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  • Marc Hamer

We’ve reached a crucial point in the writing of Tales of Spring Rain. The first edit. I haven’t done much on it for a couple of weeks, firstly we had a builder digging up the kitchen floor with a jackhammer because the floor that was laid when I had some money two years ago by a local builder (Terry Lee and Sons) cracked up, due (according to the insurance assessor who refused to pay out) to poor workmanship. Now I am skint. I mean really skint. Then it was my birthday, a big one, you know ‘The Big One’ and the remains of my house were taken over by relatives and friends who came to stay and fill me up with wine amid the concrete. Then we all got ill. Oh and then I decided to run and judge a writing competition for over 40’s (because I just got really pissed off with every writing opportunity being for under twenty fives) and that grew and I needed to read all the entries. Click the link above for details.

Progress was delayed (this is starting to read like ‘Ed Reardons Week’ isn’t it?). Anyway, I’m back on track. I have a beginning, a middle and and end, I have a plot, a story that feels strong and deep and a structure and I have reached my word count. There is (dare I say it myself) some really nice writing, but for me what is most important is the books personality, how it feels in the mind, its shape. I need to write things that I haven’t read before. (And I read an awful lot). I am looking for (in my reading and in my writing) an immersive experience that leaves me and the reader changed and I am pleased with how this book has opened up and developed, taken on a life of its own, shown me things that I didn’t know, revealed something from the depths.

I’m well on track for my submission and publication dates so I can afford to take my time with this edit. In a couple of weeks it will go to my first reader (Kate Hamer) who will give me the ‘Shit Sandwich’; firstly she will tell me how wonderful it is (to soften me up), then tell me what a cock I am and everything that doesn’t work or make sense, then tell me again how wonderful it is and what a marvellous writer I am (I do exactly the same for her work). The ‘Shit Sandwich’ is a technical term we writers use to describe any communication from our first readers, critics, agents and editors. Writers need the shit sandwich even though it is horrible and we must eat it.

This is the last book in what I think of as something of a trilogy, not a real trilogy but all on a theme. They had their own shape, this has another shape. I thought that it may possibly be the last book I would write but given the fact that I am now ‘potless’ due mostly to the said criminally inept builders and partially to my own profligacy I’ve started a notebook for a new book that I might write in the future if I can afford it - you need to have an income to be able to write. I was working as a gardener and a molecatcher when I wrote my first one, then the income from that allowed me to give up work and write my second one and so on. If there are decent sales I might be able to write another. I have ideas about an entirely different book from the previous three, a stand alone, but that is ‘pie in the sky’ at the moment.

I keep a notebook in the very early stages of a project, it helps me to form the shape of what’s going on in my head; every book has a shape, it starts as a cloud of ideas but as it grows and the ideas become connected to each other it takes on a three dimensional shape that has colour and music and feeling, I can almost feel it in my hand - when the shape starts to feel tight and spherical when it is harmonious and all the connections pulse and glow together, when it bounces instead of falling apart when I slap it, then the book is close to being the best that it can be and everything else is just finessing. So in the early days I keep a notebook to stop it all slipping away but once I get to work on a book, I never look at them, they are just the early experiments and the shape of what I’m writing tells me what it wants to be. I’ve got mountains of notebooks half filled that I have never opened since writing in them. I don’t need to once I have got going, I go where the book wants to go and the notes become irrelevant. I will have a huge bonfire at some point and get rid of them all.


Now it is time to bag up my notebooks for Tales of Spring Rain, clear my desk of the reference material and go back to a clean desk, a fresh bunch of flowers and a bottle of water. Today I’ll start to edit and rewrite, to clear the rubbish that hides its personality, the irrelevances, the sidetracks and so on. This is not always easy because there is always at least one piece of writing that I really love, that has to go if the story is to bounce.

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  • Marc Hamer

I have just typed the words 'THE END'. for the first draft of #TalesofSpringRain Now the work begins again.


I must go back to the beginning to go through it chapter by chapter, line by line, word by word to make sure that every single word is the right one, every single line is where it should be and that anything that is superfluous is gently removed and composted. It is like a garden, it has been designed, the hard structures are in place, the fences and gates and paths are there. Structure is everything in a garden and in a book. It has been planted. Some of the plants and young and need feeding, others are beautifully flowering and doing great. There's weeding to do, pruning, taking out some dead things and planting something wonderful in the gap. Adding lightness here and shade there, tearing out a bed that doesn't work and planting it again with something more appropriate. After I type 'The End' next time, perhaps at the very start of the new year. I will give it to someone else to read, they will see it with fresh eyes and tell me what they think of it and I'll go back to work again because they saw things that I had grown too close to see. It will feel horrible because I am close to it, it is my child, and even before it was born I imagined how perfect and beautiful it would be, pictured our wonderful life together, then I gave birth to it and loved and nurtured it and struggled with its wilfulness and tendencies to anarchy. I will not have any criticism of my child - and yet it must be done. It needs it. I am too close to see that parts of it are monstrous and it needs therapy. Even though I know, deep inside, with help it could be stronger, brighter, more beautiful.


I'll need to distance myself and leave it to the village to tell me all its faults. And some of those faults I'll love and feel it needs to make it human, so I'll keep and nurture them until they're strengths and others I'll cut out. Any child needs a village to raise it. People I know, people I trust to nurture my child. My agent, my editor, the proofreaders that again and again are its village and its teachers. And then it will be released and will be everybody's child and like any other book, must take its chances, hope for a powerful mentor or a lover to help it grow. It's gone beyond me.


One day I'll meet it, in a bookshop on a shelf and I'll say 'hello you, it's great to meet you here' and I'll remember the fun and the struggles we had together. I'll pick it up and open it at random and see a factual inaccuracy or a spelling mistake and I'll say, 'Oh well, what can you do.' You are who your are now and your life is your own.


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  • Marc Hamer

In praise of Independent bookshops


This was written before the ABA picked my subsequent book, Seed to Dust also as an Indy Pick. I'm posting it here today because I just came across it while looking for something.


It is a 'thank you letter' to all independent bookshops.


In October 2019 my book ‘How to Catch a Mole’ was published in North America, the American Booksellers Association picked it as one of the top 20 books of the season for independent bookshops, an ‘Indy Pick’. I was asked to write a response to this and at short notice I wrote a little note of thanks and a few words about how important bookshops and especially independent bookshops had been to me. But I didn’t tell the whole story of just how important they were.


As a child we moved around a lot, travelling from town to town. We were often very poor as my parents looked for work. My father working on the railway, a chauffer, factory worker, Santa in a department store, eventually renting a guest house in Blackpool for a few years then became a pub landlord. My mother usually finding work as a cook wherever we went. As a child this meant moving from school to school, making friends, losing them and eventually becoming very isolated. The day came when I thought, ‘there is no point making friends in this new school, we will be off again soon’ and so I didn’t bother, and we did move on. Education and relationships were continually broken. Poverty is hard on children in so many ways, not just because of the poor chances in life and lousy education. I would take time off school from time to time when it suited my father because he needed work doing in the cellar of the pub or a 56lb sack of potatoes needed peeling in the guest house. After school was over it was more of the same labour and constant worry and punishment for homework left undone.


I came from a house with very few books. A couple of old paperbacks about cowboys that were my father’s. Other books I had been given as Christmas presents four or five paperbacks of horror stories, a hardback collection of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, a copy of ‘Heidi’ which I had secreted away – stolen from a caravan in Wales we had stayed in for a week. This handful of books I would read over and over, my family joked that I was always reading instead of out playing football with the other boys. “He will read the back off a cereal packet that one” I remember my father saying. This made me an oddball. Very early in life I was banned from one school library because I had library fines that my father refused to pay. I never bothered joining another one because I was embarrassed, I didn’t know how a library worked. I was horribly shy.


At 15 I left school and began working as an apprentice in a steel works in Wigan, Lancashire. I was there for about a year before my mother died and I was made homeless and went wandering. After a couple of years of living rough I found a home and a job on the railway and grassroots bookshop in Manchester. I was 18 and bought the first book I had ever bought, it was ‘down and out in London and Paris’ by George Orwell, chosen because I had been a ‘down-and-out’. That was followed, of course, by ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’.


In that bookshop I discovered that I was not alone in the world, I found a family, a tribe. I fell in love with Gudrun Brangwen in D.H. Lawrences ‘Women in Love’ and then with Lawrence himself having discovered that he was the son of an illiterate miner. I started to write for those authors because they had written for me. I met Winston Smith in ‘1984’ and Apeneck Sweeney in T.S. Eliots ‘Sweeney Among The Nightingales’ and through them and their creators I learned that there were men unlike any other men I had met in my life, men with passions other than football and beer. Men who did not tell me what to do or how to behave. Men who did not do what they were told. Men who said ‘Fuck the Authorities’. Lusty brave men like Jean Genet and wanderers like Thoreau, angry Bukowski and grumpy Ted Hughes and Larkin and all the demented poets Thomas, and I fell in love with Plath of course and crazy Stevie Smith. I came home to them and they to me and the more I read the more I wrote. I found people who showed me how to be a man, they showed me there were different ways of being a man.


Others taught me how to think and what to think about, when school had just fitted me to go down the mine or work in the steelworks. Sartre and Nietsche, Seneca, Kropotkin and Christmas Humphreys and my beloved George Orwell all gave me big questions, questions I could have fun with, that asked me what I wanted to do with my life.


I wander into bookshops now, wherever I go, travelling around the country to speak at book fairs, festivals and little independent bookshops just like the one I used to spend so much time in as a hungry young man, and there on the shelves by my heroes and teachers and friends, there is my own little book, ‘How to Catch a Mole’, published by Harvil Secker / Vintage, Orwell’s publisher and I am so very very grateful to those publishers and those dedicated people who curate and run those little bookshops.


04/12/2019

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