In November 2002 I was a young journalist sitting in a Starbucks in Mid-town Manhattan. It was a finger-falling off cold day of fog, scarves and drippy noses. A yellow taxi cab was sitting in traffic outside the plate glass window which framed the towers of New York stretching into a rain-streaked sky. The sidewalk grills were steaming with subway smoke, just like I’d seen in a hundred New York movies.
I had a screaming hangover – the night before I’d drank too much in a bizarre, Gothic bar somewhere in Mid-town called Bar Bat that was squeezing the tail-end of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe for the last few blood-red drops.
My sister (also a journalist) was in one of the tower blocks above the street, interviewing an ex pat businessman-made-good from Merthyr Tydfil about his experiences of 9/11, a year earlier.
A few days before I’d picked up a novel to read on the plane called About the Author by John Colapinto, simply because it had picture of a yellow New York cab on the front and picturesque smoking pavements among steely tower blocks. It was about a young writer failing to write and then getting into a hell of a lot of trouble.
I didn’t know it at the time that this was a best seller by a 25 year old writer destined to make a lot of money. I was a young, wannabe writer, half way through a very weak initial draft of my first novel that would, many years later, become Telling Stories.
Colapinto’s vain and vacillating ‘hero’ Cal is so impressed with the idea of being a writer he can’t quite bring himself to put anything on paper. The snappy, sarcastic prose perfectly captures Cal’s endless excuses and hideous self doubt.
Cal wrestles with his literary greatness and tells his ideas and stories to his roommate – who actually sits down and turns it all into a novel of his own. Without spoiling it, Cal ends up stealing the manuscript and it all goes horribly wrong.
It took me eight years to finish the novel I was attempting to write while reading About the Author that day in New York, to make it into Telling Stories and see it published. Unlike Cal (or Colapinto) I’m not on best seller lists (yet) – but I remember that day, watching the yellow cabs and the steaming streets and the feeling that life and art was weirdly intertwining.
Why am I telling you this?
Because this is my first blog and I suspect that, like many writers, or just avid readers, certain books are intrinsically linked to different places and periods in our lives.
So I’m going to try and use this blog to talk about books that have a special meaning for me –books that I’ve loved, hated, or remind of particular things. And, of course, books I think other people might like to read!
So, if you’re writing a novel, know a writer or hate writers and just like to see them come a cropper – read About the Author by John Colapinto.
If the novel has a moral, and I’m not sure it does, it’s that if you call yourself a writer sooner or later you have to sit down, stop moaning and bloody write something.
And never try to be a ‘Writer’ with a capital W. It won’t end well.
You have been warned…..