Reading Festival in 2009 provied one of the most amazing nights of my creative life. Radiohead were headlining after a long absence from the stage. The late summer sun set on an empty stage and as darkness took hold, a white light started to flash slowly, and the park erupted as the band burst into Creep, the song that made them, the song they had once foresworn, and the song no one was expecting them to play.
OK, that’s a rather grandiose metaphor, but I understand why they grew to hate Creep, why they went so far as to write a song (My Iron Lung) about how it was choking the life out of them. I went through a similar phase with my thriller, The Company of Fellows. It’s a book that gave me many if not most of the breaks I’ve had in my writing life. It is the reason why the lovely people at Blackwell’s in Oxford, one of the world’s most famous bookstores, welcomed me with open arms. It is the reason I started to get so many invitations to speak about self-publishing. And it drove me utterly nuts – or, rather, it completely overwhelmed me. I found myself being branded a thriller writer and found it impossible to talk about anything but thrillers. It was like being invited to the best restaurant in the world and told you could only have the bread.
I was desperate to talk about my other work, my literary novels, my budding poetry career, but I was unable to do so. I was only able to talk about The Comapny of Fellows. That annoyed me for several reasons. First, that kind of pigeonholing is why I self-publish. I’m not a thriller writer or a poet, I’m a writer. Second, and the one that made me squirm a bit – it wasn’t my best book, and I resented being judged on work that wasn’t my best (I have since re-written and re-edited and am happy to say I am now very pleased with the book) – there’s a lesson there. Third, I was at that part of my career where I was still brash and insecure – I wanted to be taken seriously. I wasn’t yet ready to say “yeah, I write experimental novels but I also write thrillers – so what?” I got so frustrated I took the book off the shelves. In other words, I flounced. I said “look at me, I’m above *that* kind of writing, I’m an artiste.”
Now, I hope, I am ready. It’s been a long journey. I shouldn’t, in retrospect, have put The Company of Fellows out there when I did. I should have waited till I was less insecure, happier in the kind of writer I am (an eclectic one) and happier with the book (actually, reading through it now, I’m not only rather taken with it, I’m happy that it’s as good as my literary books – just different).
Next time, I’ll write a post that’s about the book itself (though do feel free to buy it now, or reload the edited version if you have a copy – just click the pic) but this post is a mixture of things. It is an apology – to Blackwell’s for being so precious about things when they have been so generous; to writers for being such a flouncer and rather disrespectful to my fellow thriller writers; to readers for deciding to take the ball away so they couldn’t play. I fully expect some tickling of ribs for the volte-face. But I’m really pleased to be in a place where I can say I’m proud of this book. Next time, a little more about it, but meanwhile, please go and take a look 🙂