Life at the literary coalface: chapter two
Just over two months to go to the Deadline from Hell.
I've been given till the end of April to finish a novel, set in Hay-on-Wye, to get it into this year's autumn schedules, and it's hard going. It always is.
Not least because of all the distractions that writers never used to get in the old days. Notably, the internet.
Britain's most successful crime writer Ian Rankin, to whose profits we all aspire, works on a computer not connected to the internet. (The only distraction is his massive collection of CDs and vinyl.) This means Ian doesn't have to restrain himself every time a new email arrives.
Ping! A little virtual Satan lands on your shoulder: Aw, come on, how much time is it going to take to answer one tiny email? Two minutes? Three? Go on... one little click.
Image of a hand on a keyboard. Photo © istockphoto.com/blackred
You tell Satan that it's probably only that company run by Russian oligarch meercats which always remembers when your car insurance is due and is competing with the bulldog to snatch you from your existing firm. In which case they can wait till the end of the chapter to get deleted.
But, equally, Satan whispers, it could be Stephen Spielberg.
Don't laugh. I've twice been interrupted by emails from Hollywood. One was from a film director I'd never heard of but who, according to Google (swear I'm not making this up) was 'a warm, funny, sweet guy' who wore 20 gold chains and hung out with professional wrestlers. He told me he'd read the first 70 pages of one of my novels and thought it would make a great movie.
Next day, he emailed to say he was on page 150 and liking it more than ever.
On the third day... well, I don't know what he was thinking on day three because he didn’t tell me. In fact, I never heard from him again.
The second inquiry came from a production company which went on to take out a one-year option on a novel set near Abergavenny. They wouldn't be shooting it in Wales, of course. But, hey, the Black Mountains and the Rocky Mountains... who's gonna know?
That never happened either.
As for London, even worse. I did a couple of books with a small group of central characters, including Cindy, a cross-dressing ventriloquist (his doll is Kelvyn, the Red Kite) from the valleys. A big London-based production company took out an option, after which I spoke on the phone to the head guy, who said, "We'll stay largely faithful to the book, although we're probably going to drop the Welsh transvestite."
I spent weeks fighting for Cindy. Waste of time, because they didn't even get to development stage.
No matter how often experience tells you not to expend too much time on TV and movies, you invariably do. Partly because the good thing about selling film and TV rights is that you don't have to write anything.
Crime Queen PD James - and few writers have had more experience in this area than the great Phyllis - has said that there's nothing better than a string of options that come to nothing. You sit there accepting the money, albeit not huge sums, but don't have to watch the results through your fingers from behind the sofa.
Anyway, it's happened again. Right in the middle of the writing process, an email arrives from North Hollywood, from a guy who is not Spielberg, but doesn't seem to hang out with all-in wrestlers. And he has a star in the frame.
Usual problem - all-American cast, all-American locations. But, come on, what would you do?
Meanwhile, back to Chapter 15...