Sunday, 29 May 2011


Dear everyone: presently no-one.

I should begin with an apology. I chose the fonts for this blog on the basis of liking their names, rather than their design. So you are confronted by "Walter Turncoat" and "Copse". This begs two questions. Who is Walter Turncoat, and what is he doing in a copse? Had I had the foresight, I would have named this blog; but as it is, I shall simply invite you to imagine the following situation.

After years of being nicknamed 'turncoat' as a result of your father's sin - not even yours - you have fled your community. (The 'Walter' wouldn't help either, but since it's only interesting because it's followed by 'Turncoat', we shan't dwell on it. Anyway, in isolated villages in Prussia in 1920 - which is plainly where and when you are - every other sod is probably called Walter.) Where to run? Beyond the village there are two choices: the empty plains that lead toward the Steppes, or the forest. Naturally, since you're evading detection, you choose the forest, a risky choice, but there's nothing for it. After what seem like long hours of crashing through foliage, you come to a clearing. At the edge of the clearing sits a small, crooked house, an unnatural yellow light flickering at the window. What do you do? Do you knock on the door, explain your situation, and hope for shelter? Or do you simply curl up in the vegetation, hoping not to be seen, while soaking up vestiges of the house's peculiar warmth?

The point being, this blog is dedicated to flights of the imagination, the kind that only happen at midnight and beyond; it is also a writer's blog. The Midnight Disease refers to writing, its inescapability for those afflicted by it, and those not getting laid enough, between which groups there is considerable, though (by definition) rarely carnal crossover. It is about how difficult and wonderful writing is; it is about what I am writing; it invites you to share your own writing woes, pleasures and stories; and it follows my books from their present Walter-like condition (lost somewhere deep in a trackless wilderness) to their introduction to civilisation., an event in which I have faith that waxes and wanes. It is probably also a monument to writerly narcissism, but at least it's writerly, so it comes with some commitment to entertaining you.

And if anyone is about to pick me up on my geography vis a vis Prussia and the Steppes, feel free: writers write to be corrected, and to blunder on anyway, in ignorance.

So, let me begin by introducing myself and my writing projects. I am a writer based in Oxford; I teach and research English literature; I am deeply committed to both endeavours (fiction and criticism); and I am constantly trying to find time to fit them in. I also love teaching, but at the moment the profession is arranged so that little reward, other than the immediate and financial, is given for the pedagogical element of the work. This is sad, because it is one of the best bits.

I have just finished redrafting a novel for the 3rd time. This is to say, this is the third time the novel has been pulled from my grip. In the course of writing the novel, I have written, in the last 18 months, 31 minor drafts (drafts in which nothing structural changes - nothing at the level of voice, tense, character or narrative arc - but the telling changes, with scenes added and subtracted, and changes worked on the prose and dialogue). I have also written, in the last five years, 4 major ones, one of which contains an 80 000 word self-contained narrative which ended up being a different novel. So this is, in a sense, my second fiction book. I have a wonderful, patient, thorough and thoughtful agent, who for professional reasons shall remain nameless, as shall (partially) I; I have just enough money to live my life without too much distraction; I am looking for somewhere to live in October; and, while my latest redraft sits with my agent, I am embarking on a new book about Shakespeare. My life is, in other words, (just) controlled chaos, and all of me apart from my nervous digestive system likes it that way. I suppose it would be nice if, in five years' time, when I am about to turn 35, I have settled, but right now, I'm still walking round the edge of the copse, surveying the little house with trepidation.

So, we begin. And we begin in limbo: until I hear from my agent, whom (since I'm always aspiring to the Kafkaesque, but never getting there) I shall name J, I just don't know what to do with myself. What I am doing is trying to avoid being martyred by heartburn while refusing to give up my two, sometimes three-a-day latte habit (as I say, aspiring towards is my normal mode when it comes to extremities, and, indeed, anything), and my (slightly more serious) addiction to chocolate; listening to Lady Gaga's new album with reluctant pleasure; writing my Shakespeare book; teaching, teaching, teaching, but, all in all, basically nothing. The Shakespeare book is doodles so far. Lady Gaga is still only quite good. And I have a question: what does a writer do when they are in between blinking cursors, projects, and feedback? Where do they go to recuperate? And how do I stop myself typing this blog entry?

All thoughts welcome. In the meantime, I'm going to formulate a plan for going to knock on that ol' witch's door.