The Block was my attempt to do a Haruki Murakami, to write a novel with that kind of dreamy feel which infuses a lot of his work, like the real world is a little out of synch. I don’t think that I was entirely successful in imitating him, and I think that authors should always stick to their own style of working. But, as a novel, I quite like The Block.
The book is about a novelist trying to write a follow-up to an award winning novel. The novel was to be called The Block; and it was to be a novel in the style of 1984. Unfortunately, though, it was writer’s block which the author was suffering from.
As the novel progresses the author finds that the book starts taking over his life, in more ways than one. He begins to question what is real, and what is not.
A few of my protagonists have been authors. But one instruction to new authors is to write what they know about; and what I know about is writing novels. Perhaps that is why several of Stephen King’s heroes are also novelists (Misery, The Dark Half, Secret Window, and several others).
The Block is not what I consider to be genre fiction, although it does have some fantastical elements. It was written back when I was still trying to write what is sometimes called literary fiction 9although I don’t really like the distinction between literary and genre fiction).
Extract from The Block
He stared at his computer screen, and didn’t put his fist through it. He felt like it, because it was mocking him for a juggins, just staring back at him, an empty sheet of electronic paper. All that he had written with Word was The Block, Chapter One. He did not know what to write next. The words were there, in his head, but they were all still jumbled up, a stour of ideas and adjectives and verbs. The idea was there, and the idea was sound, but still he had to wait, until the moment was right for him to begin. And, apparently, the moment was not yet.
Sean Henry sighed; he sighed deeply, and got up out of his computer chair. There was no point in just staring at the computer screen. He had been staring at it for so long that he was surprised that it had not gone into hibernation mode. Or that his eyes had gone funny, like they did when he was working on his computer for too long. His mother, when he had been little, had told him that he would go blind if he looked at a television for too long. He believed it, now.
Sean paced up and down his study, back and forward on the rug in the middle of the room. He’d got writer’s block on his last novel, Neon Parsifal, about halfway through. For months he had been unable to write anything. Then the writer’s block had, thankfully, passed, before he’d had to phone his editor to say that the new novel was going to be stillborn. He did not think that he would have been able to face that. A writer writes – that was what they did. If words did not come they might as well become a brickie, become a postman, become a politician. Anything but be an author who wasn’t.
The writer’s block had passed, on his last book, but here it was again, mocking him, mocking him, telling him that he was not really an author after all, that he had simply been lucky with his first novel, The Blanks. It certainly looked that way as far as the disappointing initial sales of Neon Parsifal were going. That, the difficult second novel, had only had middling success. But there had still been the odd, good review of it. He kept all of his good reviews, stored away in a scrapbook. the bad reviews were consigned to the drawer marked Bin.
The Blanks had been so easy to write. No blockage there at all. No, it had all poured out of him, from brain to screen in almost one go. If only everything in life came so easily. There had definitely been no blank pages back then. He had written it, sent it off to every publisher that he could get the address of, and somebody had taken him up on it. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
God (or other neo-divine inspiration) he had been so lucky. Most writers – those who actually finished that novel they bragged they had in them dying to break out – never got published. And most of those who got published never got noticed. Their novels sank without trace, one of the results of more books being published than ever before. They went into the deepest recesses of Amazon, where their sales ranking had almost as many numbers as their ISBN. Did anybody but the authors themselves ever look at those charts? And if so, they must have regarded them with a great, soul-destroying despair.
Neon Parsifal had not flowed like The Blanks had. It had not been turgid, but it had been jerky, with hours when the words had come as easily as before sandwiched between days when he had really had to sit down and work on them. There had been several sections where he had written them, but had not been happy with them when they had been completed, and he had ended up deleting them the next day, cutting and pasting something different in their place. Which had been the opposite of The Blanks, where he had done very little rewriting. He had got it right the first time. But, as for his new opus, he had already tried to write, and deleted everything, hating every word. If he had written on paper, rather than on the computer screen, he could have done a modern Savonarola: a bonfire of the inanities.
He made another coffee, doing so on autopilot. The way that he was drinking the stew of the arabica bean he was going to be up all night, doing very little at all. Just sitting in bed thinking of plots that he could not put into words, and staring at a ceiling that probably needed another coat of paint. Or a good going over with a feather duster, to rid himself of that industrious spider who had decided that the corner of the ceiling was a good place to spin out traps for flies. But he supposed that arachnids were marginally more tolerable than insects.
The Block is available as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle store.