When somebody invites you to write a book, obviously you do. But when writing that book makes you unhappy, obviously you stop.
Which is how I found myself, one summer Sunday, staring out of the window at the nigh perfect weather and wondering why the hell I was sat indoors writing nothing much, very slowly. Another day of researching, drafting, tweaking, dithering, timewasting... and all with so very little to show by the end of it. Sure if I carried on long enough I'd eventually have enough words to put a book together. But with my deadline now greatly extended, I knew there'd be dozens more Sunday afternoons like this. All I'd extended was the pain.
So I gave up on the chapter I was writing and instead penned an email to my commissioning editor. I didn't quite say 'No', I left that to be inferred, which turned out to be a mistake. Instead I was enticed to get stuck in again, and cajoled to write more please, in that relentlessly positive way that editors have when one of their authors goes into an unproductive sulk. They even proposed that I take a month off before diving back in, refreshed, but with slightly less time to get the remaining chapters written. But I wasn't having it. I sent another email that much more nearly said 'absolutely No', and they got the hint.
"But if you're just no longer interested in the project then of course it's best to call it a day. Books need to flow from interest and passion - and if you're having difficulty finding those, then I can see that it makes sense to walk away. With all best wishes"
That comment about "interest and passion" hit home. I have plenty of interest, in many things, but I really don't do passion, ever. I know it might look like I do, but my character is fundamentally unexcitable.
There was no problem disentangling myself from the contract because I'd never signed that, nor taken my advance. Which left me hassle-free and book-less, back in the same position I'd been a year previously. And I was fine with that, really I was. I mean, it's lovely to have a book of your own to bequeath to the world, but the world doesn't end if you don't have one. My Dad told me he completely understood why I'd thrown in the towel, and BestMate said he was amazed I'd hung on for so long. And anyway, to look on the positive side, at least I now had a third of a book in the bank should I ever find the time to complete it.
Which would have been the end of the story, until I received one more email out-of-the-blue six weeks later. My commissioning editor had been keeping the project alive, it seemed, and very politely informed me that they'd come up with an alternative author. I shouldn't have been surprised. The entire project had been their idea, so all they were doing was transferring their concept to somebody more willing to complete it. It had never been 'my book', and now it never would be.
So here we are in April 2011, and the book I nearly wrote is due out in a fortnight's time. It was originally scheduled for release next Thursday, but I think they shifted the publication date at the last minute to avoid the Royal Wedding. I now face the fascinating scenario of watching what might have happened had I finished the manuscript, but all happening to someone else.
Will there be radio interviews with the book's proper author? I shall be listening, just in case. Will there be mega-splash features in national papers or local listings magazines? Consider them bought. Will there be interviews on regional TV, or YouTube, or wherever it is that publishing companies parade their writers these days? Bring it on, let's find out. And will there be official signings, or launch parties, or alternative kinds of personal appearance. Nah, don't worry, I'll be leaving those well alone. I won't hear a word said against author number 2, really I won't, because I know for certain that the publishing company never told him who author number 1 was.
But next time I'm in a London bookshop, wandering round the "blimey what a lot of books there are about London" section, there it'll be, the book I didn't write. There'll be no escape, it'll be in all of them, tucked away on the very shelves I'm most likely to peruse. I bet every museum in London will be flogging it too, with a copy or three lurking near the pile of maps and the souvenir tea towels. And not just next month but next year, and for several years to come. This is a book with serious longevity, which won't be going away any time soon. I am so not going to be allowed to forget that I gave up the chance to write it.
I have of course given due consideration to repurposing my partial manuscript for use on this blog. It would be a shame to waste those few thousand words, and all the effort that went into writing them, so you lot might as well enjoy them for free. Being stubborn, I'm also just the sort of person who'd go on to complete the entire project online, all those chapters I had such trouble writing before, simply to prove that I could. They won't appear in purchasable form on high-quality paper for you to treasure, but they'll not be lost forever.
No really, I think you might be more annoyed by the whole situation than I am. Rest assured, I'm absolutely bloody fine about how things have turned out. And I might still write a different book one day, but if I do it'll be because I want to, not because someone else wants me to.