A Kind of Distraction…or Self-Preservation by Declan Burke

Getting around that Mondays suck thing by welcoming the wonderful Declan Burke back to the blog. The last time he was here, in support of the phenomenal Absolute Zero Cool, Declan was ruminating on violence in crime fiction and the author’s “right” to write about it. Today Declan’s here in support of his latest, Slaughter’s Hound, and, after a very busy past two years, he’s contemplating whether it’s time for a little break from writing.

Declan BurkeI have become extraordinarily busy in recent weeks. Honestly, there just isn’t enough hours in the day. I’ve had to rearrange my filing cabinet, sort out my tax receipts, catalogue my new collection of classical music (chronologically, since you ask), and give the office carpet its annual vacuum.

Outside, there has been the year’s final mowing of the lawns (back and front), winter’s logs to be chopped, gravel to be raked, drains to be cleared. Meanwhile, the jobs keep on piling up. Only this morning I realised that the back of the PC hasn’t been dusted in ages, and that I haven’t sifted the no-hopers out of my TBR pile in over a month. And on and on it goes …

You’ll understand, no doubt, what’s going on here. It’s a kind of nesting, in one sense, such was when parents-to-be get into a frenzy of preparation for the new arrival, much of it pointless. It’s also a kind of distraction, of self-diversion. Or self-preservation, perhaps.

Because there’s a book coming. A book that will – as always – need me to be a better writer than I am in order to do it justice. A book that will soak up more time than I can afford to give. A book that will in all probability find me revealed as the arm-chancing hack I know myself to be.

I have the story. I have the form and I’ve been hearing its voice. And every time I hear that voice, I reach for the duster, or the axe, or the disinfectant.

Dusting, chopping, polishing, grouting – these are all practical activities, all of which offer a visible or tangible reward. ‘There,’ he thinks as he files the last of his cell phone bills alongside the electricity and heating bills, ‘that’s that taken care of.’ Or, ‘Look at that pile of stacked wood – now that’s a pile of stacked wood. Where’s my camera?’

I don’t know if all writers go through this process. I suspect everyone has their own pre-book routine, the one in which they flail about in search of any activity, no matter how irrelevant or humble, that will get in the way of their sitting down at the desk to suffer the kind of snow-blindness that comes with considering the vast white space. For some it lasts minutes, for others … well, how long is a piece of vast white space?

It doesn’t help that I’m not tied by contract to a deadline. Neither does it help that my day job has deadlines that need to be met three to four times a week. It’s also true that I’m feeling a little bit washed out right now, given that four books have been published in the last 12 months or so – Absolute Zero Cool and Down These Green Streets last year, Slaughter’s Hound and Books to Die For (co-edited with John Connolly) in 2012. So I’m starting to feel – treacherous thought – like I’ve ‘earned’ some time off from writing, and maybe even a year off.

Slaughter's Hound by Declan BurkeOr so thinks the rational, practical side of my brain. Meanwhile, the other half is ceaselessly plotting, churning, throwing up arguments and counter-arguments as to whether such-and-such a storyline will work; or whether this character or that is strictly necessary; if the story might not work better in a different setting; and so forth.

It’s a lot of psychic energy to expend. And nothing to photograph at the end of it, to place alongside that solidly stacked pile of wood.

A book may come of it, of course. I’m dubious about the prospect, because this will be the seventh or eight attempt at nailing down this particular story, which has accounted for well in excess of a million words over the last decade or so – although that in itself suggests that there’s something about this story that demands it be written, and written well.

Or maybe not. Maybe that kind of thinking is just another kind of self-diversion, a subconscious protective swaddling wrapped around the story to persuade myself that even trying to write it is a pointless process.

Who knows? Who cares?

Anyway, we could sit here and talk about not writing all day, I’m sure. But I’m afraid I’m rather busy. It’s a Saturday morning and my wife has just come home with the weekly shopping, and it would be uncouth to ask her to put it away by herself. And there’s the stove to light, and a small box of stray socks to be paired, and a stack of rogue pens to be bundled (by colour), and it’s not raining so maybe instead of sitting at this desk sketching out notes about a man struggling to cope after his young daughter is killed in a car accident, it might be nice to put on my boots and gloves and go take a relaxing walk in the woods this afternoon with my actual, real daughter.

Sounds good to me …

Declan Burke has published four novels: Eightball Boogie (2003), The Big O (2007), Absolute Zero Cool (2011) and Slaughter’s Hound (2012). Absolute Zero Cool was shortlisted in the crime fiction section for the Irish Book Awards, and received the Goldsboro / Crimefest ‘Last Laugh’ Award for Best Humorous Crime Novel in 2012. Slaughter’s Hound was shortlisted in the Crime Fiction category for the 2012 Irish Book Awards. Declan is also the editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (2011), and the co-editor, with John Connolly, of Books to Die For (2012). He hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays, and can also be found on Twitter @declanburke.

1 Comment

  • Naomi Johnson

    November 26, 2012 - 9:51 PM

    Slaughter’s Hound is on my calendar to purchase tomorrow. I’m looking forward to reading it, as I do with all of Mr. B’s books. So stop putzing around, sir, and get started on the new book.