The button marked ‘Erase’ by Fletcher Moss
Nearly two summers ago now, I was pitching The Nightwardens to Barry Cunningham, big cheese at Chicken House. I was in his study, fidgeting nervously, only half-believing I was even there. On his turntable was the second album by The XX. I’d been a huge fan of album one, but the follow-up had left me luke-warm. I indicated it, and he passed comment. “Disappointing,” he said with a shrug, then added, “the difficult second album, eh?”
A year later – twelve months into writing Nightwardens; a whole year into wrestling with characters, defeating poor plot decisions, binning thousands of words, restructuring the middle again, taking characters out, putting characters in – I again met Mr Cunningham, this time on the underground. I gave him a summary of my progress. He gave me a wry grin, tipped his hat back and said, “Difficult second album, eh?”
By the time The Nightwardens comes out in Spring 2016 – assuming I even get there – it’ll be three years since The Poison Boy. How exactly have I taken this long? I guess I’d summarise my thirty-months-and-counting of evenings in the spare room like this:
1. I write a draft. But what should be in the middle is in fact the final third. It’s Stephen King’s fault – I’m too beholden to From A Buick 8, but I genuinely don’t realise this until feedback. I hit the button marked erase and go again.
2. I write a draft with the middle in the right place – ie the, ahem, middle – but it’s the wrong middle. It’s populated by a gang of warpainted wild-boys lifted from a Duran Duran video. Feedback indicates this. I take it like a man, wipe my tears, bin the middle and go again.
3. I write a draft with a better middle, sections from the perspective of a new character and, a step forward for me; an end that makes some semblance of sense. Feedback is guarded. I bin it all and go again.
4. I spend a month in a sulk. Then I just write a new middle and send it. Cautiously optimistic reception. Things are getting better.
5. I drop the middle into what I’ve got and it doesn’t fit. Now the end will have to go.
6. I spend the last of my savings on a fake passport, change my name and move to rural Spain, where I intend to live in a cave surviving on a meagre diet of roots and berries.
The superhuman patience and positivity displayed by my editor during this process has been humbling. As for me, the predominant sense throughout – aside from a buzz of constant frustration like tinnitus – has been the desperate wish that I was a faster learner.
The way forward, I think, is to pay forensic attention to the mistakes when they happen. Most of my time during the day job is spent trying to convince students of the importance of this process – it’s time for me to take a good long draught of the same medicine.
So. I’ve got three ideas for book three, and in between work on Nightwardens I’m lining them up, knocking the edges of them, comparing and contrasting, making my choice. I swear, this time, I’m going to select the project, make some careful notes… and swerve all this crap.
Stand back, people – I’m jumping straight to a perfect draft next time. Honest.
Fletcher Moss was an Alderman of Manchester who upon his death over a century ago, bequeathed a beautiful botanical gardens to the people of the city; a noble and generous gesture. This Fletcher Moss has significantly less to recommend him – he’s an Assistant Headteacher at a school in Greater Manchester who needed a pseudonym for the writing he fits in between lesson planning, marking and rattling around the M60 in his second-hand Citroen. He lives in Manchester with his wife and young daughter. He is working on his second and third novels at the same time – surely a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.