to the book but only for background reading.  If business was slack, get stuck in.

It didn’t exactly make for smooth progress!  I was dimly aware of professional novelists who had a strict regimen of preparing, writing, relaxing.  But that, to me, was the stuff of paradise, where a career was on an even keel and both accommodated and demanded structure.  It seemed – and seems – a luxury resort way beyond my current horizon (albeit lusted after in great gobbets of desire).

And that really set the pattern for the intervening years.  It was staccato progress, interspersed with earning money, prolonged crises of confidence and marvellous moments of self-belief.

I kept beat to that wonderful line by Fernando Pessoa on the glories of actually writing: “When I am at the wheel, I am greater than myself.”

But it wasn’t only writing.  My imagination doesn’t stretch to conjuring whole worlds from nothing.  It has to be rooted in historical reality, so there was at times more reading than writing as I immersed myself in factual accounts of the times I sought to recreate.  My next post will look at this part of the process.

Ian Phillips is a freelance writer for businesses whose first novel, Grosse Fugue, will be published by Alliance Publishing Press on April 3rd.  He’s tweeting developments @Ian_at_theWord.