It's always a drag dealing with failure. I've been trying to write properly for twenty five years. I wrote my first novel when I was 18 years old. I hand wrote it. I hand wrote three novels. None of them particularly good. None of them that I actually read. Writing them seemed work enough. Then I typed another three novels when I was at university. I sent out a couple of them. I sent out a crime novel that got taken to pieces in a reader's report I still have somewhere. It wasn't very good. My PhD dissertation was the book I managed to finally write and I tried also to publish but they wanted to have a long revision and I couldn't face it. Looking back that seems like a missed opportunity but I was done with the material. I got some stuff published here and there, but the dissertation was dead. Shelley and Laughter it was called.
When I got to Italy, I had plenty of time to focus and so I wrote a great deal. I've managed more or less a novel every year I've been here. Sometimes more. I snagged an agent about ten years ago. This was a huge encouragement. I still remember coming home from Venice on the train and basically feeling I'd already made it. I was a published author and it was only a matter of time before the world caught up. They didn't. And I wasn't.
My agent helped me a huge deal and I developed as a writer. Everything I wrote was better and better, but rather than a publishing deal our progress was marked by a widening circle of contacts and ever-more flattering rejection letters. We even went in to meet an editor at a publishing house and who wanted to talk and encourage, but again it came to nothing.
There are several side effects to failure, leaving aside the obvious stuff about self-esteem and despair. One is that time becomes the enemy. A success in your 20s and 30s and you've time for a long career; time to enjoy it. And your success will be burnished by your youth. A bright young thing. I'm 45. Secondly, failure effects what you do. At times you become willing to change anything - write anything - and your risk losing your identity. Plus no one wants anything, so this willingness to compromise erodes whatever voice or talent you have. Thirdly, your familiarity with your goal becomes increasingly shopworn. It's been in the window too long. Yellowed by the sun light, a bit tatty and no longer new. When you finally get it, if you finally get it, you already feel it is going to be a let down, in no way compensating for the work and sacrifice that it cost you.
Of course, this is a dump. I will feel relieved and a bit smelly and then open the window and the latest draft of my new novel and get to work - Winter Truce (5th draft). Maybe this will be the one. But I honestly don't think it will. Failure develops a muscle memory so I know the ropes now. The waiting, the silence, the email. The twinge of acid in the pit of your stomach. Your stomach? My stomach I should say. I keep wanting to put a nice little uplifting thought at the end here. A note of encouragement. An ah well, and onward to tomorrow. But the honest truth is my life is an abject failure.
I was in Rome when the first attacks took place. There were three in total before I got an email from an old friend in CID asking me to come in for a consultation. I’d been following on the news, so he didn’t even have to tell me what he needed me for. On the flight a little girl – she must have been two but I’m bad with ages – was running up and down the aisle. Her mother was telling her not to but she whined ‘I want to see the people. I want to see the people.’ The man holding the card with my name almost correctly spelt was wearing a kilt. He didn’t offer an explanation so I didn’t ask for one.
9 Times Table is my first collection of short stories to be published. I've written short stories for years. Usually I do so with some kind of common theme.
Ephemeral, said the secretary of Barrow and District Writers Club
In 1988. In the upstairs room of the Traveller's Rest.
It was the first time I'd ever read my poetry in public.
Ephemeral, he said. Isn't it?
Thank you, I said.
A mixture of ether, me and Arial!
I was glowing with pride
Until I got home to the dictionary.
But my poetry has always been ephemeral.
Here today and soon, thankfully, gone
Like a Facebook post by the ever-blathering John
Like life itself (a good trick every bad poet plays)
The time soon gone, nothing ever stays
Your friends will die, your enemies too
I won't last long and neither will you
And this poem and the 19 previous
Will slip away and be forgotten the easiest
(God what a poor rhyme but I'm not going to worry my head
The secretary of the Barrow and District Writers Club
Is thankfully dead).
Lying is fantastic:
You can say you did things
Without having to do them,
You can say you didn't do things
When in fact you did them.
You can tell people you met Roger Moore
At the airport when
You never met Roger Moore
At the airport.
The only problem is that the next week
When you actually do meet Roger Moore
At the airport
'God, you look enormous!' I said
Thinking it's a thought best left in my head
But beneath my nose my idiot flap was open
And the smile beneath your beautiful nose (too little too late)
The most magnificent
Meteor shower fired overhead
While we lay safely
Unconscious tucked up in bed
Like the full eclipse we almost
Saw through a battleship sky
Or the conjunction of planets
That always seems to pass us by
Miracles are always happening
But somewhere else
Like beautiful poetry books
Crouching unread on a shelf
A series of nuclear explosions
Ninety million miles away
Is visible over the horizon
At the beginning of every day
Here it is a crime and a sin
To even think of being bored
Where the beauty of existence
is happy to be ignored.
The chimney sweep is much in demand in August;
His wife seems increasingly irritated by my phone calls.
I feel like reminding her that I intend to pay him,
But I don't in case she speaks ill of me to him.
I remember when he came last year he had a bad back.
He was cheerful and his mate did all the work.
They taped newspaper over the fireplace opening,
Then used a vacuum cleaner to suck up the soot.
I'm always afraid the chimney will catch on fire
And we'll be burned to death in our beds, screaming.
I tell the chimney sweep a watered down version
To encourage him to clean the chimney extra well.
But the chimney sweep tells me I'm being daft:
'You'd never burn to death,' he assures me,
Rubbing his back and checking his messages.
'You'd already be dead of smoke inhalation.'
I hate trucks that overtake trucks on the motorway
Bunging up the middle lane as a HGV inches, or
Waddles past another HGV on the motorway
Do I chance the fast lane or slow and wait as
The truck slowly glacially overtakes the other truck
On the motorway?
I was thinking about this when one of the tires
Of the truck overtaking the other truck blew
On the motorway, exploded in a puff of brown smoke
And the truck lurched into the fast lane
And back into the middle lane and the tire
Was in shreds
And brakes were applied
And we almost died
But in the end, nothing happened
Because I wasn't in the fast lane
And we got home
And I wrote my fourteenth poem
And now I've mentioned that it's my fourteenth poem
Some of you - not nastily, but understandably -
Are wishing that I'd been overtaking
The truck the was overtaking another truck
On the motorway.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.