So, I'm on the 8:23 from Clapham. A late night in the office as I wanted to send off 'Parallel Tracks' to a short story competition. Hard graft made easier by some Cava. I played Terry Hall, tweaked a few words, drank a glass and sent away this future winner.
Anyway, so I get to Clapham Junction and get on my train. Sit down at a four table. Only one bloke diagonal to me - great. Whip out the Mac. Stories to write. Websites to edit. Usual stuff that an under appreciated writer does. We work - ALL - the time. In silence and unobtrusively. And then - opposite me - sits down a writer - a 'real' writer.
Let me describe her shall I? Not unattractive. Slightly boho. Wild and wiry hair. Glasses pushed onto her forehead. Voluminous scarf wrapped around her neck (I believe this is obligatory if you are a 'writer'.) And now she gets out a couple of beaten up leather notebooks and an ink pen. She figits. She attitudialises. She makes faces and waves her fingers around directing the very air with her abundant creativity! She looks concentrated. She writes furiously. She gazes off into the mid-distance as though being filmed. She smiles outwardly so that everyone can see she's written a bon mot. She flicks pages quickly and noisily as she writes.
She is a stage version of a writer.
I am in the presence of greatness. Sat at the Brontes' table as they pen their classics. With Thomas Hardy as he tours Cornwall in 1912/3 researching the Emma Poems. With Oscar Wilde in Hove as he writes 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. Partying with Brett Easton Ellis in the 80's perhaps, or sharing a car with Jack Kerouac in the 50's. Someone good, anyway.
Literary greatness sits at my table!
It appears that - in terms of competition wins, places etc - 2017 was a horrible year for Tim Robson, the Writer. (Yes, that one. Not the other one.) Basically, although as active on the Apple MacBook keyboard as ever, seemingly nothing tangible came out of 2017.
"It's cause you're shit, Tim."
Anyway, if you take a look at my Roll of Honour page, you'll see that 2018 has started with a brace of third places in literary competitions. Yes, if that sounds like some Monopoly £10 second prize in a beauty contest Chance card, you'd be right. But I'd rather be third than fourth, eighteenth rather than thirty-second, praised rather than ignored, rewarded as opposed to not.
All publications are special, but I wanted to shout out Hit and Run Lover. This was a novel I wrote over several years. I spent ages on it; editing, rewriting, printing out, deleting, rewriting again. A real labour of love. And all for nothing. So, I'm particularly glad that the opening chapter is being published by those doyens of style, Grindstone.
As I think I've hinted before, I'm back writing another novel. It's contemporary, London-based, and benefits - I think - from lessons I've learnt the hard way about how to pace, add style and characterisation, plot. The more mature Tim Robson.
"What a pompous arse you've become."
It's been three years since Franco's Fiesta stormed the lower reaches of Amazon's best selling charts. Some days it manfully sold its way to the top 100,000 paperback sales in the world (or UK, or Brighton or my road or something). I think I've given out those 10 copies now to friends and family. Did you get one?
A question I'm (never) asked is, when are you going to write another. Well, what with the writing, editing, promotion, the hotels, the literary festivals, the groupies, who has time? And some authors should stick at just one book (looking at you Harper Lee). Well, I feel I've got at least another book in me. I didn't achieve all I wanted with Franco's Fiesta (fame, money, groupies, lead part in the film of the book, soundtrack, album, er, yeah. Wanker.)
So, lately, quietly but methodically I've been planning my next novel. Ha! Yeah - planning. As if I didn't just pen some crap and then edit it and think, is this a short story or does it deserve another chapter? Well, this latest one, deserves another chapter. And probably several more after that.
So, what's it about? In answer to this, let me quote myself using some bullshit I penned for a small publisher who took one of my short stories:-
Amusing, eh? But not so true this time - just as it wasn't for Franco's Fiesta. I can use that thing - what's it called? - oh yeah! imagination. I make stuff up. That doesn't mean I don't steal people or events or places from real life, because I do. I put them all in a black velvet bag, shake the pieces and draw from it randomly. And write.
But I'm more conscious of posterity, more aware of precedents, less convinced of my uniqueness. I'm also getting to like longer sentences, longer sentences with sub clauses, errant thoughts, asides, funky punctuation and literary allusions. Fuck short sentences. Precision can be reached by either the front door or via a circuitous route through the back door.
I will say this. I've been quite influenced by some of the books I've read recently. Breakfast at Tiffany's was great but then so was The Go-Between. And others. But I think I'm pitching for that capturing the zeitgeist stardust.
Anyway, two chapters down. Slow progress but it will speed up, I know.
Place your advance orders now!!
I wrote this story this summer on many, many train journeys back and forth between London from Sussex. There's many disparate events, people, happenings pickled into just one little story about two people going on a date. On some journeys I would change just one word. Often I would spend half an hour editing one paragraph so the tone and the language were correct. What I wrote, what I submit these days is filtered like a fucking Bavarian beer.
Flicking through the printed version though I noticed a couple of things that jarred; stuff I didn't remember; asides, clarifications, extra bits I didn't pen. Now, admittedly last night I was coming down off a good meal (with G&T, wine and port with the cheese) at Gordon Ramsay's London House. So, it could have been just me. (It's often just me). But clearly something wasn't right.
I checked again this morning. Yep - they'd been some editing on my sacred words. How dare they! One especial 'addition' to my text comes right at the end, in the penultimate line. Now I'd deliberately changed tone in the story and so by the last page the theme is one of regret not bitterness. From regret comes salvation. You follow the lead character's thought processes until he gets to this epiphany.
It's quite touching and if I hadn't written it, I'd think it was an excellent piece of writing.
But like a child with some felt tips 'improving' the Mona Lisa, some jocular words are added before my final, payoff line. It's art, dammit!!!
Fuck it. I got £50 which I spent on a few (two) bottles of wine in London. I have another 'book' to add to my growing collection of near misses and second prizes.
I'm not precious.
The other Don
The interesting thing about commuting - if the rail companies or unions don't mess it up - is that it gives me a couple of hours a day where I must decide how to occupy myself. Time was when I used this space as an opportunity to catch up on sleep or get pissed reading the 50p Evening Standard.*
Now, my time is pretty much spent writing or reading books. Is it because I'm older I don't want to waste my time with fripperies? Possibly - who knows, who cares? But one thing is true though; I've written more in the last six months commuting whilst I've held down a job in London than I ever did in the previous twelve months at home supposedly 'writing'.
I know, I know. Profundity drips from my fingers tonight.
Anyway, one of the short stories I wrote this summer between Burgess Hill and London is to be published next month. The clever, creative editors at Artificium chose to publish 'Second Thoughts' and I can't praise enough their discerning judgement. They spot talent. Rightly and regularly... Well, at least twice.
Second Thoughts details the dating problems of a short, bald, middle aged professional man. It breaks rules, conventions and, probably, wind.**
Now where the hell did I get the inspiration for this story? Well, I had to dig deep, to be totally honest. Real deep. Had to put myself into the character of this prince among men, this diamond in the dirt, this prophet without honour. See life from another point of view. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes... All that.
Okay, it's kinda based on me.
But apart from the high standard of writing, the taboo breaking honesty, the epic characterisation, this story - like one of the many oriental massage parlours on Lavender Hill - promises a happy ending. Maybe that's my new thing. Optimism. Empathy. Smiles.
Actually, there are only about ten things that make me smile in this world. Many are cruel or twisted, some illegal, some just, well, weird....
But one of the things that makes me happy, is the Mick Taylor (led) Rolling Stones 1969-74. Watch Mick tear it up on one of fav Stones songs - Gimme Shelter. Okay, this is nothing to do with second chances or, indeed, this blog-ramble but, as Aristotle once said, "Fuck that, bring on the dancing girls. And another amphora of wine! Who took my olives?"
* I wrote an article one night for the dearly departed London newspaper which they accepted. It described the culture of drinking on the 6pm train home. When I sobered up I begged them to pull the article and offered in its place - The 10 Rules of The Office Leaving Do which they duly published. Good orginal. Good recovery. I am...I said.
** Crap joke, I know and yet, and yet.
*** The more discerning - and frankly odd - members of my blog community will recognise this picture of yours truly as a still from my recent, already legendary, performance of Fixing To Leave.
The knife edges ever closer to my ear in this season of the sunflower. I apologise in advance.
I told you I'd started writing poetry again some months back. I just signed a contract for one of the resulting poems to be published in an anthology this winter. I barred the press from this event - no photos were allowed. The official and only licensed PR is this blog.
Winter Love (for that is the name of my poem) started life as a song nearly twenty years ago. One of my better songs actually. About needing someone but pushing them away. Never played live as my group was defunct at this point and anyway, it's more old style American classic than rock. Jazzy chords (F#m4 anyone?), ominous lyrics, somewhat more sophisticated than my usual fayre. Think George Gershwin not George Harrison.
Winter Love is an expanded rewrite of the song. For days and weeks as I commuted to London, I tinkered with the words. Doubling the size, changing a word here, substituting a new line there, adding a more rounded feel, an ending... Taking out the chorus (well obviously).
I seem to like my writing projects these days to be shorter than previously. No more 80,000 word novels. More 2000 word shorts stories. Fifty line poems. Apart from a general laziness, there's method in my reductive penmanship.
I think I've got better as a writer over the last two years. No, correct that; I am better as a writer. Fact. As David Brent might say. End of. Short stories and poems give me the opportunity to distill the essence of a situation, a feeling, an idea. It's writing at the sharp end. No room for verbosity, for elongated set-ups, digressions, dodgy plot leaps.
My favourite feeling is when I've got to the end of short story or poem. The first draft done. For this is the start of real work! The enjoyable bit. The editing. Short stories typically lose 25% to 33% of their size at this point as I reduce, re-order, debate each and every line. Unlike this blog post which could probably do with the editing axe all over it's flabby ass (I have a train to catch).
Anyway, I wanted you to share in my success. Crack out the Cava!
Returned home, brow sweated and furrowed from life, work, romantic entanglements (oh yeah!), to find a package on my doormat.
Yes, the latest Tim Robson book - Artificium 2 - has hit the stands of Amazon. My author copies just arrived. My story - The £20 Note - is, I modestly assert - me at my best. Brutal, honest and yet literate. It is what I am; assertion masking insecurity masking an irreducible core. My successes don't happen by error. I know that now. One day my kids will be proud of me!
Until then, I'll have to do the job myself!!!
Well done Tim.
Tell us something about Tim Robson.
Tim is six foot, attractive, loads of hair. Girls tend to be drawn to his looks but then back off when they realise he has no depth. He’s lost many girlfriends to this short, bald guy who follows him around cracking intellectual jokes.
When and why did you start writing stories?
The 70’s. To get girls.
How would you describe your writing style?
Better than it was last year. Not as good as next year.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
What is your favourite time for writing?
When the bar is open. Your round?
Where is your favourite location for writing and why?
See the answer above. I live it, man.
What other writing do you do – non-fiction, poetry, etc?
Abusive comments on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.
What is your earliest memory of writing a story?
Are you someone who plans their writing in detail or do you just launch into an idea and see where it goes?
Preplanners should be rounded up and placed against a wall. And have their fucking research thrown at them. Write with total freedom. But edit like a Nazi.
People say you should only write about what you know. What is your view on this?
Writing can be a lonely occupation or hobby. What is your advice for coping with this?
It’s said that in the future everyone will be published but no one will be read. What is your view on this statement?
I would like to introduce whoever said it to my good friend, Mr Baseball Bat.
How do you cope when your writing is ignored or rejected?
I blog. My stuff tends to be accepted.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome this?
Life is far too interesting for there to be a white page in your mind. Walk, look, observe. Sit in a bar and listen. Walk the streets. Look at each thing and ask wherein lies its story, its value. It’s purpose.
What do your friends and family think of your writing?
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their writing?
Balzac, Hardy, 80’s Amis, Iain Banks, On The Road, French Lieutenant’s woman. Hank Moodie. Anything by Tim Robson.
What has been your proudest moment so far with your writing?
The first cheque. 1994. £500 quid. Paid my council tax FFS.
What do you hope to achieve in the future with your writing?
World domination. Money. Multiple attractive sexual partners in various combinations. The Freedom of the City of Rochdale.
If you had to give one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?