I write 'The End' on my New Book yesterday.
Actually, not my New Book, so much as my New, New Book. My New Book is still provisionally called The Mask and is a contemporary chiller set in Amsterdam - though it does move between the past and the present.
My New New Book is called I Pass Like Night, which is set in the wholly imaginary world of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from which the title is a quote).
But of course it's not the end at all. This is just the end of the very first version of the book; the version that even my wife doesn't get to read. It's the rough shape of the book, printed off so that I can get a clearer idea of what I need to lose and what I need to change, which bits work and which bits need that extra something to lift them from dimly being a row of words on a page.
So these books are quite different on the face of it. Except I'm not sure they are really. They are both, after, my inventions. But what do we mean by 'invention' when we talk about writing?
I do occasionally sit down and try and force an idea to come. This was certainly true with some of the short story collections I have done. I had a deadline and stories could not simply come to me when they felt like it. I had to go out hunting for them.
But mostly I let thing seep in. Images will appear in my head and I won't be able to shake them off. I will imagine a scene or two. Sometimes the scenes will obviously be from the same book, at other times not. I have scenes swimming around in my head I've never found a home for, and maybe never will. That giant, maggot-like creature that emerges from a mountain lake will perhaps never be more than that one disturbing thought in my head. Or will it? That eyeless woman that crawls out of the attic shadows: will I ever find a home for her?
The Mask is a result of a trip to Amsterdam and walking beside dark canals on chilly autumn evenings. But it is also about dark Dutch painting of the 17th Century and a strange Bruegel painting of children playing and a masked face at a window. It is about a memory of a very creepy 1979 television adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's Schalken the Painter.
I Pass Like Night goes back to a teacher reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to me aged about eight. It is also about Gustave Dorés incredible illustrations to Coleridge's poem. It is also about my fascination with Coleridge and his writing. It is about the power of imagination and the wonder of imagined worlds.
But of course The Mask - of whatever it will eventually be called - is an imagined world as well. It may on the face of it have more of its story in the 'real' world, but I think this only increases the potency of the many times the book slides into the past - or rather a strange, darkly imagined past.
Just as the Tales of Terror books were set in a Victorian or Edwardian past imagined by writers of ghost stories, The Mask is set in a world imagined by Dutch painters like Vermeer, Gerard ter Borch, Peter de Hooch.