Metamorphosis: Bean Bags, Flann O’Brien & Getting It Out There

A year has passed since I submitted the first 25,000 words of my novel as part of a creative writing MSt. Since then I have written, re-written, abandoned, restructured and despaired of, the remaining 60,000 words. Writing a novel takes time. Writing a novel is like grappling with a 100-foot long bean bag.

But I’m almost there and like many unknown writers who sense the final full-stop, I’ve started to think about how I’m going to ‘get it out there’.

Despite blogging in praise of literary agents I’ve found myself toying with the phrase ‘self-publishing’, and peering with an almost guilty fascination at the success of Nick Spalding, Hugh Howie, Amanda Hocking et al. Self-publishing seems to be so empowering; so liberating; and, I believe, sometimes so necessary.

Take Flann O’Brien, for instance.

This great writer has been on my mind a lot lately. Not least because there is an International Flann O’Brien Society and I’m presenting a paper at their annual conference in Prague, and his debut novel, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), is one of my primary sources. It’s a wonderful story: clever, satirical, exuberant, metafictional and very, very funny. Graham Greene liked it, so did Dylan Thomas and so did James Joyce.

I like his second novel, The Third Policeman, even more. In fact, I think it’s perfect. But when he submitted it to his publisher in 1940 it was rejected. O’Brien took this badly and told everyone he had lost the manuscript. But the story goes that really he placed it on his sideboard and then ignored it every day for the next 26 years. It was published posthumously and so he never saw it reviewed and lauded as a masterpiece.

I wonder how much impact that rejection had on his later writing, and whether as a result, other masterpieces were never written. That furrows my brow so much that I’ve taken to imagining Flann O’Brien receiving the rejection and logging on to the internet shouting, ‘It’s time for the Plain People of Writing to stand up for themselves’. I’ve started to imagine him self-publishing The Third Policeman on a 1940’s equivalent of a Kindle.

(In my defence, my paper for the conference is titled Parallel Explorations of the Boundaries Between Fiction & Real-Life. So perhaps I’m a bit out of kilter.)

Anyway, when I return from Prague it will be time to get back to my 100-foot long bean bag which I think is arranged as neatly as it can be – or at least as neatly as I can arrange it.  And now that all the writing, re-writing, abandoning, restructuring and despairing is nearly done, it will be time for other people to grapple with all those words I’ve written. All I have to do is to find a way to make that happen.

In fact, all I have to do is take it off the sideboard and get it out there.

For more information on the International Flann O’Brien Society, follow this link: http://www.univie.ac.at/flannobrien2011/IFOBS.html

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