Lester

This was my first published novel, written in 1996 and making it onto the bookstore shelves three years later. In fact it was a sequel, with its precursor, Another Cup of Soup, being one of five forever unpublishable novels that constituted my writing apprenticeship. I retain a lot of affection for this novel, in part because it was the first time I got to see my name printed on the spine of a book. And also because it represented the last book I ever got to write in that happy space of never expecting it to see the light of day. So it was written not with the intent of impressing a reading public, but rather for the sheer joy of inventing character, experiencing and manipulating unfolding plot, and watching sentences take shape across the page (from memory the first draft was hand written). There’s a level of fun there that you never get back.

Reading it now, I can see that its energy and flaws are intertwined. I genuinely loved the characters of Michael and Toni, and I think this comes through in the text. At times the exuberance leads to plot contrivances that I would balk at now, and the ending captures perfectly the impatience of the early career writer. Once I had the conclusion in my head, I just wanted to get it down and get out of there, onto the next project. The book really needed another ten pages or so, but at that point I was yet to grapple with the business of the gentle farewell.

This novel is also notable for me, in that it represented my first experience of being read by strangers. I soon discovered how much work the reader does, and how widely your simple story can be interpreted. Reviews in New Zealand were quick to highlight the small-town gothic elements of the story, a favourite local genre. I was more than a little puzzled by this, having seen it primarily as a teenage love story. That’s what comes from growing up in a small town, I guess: your normal is somebody else’s horror story.

Once, many years later, I was in a book store and overheard a sales assistant talking to a customer who was considering buying my latest book. ‘I don’t know,’ the assistant said, ‘I still think his first one was the best.’ I like to believe that isn’t true, it’s the myth of progress that keeps us writing, but I am happy to accept there was something going on here that I would never recapture.

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