5th July 2019 – Songs that changed my life
Sometimes you listen to a song and it has a special significance, a deeper resonance. It touches you in a way that makes your spine tingle.
That was my criteria for selecting songs for my appearance on the Martina Mercer show on Hailsham FM recently. We had two hours of conversation, punctuated by my favourite songs. (Click here if you’d like to listen to the show and some great songs).
River of Dreams by Barclay James Harvest is a song about regret, about looking back at what might have been, about hopes and dreams unfulfilled. This was the original band’s last studio album in 1997, so I guess it was inevitable that they would look back on their career.
Ironically, River of Dreams stirred me to look forward, not back.
Up until then, I sometimes wondered if my life had been a series of missed opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong, I was happily married with an interesting and fulfilling job in environmental health, a gorgeous wife and a lovely home on the south coast. But my success as a writer amounted to a few articles published in national magazines and a regular column on technology in Writers Monthly magazine.
When I wrote my first novel at the age of 17, I dreamt of becoming an author like Graham Greene or Harper Lee, writing books that could change people’s lives. The unimaginatively titled book, Survival in the Garden, was written for children as my life experience was mainly the wishful idealism of a teenager.
Publishers, Hamish Hamilton, wrote me a lovely letter, complimenting me on my realistic dialogue and story. It was a shame I’d used anthropomorphic characters as they felt the story would have had more appeal with human characters.
Had I known better, or had anyone to advise me, I would have revised the story and used human characters.
I would also have told them I was 17 years old.
I didn’t mention this because I thought they wouldn’t take me seriously or think I was precocious.
I guess this was my first experience of regret. Every rejection letter took me back to that missed opportunity, which seemed to set the pattern for my life.
When I wrote, I always felt I was a notch below where I needed to be. But what did I need to do to lift my writing a level? What was the secret ingredient that years of searching had failed to uncover?
Even my modest success writing articles didn’t translate into better novels. I kept trying, though my output was minimal since my first flurry into novel writing – five or six finished novels in 30 years. Many unfinished, I suspect. Plenty of short stories and humorous pieces though.
Life got in the way – marriage, creating a home, my career as an environmental health officer. If I couldn’t make it as a writer, I could succeed at these.
But I couldn’t help looking back, regretting chances I could have taken. I resented the success that others had, wondered why they got all the luck. My writing was as good as theirs, wasn’t it?
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I never tried hard enough to improve. I joined writers’ circles on the internet and at home, critiquing while others critiqued me, but I never believed in myself.
I thought success happened to others, that I was fated to feel frustrated and a failure.
Hadn’t a careers teacher at school destroyed my dreams of becoming a journalist?
Hadn’t I made a childish mistake with my first novel, writing about animals and insects?
And then I listened to River of Dreams. This was me, getting bitter and resentful because I hadn’t had the life I deserved.
Only I had. You get out what you put it, right?
Had I really tried to improve my writing by editing and revising my work when it was rejected?
Had I really learned from the articles I sold to national magazines? I succeeded through hard work and preparation, market research, revising and honing my words.
Couldn’t I do that with novels?
Why not? All I had to do was apply myself, work hard and learn. If I stayed positive and believed in myself, I would find a way. Better that than looking back with regret over what might have been.
I did the market research. Crime was filled with detectives of all kinds, but no one had an environmental health officer solving murders. It sounded ridiculous at first, but it’s not as daft as it may sound.
I created Kent Fisher shortly after listening to River of Dreams. It was a turning point that eventually led to an independent US publisher giving me what I’d always wanted – an offer to publish my novel.
Would I have got there without River of Dreams? We’ll never know.
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