Hazel McHaffie

Holding On?

Confession time

I’m starting this post at 2 o’clock on Monday morning. Why? do I hear you cry?

Well, I made the fatal mistake yesterday afternoon of accepting a cup of caffeinated coffee. Now, I know caffeine is a no-no for me; I KNOW it is. My consultant has TOLD ME it is. So why …? Well, I had just fed 30 people Sunday lunch; I had an empty stomach; I was very much in need of a quick boost of energy at that precise moment. Trouble was, I didn’t need to be hyper-stimulated at midnight … and 1am … and 2am … and … So I’m paying the price for a stupid moment of thoughtless self-indulgence.

No point in compounding the iniquity further, I thought; I’ll just use my night (unsociable hours, we used to call it in my nursing days) wakefulness to catch up on writing, and hope to nod off a bit on the train in a few hours time. I was having to get up at 5 anyway to get to the station for the early Crosscountry train to Birmingham. What’s an hour or two extra between friends? So here I am at 2am writing this week’s post.

Where was I? Aha, yes. As I was saying last time … my thoughts about authors who write books I both love and hate … leading to a confession.

Big breath … Come on! I’ve had a whole week to summon up the courage to reveal it … No, I haven’t hit the bestselling list … No, I haven’t sacked my publisher … But … I have done my best to … bury one of my books. There, it’s out.

My first published novel, Holding On? was written in the 90s, before I studied creative writing.Holding On? I’m indebted to Henry Hochland, the publisher who snapped it up while the ink was still wet, for putting my foot on the first rung of the fiction ladder. To my utter astonishment, the book quickly became a set book on degree and professional courses. But – and it’s a big BUT – I’m now so embarrassed by its deficiencies, that I don’t even list it on my website. I just wish I could re-write it, knowing what I know now.

Phew! From private burial to public exhumation in one fell swoop. I feel like I’ve just admitted to a particularly unsavoury addiction.

I wonder, will I be equally unhappy about subsequent books as the years roll on? Time will tell. I do periodically take stock, and I often regret certain publishing decisions. But then, as the sticker on my computer used to say: Perfection is always one more draft away.

All I can do is implore you, if you come across my first attempt, don’t dismiss me out of hand. If you read the second, third, fourth … even sixth, bear in mind that I’m a work in progress. Even Ian Rankin reckons that the reason an author goes on writing is that he knows he can do better; the perfect novel is always hovering just beyond the current one.

In all my periodic analyses though, one resolve remains constant: not to write to a formula. I want to keep the yawn factor – ‘if-you’ve-read-one-McHaffie-you’ve-read-’em-all’ – to a minimum. I prefer to fit the format and genre of the writing to the subject matter of the book. So far I’ve had a stab at romance, crime, family saga, first person diary, and multiple-perspective narrative. I love the challenge of experimenting with new styles (as you know, I’m quickly bored). Maybe I run the risk of alienating readers who are strictly one-genre fans, but at the moment at least, I think it’s a risk worth taking, to be true to my topics. And to date I’ve been lucky enough not to lie awake at night worrying that my readers will have the sort of demands which burdened writers like Audrey Niffenegger or Yann Martel, or Donna Tartt, who were expected to live up to the standard of previous highly-acclaimed novels. Enough to give you writers’ block before you even start pounding the keyboard.

Of course, if one of my books were eventually to emerge into the glare of fame (well, one can always dream!) I might sink my principles, bury all past efforts (metaphorically speaking), and jump with alacrity onto the passing bandwagon. But while I luxuriate in the shadows and freedom of obscurity, I shall cling onto my personal idiosyncrasies, please myself, and enjoy what I do.

Monday evening:
What a difference a day makes.

My mother has taken a turn for the worse, so I’m returning to Birmingham immediately to spend what time is left with her. Which might have implications for my blog. And it has nicely put paid to my interview for radio on Thursday. I hope I’m forgiven.

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