The Long Goodbye
I began the writing of ABIDE WITH ME – my debut novel – some time in 2010. I never plan anything I write, and ABIDE WITH ME was no different. What I discovered very quickly, however, was whilst I thought I was telling the story of Kenny – a young lad with unspecified autism – the story I was actually telling was that of John, the narrator of the book.
As the story unfolded, and John began to tell me of his childhood years, various aspects of my own childhood began to filter into the book. I wrote the final few chapters of ABIDE WITH ME with tears running down my face. At the end of it all, I was emotionally shattered. That’s when I realised I’d stopped telling John’s story a long way back, and the story I was really telling was my own. Not the plot, as such, but the themes and the characters. Each were intrinsically a part of me, and always had been.
By the final chapter, I was broken.
I had nothing left.
The book was incredibly well received – something I hadn’t anticipated. In hindsight, ABIDE WITH ME was all about the purging of myself, the making it out alive. I had no thought that it might touch others as it did.
There were two constant themes to the feedback I began to receive – ‘What a great film it would make’ and ‘When is the sequel coming out?’
There would be no sequel. I was sure of that. After the first one broke me in half? You’ve got to be kidding. In terms of the story, there was ample room for a sequel, but I refused to write one simply because people wanted me to. The story, for me, had ended.
But a year later, in late 2013, I heard John’s voice once more inside my head – quite unlooked for – and he began to tell me what happened to him two years after the end of ABIDE WITH ME. As with the first book, I had no plan. I simply listened and I wrote. But I won’t kid myself. This process wasn’t like the first book at all. This time, I had ‘expectations’.
As I listened, John’s voice was continually being drowned out by my own fearful mutterings – ‘What if I let my readers down? What if it isn’t good enough? What if after all this time, all I provide those that loved ABIDE WITH ME so much, was nothing but an exercise of disappointment?
During this period (2013/14), back out in the real world, my marriage was falling to pieces – leading to a separation from my wife of twenty-one years in March 2015. I had to drop out of the final year of the English Literature degree I’d spent the last three long years working on, and faced the prospect of moving out of my house with a week’s notice, and having nowhere to stay for myself and my three children.
As for APRIL SKIES – the title of the sequel, I had three chapters to go, and I hadn’t written a single word for over a year.
I have become accustomed to see the struggles of my characters in the things I write as a working through of my own struggles. We work them through together. Me and them. In terms of ABIDE WITH ME, I was John, and John was me. In the novel, John spends the entire book existing on the outside, unable to find a way of affecting the circumstances that whirl about him. He was me. I was him. His struggle was my struggle. The story he was telling me in APRIL SKIES, however, was very different.
John is no longer in the world of school and playing football in the park. He is in his mid-twenties, he has responsibilities, the world of work and relationships is now his life. He cannot afford to stand on the outside looking in.
In short, John has to learn what it is to be a man.
This mirrored the challenge I was facing in my own life at the time. I have found that sometimes, the characters I write show me the way. They do it first. But with three chapters to go in the book, and John on the edge of the darkness he needed to face, I knew he was waiting for me to show him the way.
Forced to learn what it is to be a man in my own life, one issue at a time, enabled John to complete his journey.
The closer to the end of APRIL SKIES I got, the more I realised this was not the ending of one book, this was the ending of two books. And the old fears came back. APRIL SKIES is a darker book than ABIDE WITH ME, mirroring the darker times in which it was written. It lacks the sentimentality of the first book, necessarily so because you can only have one childhood. I feared readers may not feel the same warmth they felt for ABIDE WITH ME.
APRIL SKIES is just as much of a cathartic exercise as ABIDE WITH ME. It is darker, bleaker, perhaps. But it is real. It can be nothing else. And in the writing of it, I have discovered two things – What it is to be a man, and more importantly, What it is to love.
I finally completed APRIL SKIES in October 2015.
Washing up the breakfast things a few weeks later, I realised the lives of the characters in both ABIDE WITH ME and APRIL SKIES would not only be carrying on, they would be carrying on without me.
And this parting is entirely as it should be. We have helped each other through these years, myself and John.
I wish him luck.
And I wish him love.
I really do.
APRIL SKIES will be published in April 2016, by Caffeine Nights – four years from the publication of ABIDE WITH ME.
It has been a long goodbye.
But then, it was always going to be.