I am currently re-reading Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Train-Lisbon-Pascal-Mercier/dp/1843547120). I first read this book in 2008, before I started writing myself. I’d always wanted to write but, bizarrely, reading this book actually discouraged me. It is deep, philosophical and beautifully written. As my eyes absorbed the words I knew that I could never write anything so complex or thoughtful. When I first read it, I had never been to Lisbon or even Portugal but now I live there. Strange how life reflects literature.
A year or so later, when Night Train was but a memory (I’d lent it to a friend and never saw it again), I started writing and my progress was rather like a street yob wanting to be a professor of philology. My first book, Miracle in Carvoeiro, needed six rewrites and I got through three editors before finally discovering the fab talents of Debi Alper. She encouraged me and, together, we created a novel that, if not publishable by the mainstream, was at least a massive step forward. Since then (I write fast), I’ve written four more books. Actually, five, but that one we don’t talk about…Debi hated it so much that I didn’t even bother with a rewrite.
I write the stories that I want to write. This is not always a good thing because, in the end, if you want to get published, it comes down to a very simple question: which shelf on W H Smith will it be placed? This is lowest common denominator stuff, I know, but ultimately it is very important because bookshops are where people used to go to buy their books and if they can’t find yours, it ain’t going to get bought. So, I write what I want to write and this often leads me to cross genres; only Flight Into Darkness (http://rogerhardynovels.info/flight-into-darkness.html) is fairly strict genre but even this crosses from mystery to thriller. The first thing an agent looks for is good writing, and the second is the genre. If it’s not clear then the rejection slip is issued. So, writing what I want is not always a good thing but that’s what I do.
In the process of setting up my website, I re-read all my books, ostensibly to look for typos and formatting errors, although I am the world’s worst proof-reader. When I read them, I found myself slightly surprised; they were not exactly as I remembered them; they were better. That’s Debi’s magic wand, of course. Now, coming back to Pascal Mercier’s book. On reading it, I am amazed to see how my own writing in The Zarathustra Principle (http://rogerhardynovels.info/the-zarathustra-principle.html) is rather like his. I know that’s like a cat looking at the queen but mine is also philosophical and thoughtful although it crosses into the gothic genre.
The bottom line is that, during the uphill slog to become a writer, you do eventually get close to something that you can be pleased about. Writing can be an end in itself but, like exercise, the process of writing imperceptibly improves your writing. Getting published is another matter of course…
Now, how many books has Pascal Mercier sold? It’s over two million, I think.