Opinion with Melissa Todd: Weirdly bereaved now I have finished writing my novel

Melissa has finished her novel

I wrote a novel during lockdown. I don’t know if it’s any good. I got a sort of buzzing of assorted voices in my head, which had to be written down to make them go away.

Maybe it wasn’t a novel at all but the onset of lockdown induced insanity. Certainly I panic without a project. Pre-covid I was offering music therapy in residential homes, but oddly a new virus rampaging through the elderly meant me and my case of sticky tambourines were no longer welcomed with open arms by management.

So I sat and wrote a thing, 60000 words of it. Admittedly that’s not very long, but writing is hard. It makes my brain ache. Even sitting down to write this column for you, dear reader, saw me procrastinate for a week, decide to take down Christmas, clean the oven and write thank you letters to my assorted great aunts, in preference to puking out 500 words.

Actually, writing isn’t that hard, but for some reason I can never remember that until I sit down to do it. I have to fool myself into making up sentences by setting a timer for ten minutes and promising myself I’ll stop when it rings. When the ten minutes have passed, I’m usually sufficiently engrossed to have no thought of stopping. I read for a minute, something in a similar tone to that I’m trying to achieve, which shifts my brain into the right gear: sometimes I even steal and adapt a sentence, the scaffolding for my own work, just to set me off.

Now it’s finished I feel weirdly bereaved. Having had all those people murmur and dance in my head all day long, then suddenly fall silent, has left me lonely: they’ve kept me company through all the tiers.

It was a sort of love triangle type thing, with a woman at the centre who was quite like me, and two chaps who are probably quite easily recognisable too, particularly the portrayal of the flabby, sweaty cad, who fortunately hasn’t the self-awareness to recognise I’m ripping him apart.

I don’t suppose anyone will publish it. This isn’t pessimism or false modesty, just statistically accurate.  I’m not of the right social class to succeed as a writer. I don’t have the right set of contacts, the right social polish.

Writers tend to be published by their mates. They know publishers, and the publishing industry is not known for its diversity. Most writers hail from professional backgrounds: I do not.

Only 10% of published writers had parents who worked in manual trades, as did mine. Publishing is an upper middle class industry that caters to upper middle class tastes. I am as confident as I have ever been confident of anything that I have not written a book that panders to middle class tastes.

Of course there are exceptions, but they are rare enough I don’t rate my chances of becoming one of them. It’s like predicating your future on a plan to win the lottery. Pretty well destined to disappointment.  JK Rowling may have made much of her grinding poverty and single mother status, but she still derives from professional stock. Her brother-in-law owned the cafe where she liked to sit and scribble all day, and if he’d had to mend roads instead I suspect the world would have been denied Harry and his chums.

So the chance of me getting published may be non-existent, but that’s OK. I wrote the thing for me, because I needed to make some space in my brain, and I shall find my satisfaction in having completed the thing and defying the publishing world.  If you can’t change the world – and I’m too old even to try – you must amend your expectations of it.

I wonder how I’ll fill Lockdown III?


  1. Publish it yourself, if all other avenues fail.
    I`ll buy a copy, and no doubt many other locals, at the very least.

    • I should also add that I’m an ex-scaffolder and doorman who left school with no qualifications, and whose father was a dock worker and cab driver from the Old Kent Road. Class and background are NO excuse whatsoever.

      Feel free to contact me via my website if you want advice (formatting, pricing, promotion). If a person’s work is good, then they have every chance of success.

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