Sheer, Unadulterated Terror

There’s a big black hole on this site – nothing posted for the last ten days. Emails have gone unanswered, updates on Twitter and Facebook have been sparse. There’s no secret as to why – I’ve been writing. More precisely, I’ve been finishing a book. I thought it would be interesting to celebrate by posting a few thoughts.

My overriding feeling when I finish a novel is sheer, unadulterated terror. The new book – 17 DAYS – isn’t even a horror story, so how can that be? Let me try and put it into context.

17 Days logoI first had the germ of the idea which became 17 DAYS in 1995. I actually wrote a novel with the same central premise (which has subsequently been consigned to the vaults because it was bloody awful – I have two such ‘hidden’ novels: only one paper copy of each remains, and I’m not telling anyone where they are…). I tried again in the early 2000’s. The story was called MARK THANE back then, and I began to serialise it online before aborting it a). because AUTUMN exploded and, most importantly, b). because what I was writing wasn’t good enough.

Fast forward to 2010. I sat down for a meeting with my agent to discuss future plans and outlined several novels I wanted to write. He got excited about MARK THANE (as I was still calling it). Another year and a half of planning and a change of title and I was just about ready to start writing. I began writing this version of the story in February 2012, and finally finished it almost exactly a year later. Twelve months. Many, many versions. Almost half a million words written in total throughout all drafts etc.

So why the terror?

I’ve invested a huge amount of time, effort and energy into 17 DAYS. It’s different in many respects from the novels I’ve written previously – slightly dystopian, but less horrific and a little more mainstream, perhaps. Until I emailed the manuscript earlier this week, no one had read a word but me. So, like most other writers in a similar position, I guess, all the doubts are now starting to creep in. Is the damn thing any good? Will anybody want to read it? Have I got things totally wrong and am I in danger of disappearing up my own backside? Should I have stuck to horror? Should I go back to the manuscript and write in a zombie sub-plot (joke). The answers to these questions will start presenting themselves shortly, but the wait is agonizing. Sheer, unadulterated terror.

But I remain positive, contrary to what you might think reading this post! I console myself with a few facts. First, if the story wasn’t worth telling , would I really have kept coming back to it time and again over the last eighteen years? Second, it’s definitely the right time to tell the story – the Internet, Occupy, Anonymous, social unrest, austerity riots… all these things have helped fill the blanks which were there before. And third, everyone I’ve talked to about the story has had pretty much the exact same reaction. I’ll not tell you what that reaction was. Instead, I’ll leave you with the briefest of blurbs:

Mark Thane is thirty-one. He’s doing very well for himself, all things considered. He has a nice house, a decent job, and is getting married next summer. On the face of it, everything looks perfect.

Mark’s involved in a tragic accident, and though he walks away largely unscathed, it’s discovered that he’s suffering from Hemsayles Syndrome, a rare condition which is fatal in ninety-five per cent of detected cases. There’s no possibility of any cure. His only option is to allow nature to take its course. But in a cruel twist, his doctors are able to calculate how long he has left.

Mark Thane will die in seventeen days time. Probably.

How do you come to terms with knowing exactly when you’ll die? In Mark’s case, he doesn’t. He cracks under the pressure, and his world falls apart. When he looks for support, he doesn’t get it. When he asks for help, no one’s listening.

On the verge of doing something stupid, he’s pulled back from the brink by a foul-mouthed, antagonistic girl he meets in a bar he shouldn’t have been drinking in. When he returns home – drunk, alone and desperate – he vents his frustrations into his webcam and uploads the results to YouTube. When Mark wakes up next morning, he’s gone viral. Within days it seems the world is hanging on his every word.

And in what’s left of the seventeen days he’s been given, Mark Thane will learn more than he managed in the previous thirty-one years.

This nobody from nowhere is on the verge of changing everything.