So my 40th birthday is fast approaching, and its seen as one of the most momentous of a lifetime. ‘Life begins at 40’ is a well-worn cliche that crops up every time this milestone is reached, and personally I think it’s a load of crap. At least I hope it is, otherwise the preceding years have been a bit of a waste of time! But it does offer opportunity to reflect, and I’ve been mulling over my reading and writing life to date, and trying to get a handle on what I think about it all.
I believe that the greatest gift I got from childhood was a love of reading, and as I went through college and university, of literature. Everyone knows someone who says they don’t have time to read, and I’m grateful that I’m not one of them. When I think of all the thousands of life-changing books that people are missing out on it makes me shudder. I appreciate I probably do have more time as I am single and childless, but there’s always time if you try. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, and read whenever I have a spare moment. It’s a constant source of pleasure and I get great satisfaction from it.
Say I’ve been reading since the age of 10, that’s 30 years, probably a book a week on average since the age of 15, well, it’s got to be close to 1500 books so far in my lifetime. Millions and millions of words, and I feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface. There’s genres I rarely read, great classics to get through, and all the brilliant books that haven’t even been thought up yet. Hopefully I’m not halfway through my life yet, so I figure I’ve got at least the same amount of books left to read, if I can. What an amazing thing to look forward to.
On writing, I’ve said before that creating fiction is when I’m at my happiest, and I believe it’s pretty much saved my life on occasion. It’s where I’m most expressive, more thoughtful, and hopefully dynamic and challenging as well. It’s also one of the few things I’m really proud of, being a novelist. I knew from an early age I wanted to write a novel, and probably made my first naive attempts at around 16. Many get to that stage and give up, through fear or lack of time or real life getting in the way. I did too, to start with. But I didn’t let it beat me. I forget how old I was when I finally got a novel written. I think 23 or so. That seems impossible to me now, that I had the drive and focus to do it. I was such a young man in so many ways. There’s still aspects of that novel I like, too.
But you can always be accused of being a one-hit wonder, so I set out to see if it was a fluke. And it wasn’t. The genesis of Playing with Fire and the effort it took are well-documented on this blog, and that feeling when the last word was written is one I’ve never forgotten. Almost like tapping into another world and being privy to something so extraordinary it makes the process seem like it was enchanted. If nothing else, I’ll always have that moment.
And since the words have stagnated at times but on the whole kept flowing. Another novel is under my belt, some short stories and a novella, which is not a bad output of work. I’ve got content available for purchase in various places, and I’ve been published. Whilst I’m proud of that achievement, I’ve come to realise that it’s not the be all and end all. It’s the craft that matters, the response from the people closest. Having my novella Momentum discussed at my old book club was one of the kindest appreciations of my work, and that’s what keeps me going, not being published necessarily. Learning to appreciate that has given me a nice sense of calm, and has made me more immune to the midlife crisis, I hope. Besides, I write because I can’t not. It’s a fundamental part of who I am. So I’m going into my fifth decade with less trepidation than I might. For there is so much more left to read, and many more words to write. I can’t wait to get started.