How long did it take you to write your first book?
I began writing my first novel in 1990, and I was finally published in 2013, so I put that at 23 years. Of course it wasn’t the same book. I have two unpublished manuscripts lying under my bed (literary Boo Radleys that mock me) and a box of short stories – all unwanted and unloved. The archive is topped off with a file of rejection letters – I have been turned down by some of the finest literary institutions in the world, so I can take a kind of pride in that.
The book that was finally published, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, took 3.5 years from first word to publication. After I had been writing for two years I found an agent and he suggested a few changes that took 3 months of work. Then he sold it fairly quickly and my publisher wanted a few changes and the copy editing process is really quite lengthy. From sale to publication was 11 months.
What’s your worst procrastinating habit?
I have a 7 year old and have been the head of the school PTA for the last 12 months. I threw myself into that whole heartedly as the school budget had been slashed and they needed money for ICT/computers. I co-ordinated a series of big fundraising event and over the year we raised £26,000 – which is brilliant but I could have written another book. So I don’t fuck around on facebook much but I find large scale, non-writing projects to occupy me. I must not do that any more.
As a day-to-day strategy for being a failure, I tinker and edit and rearrange and improve lines and insert killer zingers and… the word count stays at 70,000 when I just need another 10,000 to finish. I find editing the worst part of the process. I am good at splurging plot but the finessing and detail work is often too fine for my banana like fingers. That is when I spend a lot of time ‘researching’ and thinking about the next project. I find it hard to finish. I keep tinkering to make a scene (especially the opening) perfect. Perfection, or the desire to attain it, is poison to a writer. It is impossible but as long as I have not finished with a scene it could be perfect – could, woulda, shoulda…I tell myself to leave it alone -move on, go west. But I don’t. It’s fear.
I have just written the first draft of my new book, The Boy in the Dark, but I am doing other things (mostly childcare) because the editing and rewriting is excruciating. And I know that it is almost time to send to my agent and that is scary. So I am thinking about the school Christmas fair… gotta stop it.
How do you stop yourself doing it?
I don’t. I mean I do. I self harm. Or rather, I keep tinkering until the deadline forces me to move on. Asking for help from other writers is great, tell them to hassle you about finishing. The other strategy, if you are constantly changing something is to describe that scene in 30 seconds. Know what that section does in the book – or throw it out if it is not absolutely necessary. You can always put it back, but the shock to the system can be good.
Do you listen to the interminable Inner Critic? How do you keep him/her quiet?
I am a worthless human being with little or no talent. No really, so it makes marketing and promotion tricky. But if that is true, then I should stop writing… but I keep going so I can’t (at my core) believe it. Not entirely anyway. And at the end of the day that is all you have. Some small self-belief. Often the critic wins – but you need to have a few wins. I love to read my work and read aloud to people as much as possible. To hear my words aloud, see if they provoke a reaction – that is the only proof I have that I can write. I recently read at the Together the People festival – it was a new story I wrote for the festival. No-one had heard it and I was very nervous. But people loved it and came up and talked about it after. I will feed off of that for a few months.
Quick tip for aspiring writers?
Throw yourself in hook, line and sinker. Give yourself the time to write. Say to yourself that you will dedicate a year or two or even three to being a writer and put your heart on the line.
Don’t get old and regret you never gave yourself the chance. Write damnit.
P. D. Viner is the author of ‘The Last Winter of Dani Lancing’ and ‘Summer of Ghosts.’ Crime novels described as ‘Brilliant’ By Sophie Hannah, and ‘Genuinely intriguing’ by Laura Wilson in The Guardian.
A TV series based upon his debut novel is in development and he is editing his third novel: ‘The boy in the dark’. In his past life he worked in film and theatre in Europe & America, and created the SmartPass Guides and Shakespeare Appreciated – audio guides to Shakespeare and classic literature.