Thursday, 29 October 2015

Burning the Evidence

I just discovered a good antidote for lack of direction, paucity of good news and a general feeling that walking through treacle might be a bit more progressive: have a good burn-up.

I don't mean the petrol-head kind - impossible where I live anyway, unless in possession of a death wish - which I don't have. I mean having a clear-out and putting a match to all the old dross and files for which there is no further use.

And that includes several drafts of novels which have now been published, and which I'd forgotten were in a drawer. As I don't see the Bodleian - or any other library come to think of it - wanting to keep my manuscripts for posterity, I decided to take me some BBQ gel, which is like napalm in a bottle, to the bottom of the garden and put the incinerator to good use.

I suppose I should have felt guilty, sending all those hundreds of thousands of words up in smoke. After all, they represented months and years of work, tucked away at my keyboard, and covered three Harry Tate novels, the Marc Portman thrillers (2 and counting), a Lucas Rocco novel and the manuscript of my newest series, 'The Locker' (which is actually the freshest of all and is out in January from all good bookshops and Amazon). Seven books in all, roughly three quarters of a million words; more if you count the number written that got them to that stage in the first place.

But the truth is, apart from that last one, I have the published books on the shelf, so my scratching in the margins, numerous question marks and some seriously heavy under-scorings and even a couple of pithy comments to self in language my mother would not have approved of, didn't mean a whole lot. What the burn-up did, as I fed the pages into the top of the incinerator, was bring back snatches of dialogue, bursts of action and the names of characters I'd actually forgotten.

How could I? I'd lived, breathed and dreamed of these people and their doings over thousands of days and nights, so how could I possibly forget any of them? Well, I'm not sure... but my only explanation is that my brain can hold only so much information at one time, and each new book is so intensely focussed on the current set of characters, events and settings, that all previous works are elbowed out of the door.

Of course, as each stray page caught my eye, I couldn't help but scan the occasional paragraph and remind myself how the story had gone. It added to the time taken to go through them (about two hours instead of thirty minutes), and I'm sure my neighbour must have wondered what I was getting rid of so assiduously. She knows what I do for a living, and has already made it clear that she thinks I'm writing from close and personal experience. In fact, she once quizzed me about GCHQ, about which I know nothing much, and whether I'd ever signed the Official Secrets Act, which I have, and over which I went suitably blank - to her evident puzzlement.

As a useful bit of unexpected research, while I was stuffing papers into the funnel, the sound of a police siren came drifting over the hill. It was on a road which by-passes our hidden away corner of the woods, where even the wild boar go in pairs, but in the time it took to go by and fade, it highlighted for me just how long it takes to burn a bunch of papers - and takes even longer if you try forcing the issue.

Note to self for future projects where getting rid of incriminating files might be a plot point: don't stand there like a lemon reading them!

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