How long does it take to write a book? In this case, about 3 months – or 30 years, depending how you look at it. I started writing at school, mostly fantasy or science fiction, but an early draft of The Unravelling was my first attempt at contemporary social realism. I started it, writing in biro on an A4 pad, when I was about 30, and I got at least 30 pages in. Then I stopped. I put it aside and started something else instead.
Sometime later, having progressed to an Amstrad word processor, I made another start, because it seemed too good an idea to waste, and I got as far as chapter 5. Then I stopped and put it aside, to work on something else. Periodically, over the following years, I picked up the idea again and kept restarting. I couldn’t repeat, word for word, what I’d written on the Amstrad, because it was by then on a rubbish tip and the disks (were they called disks?) were unreadable. But I knew what it was about, who the characters were, what was going to happen. Each time I made a start, I just stopped.
I don’t know why, because although the characters and events are pure fiction, the book is built upon a foundation that was crystal clear in my head, from day one, needing no research. The foundation is my own childhood in the 1960s and all the images I carry from it – the council estate, the prefabs, the gully that was half-brook, half-sewer, the old farm track and the bridge with the iron pipe, the daisies in the school playing field and the skin on the pink custard, the parade of shops where you could buy marbles and sherbet flying saucers, the cotton frocks, the scabby knees and the nit nurse, the skipping games and the urban myths.
It all sat there in my head, aching to come out, and for some reason it was always the next thing I was going to do, when I’d done something else.
Then I had lunch with my editor. ‘Any ideas what next?’ she asked, so I mentioned various ideas, including the plot of The Unravelling. ‘Write it,’ she said. So I did. I don’t know what spell she conveyed in her command, but I wrote the first three chapters, the fourth, fifth, sixth… they kept flowing. Of course I had to do a fair bit of adjusting to accommodate a different time span, but the book that had always been there just spilled out. A swift and painless labour after a thirty year gestation. What a relief.
The christening is on July 21st. Everyone is welcome.