I’ve written enough novels now that I recognise the rhythms, and they’re those identified long ago by Edith Wharton. Beginnings are a walk in a spring wood; endings, like going down the Cresta Run. Middles are the Gobi Desert … Writing DEAD LIONS took me through the familiar geography, and all the usual mood swings. Sometimes it was the best thing I’ve ever done; sometimes, far and away the worst. Mostly it was just the daily grind of getting words onto paper. Within that routine effort lay the occasional glimmer of light – a sentence that seemed, to my ear at least, to sing; the odd exchange of dialogue that rang true – but this has always been the case, even when it’s later turned out that I’ve been listening to music nobody else can hear. One thing’s for sure, though: at no point did I imagine my lions would bring home a Dagger. Foreseeing that would have made even the trek through the Gobi feel like a walk in the park.
But life has a way of moulding itself into a cautionary tale. Long before I was published, I met a novelist at a party. The trouble with writing, he explained, is that nothing is ever enough. You begin by thinking that all you want is to see your book in print, and that if that happens, you’ll be happy. And it happens, and you find yourself thinking: well, actually, I’d like to be noticed too. And the reviews come, and the niggles continue. You want better reviews, and more readers. You’d like bigger advances. You want prizes. And so it goes on, he told me, and so it goes on. Whatever happens, nothing’s ever enough. Writing is heartbreak.
Fast-forward many years, and I’m in the Grosvenor House Ballroom. I have the Gold Dagger in my lap, and a happy agent, editor and publisher around me. Applause is ringing in my ears, I’ve been hugged half to death, and there’s plenty of wine on the table. And I think: No, he was wrong. This is enough. This will do.
The following evening I place my Dagger on the mantelpiece, next to a plaque I received from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine a few years back. And they look great together, and for that one perfect moment, the view is unimprovable. And then, out of nowhere, a stray thought arrives – it says, but you know what would look even better? If there was another award, the other side of the plaque. For the sake of symmetry …
The writing life: nothing’s ever enough.
It does have its moments, though.
Dead Lions by Mick Herron is published by Soho Press