There are many books about how to write your first novel. Few discuss the blind terror aspect of the activity. Due to a grand bouffe of tweets, text spaghetti requesting how I wrote Taking Leave, here is an apocryphal short story about writing that book. Episode One.

Writing your first novel is never easy. Not when you are worried about winning the Booker Prize before lifting a  pen to write the first paragraph. I chose to write ‘Shedding Skin’ as it was then known, on a Greek island situated in the middle of nowhere. Athens was a 12-hour boat ride away, Turkey six hours and London 48 hours, with a very good tailwind. The date of my arrival was auspicious – March 17th – St Patrick’s night. I had decided that if I was going to write the book I needed to sever my connections with the UK and go as far away as possible from prying eyes of friends and family.

I gave up my job and my flat in London’s Vauxhall and cast off. I was fortunate to have a patron. Their only note of guidance was that I should try to capture the underlying pain in the story and keep the humour in it somewhere in the back room, as it were. Pain? I flinched and said I would do my best.

Patmos is the island of the Revelation – the place where St John wrote the Revelations in the Bible. It is a small island with a population of about 2,500 people, and unique not just because of its natural beauty but because of the interesting people it attracts from all over the world. One such person was a well-known American poet, sage and author called Robert Lax. A tall thin man in his eighties, Lax was the source of solace and wisdom for people visiting from all over the world. Close friend of American intellectual, Father Thomas Merton, Lax was a highly revered, if not physically delicate person on the island.

Four months after landing on the island and the temperature had gone from being 59 to 95 Fahrenheit. Like many writers using a laptop computer, I renewed my self-esteem by checking the word count, every day, every other hour, okay, constantly. Unpleasant crunchy  cockroaches, scorpions and giant centipedes were sharing my sheets, shoes and dishcloths. Owing to squadrons of visiting mosquitoes and a local dog with warts on its face, that barked outside the front door all night, a good night’s sleep was impossible. Yet none of the above was a paralysing source of worry. Providing the work was going well, I could just about deal with them.

No, ladies and gentlemen, the problem came when everything went wrong at the same time. CUT TO: A scalding hot day, possibly the 13th August, when my soul and neurological system flashed up MAN OVERBOARD.

Read Part Two here »

Buy it now from Amazon

© Copyright 2015 | Website design by