Boulder On - A lesson in writing from Simon Toyne
There’s a scene at the end of There Will be Blood when the tortured protagonist – played in fine, scenery-chewing, Oscar-winning style by Daniel Day Lewis – batters his long-term antagonist to death with a bowling pin then calls out in a sing-songy voice, ‘Finished!’. This is pretty much how I felt when sending off the final-final-final edits for Solomon Creed my first new novel in almost two years.
Writing a book is a long and lonely process. It is very much like rolling a boulder uphill; a boulder that starts off as a small, pure white snowball of an idea and gets bigger and greyer and heavier and more jagged the higher you push it. And the heavier it gets, the steeper the hill gets too, until you finally get to the top and stand back and look at the lumpy thing you have created on your slow journey. You notice it has twigs sticking out of it and unsightly bulges. It is not, unfortunately, a larger version of the pure white snowball you started with. It is an unsightly thing, a lump of grey slush and gravel and earth and worse. This is when agents and editors appear and stare at it too. They prod the object, pushing your big, grey, jaggy boulder about until, inevitably, it starts to roll back down the hill again. Sometimes it rolls a long way down.
And so begin the re-writes. You take a breath and trudge back down the hill to the patch of nettles and thorns your boulder has come to rest in and you brace yourself and you wade in, wincing at the scratches and stings, then you start pushing it upwards again. Your hands are bloodied by now. Your legs are weak and still shaking from the first effort and you have to keep yourself going by telling yourself that this journey is knocking some of the edges off your unsightly ball of stuff; that it is shaking off some of the mud and sticks, that it is making it smoother – that it is making it better.
Eventually you reach the top again and your agent and editors appear, and, though they agree the boulder is less jagged and misshapen now, and does actually look more like the pure white snowball you first described to them, they still lean on it enough so that it rolls back downhill again. Your hands are in tatters and your legs can barely support you but you trudge down and start again. This can happen any number of times until your whole life becomes about pushing that damn rock uphill. And finally, after many of these journeys, the boulder is smooth and it drops into a perfect divot carved at the top of the hill that you didn’t notice before, and it can’t roll down any more. This is when you can finally rest, and enjoy the view, and say in a sing-songy, slightly demented whisper ‘Finished!’.
But then you notice something else. There are people, walking up the slope towards you. And you realize that they have heard about your new boulder and are coming to look at it. This is when fresh fear sets in. Because even though you think it’s a pretty good boulder now, you also have a sneaking feeling that all those people who liked your previous boulders won’t like this one at all.
And this, dear reader, is where I am. So if you want to come and take a peek at my new rock I will be appearing at Waterstones Brighton this Friday (13th!!) to reveal it. It’s called Solomon Creed and I really hope you like it. I can’t go down that hill again.
Simon Toyne will be reading extracts from his new novel, Solomon Creed, at Waterstones Brighton, Friday 13th March 2015.