On Thursday I drove to Cambridge with Frank Tallis, who happens to be a clinical psychologist and an expert in Freud. He's also an exceptionally good crime writer.
We had a lunch appointment with a reading group based at Heffers, the number one bookshop in Cambridge. There was plenty of time to chat in the car.
I mentioned to Frank the almost incapacitating sense I have of feeling I need to do something to promote my books, whilst not being sure what exactly I should be doing. This has perhaps led me to coming up with ideas for articles, pitching them to the Guardian, occasionally posting them at the Rap Sheet, and of course feeding the plog.
Frank had a clinical term for the state I was in, which has been induced and studied in lab rats apparently: learned helplessness*. If you create an environment in which lab rats receive no rewards or deprivations for their actions, in other words where nothing they do makes any difference, they reach a state that is analogous to depression in humans. Frank reckons that this is the state that we writers exist in.
He told me he used to write articles, and got the idea he might be able to turn it into a bit of a sideline, which might help to get his name about, which might lead to a few more sales. But he gave it up as a waste of time. I could see his point. After a while, it seems that you are spending all your time and energy trying to produce the articles, when what you should be doing is writing your books.
Frank was unequivocal. The only thing we writers can do is make our books, or stories, as good as they can be. Work on our writing. That is the only thing that is within our power or control. And that is the only thing we can influence that will surely make a difference.
So I felt chastened.
On Monday, after the kids have gone back to school, I am going to turn over a new leaf. No more pitching ideas for articles. No more cat videos. I'm going to get down to some serious work on the next book. Frank also had some stern words about using the research as an excuse to put off writing.
In the meantime, my spirits were lifted by a review of A Vengeful Longing by Andrew Taylor, author of The American Boy, in The Spectator.
Here's a quote:
The result is a book that satisfies on more than one level — as a story of investigation and also as a historical novel crammed with sharply individualised characters. Morris has clearly done his research, and he also has an unusual ability to enter imaginatively into another time and place. The novel is well written too, and constantly nudges against the genre envelope of crime fiction.
It always amazes me when people I don't know respond positively to my work. Equally, perhaps more gratifying, is when friends like my stuff too, especially when they also happen to be writers whose work I respect and enjoy. So I was deeply chuffed to have my writewords buddy and fellow crime writer, Anne Brooke describe AVL as a "dark masterpiece" in a review she was kind enough to post on both writewords and amazon.
All I ever get from my guardian articles are weird and charmless comments. I should stick to the novel writing.
*My thanks to Ania Vesenny for reminding me of the correct term.