Until recently I have felt a little embarrassed – ashamed even – that it has taken me so long to produce Raiding Cúailnge, my first novel – all in all, a gestation period of 12 years, more or less.
I remember the first words I scribbled, a rather awkward description of a fight between two, at the time, nameless and faceless characters. I had just finished The Gates of Rome, based around the childhood life of Julius Caesar, the debut novel by Conn Iggulden, a former schoolteacher, and I was inspired to something similar. With time on my hands – I was staying on an idyllic beach on Koh Samui – a favourite spot I have constantly returned to since 1982 – I went out and bought a cheap child’s exercise book and a pen and, fuelled with, initially, soda and lime, later cold beer in chilled glasses and much later cheap Thai whiskey, I started to write. That was, back in 2004 and it is only today, 20 April 2016, twelve years later that my book comes into the world.
A fairly lengthy gestation period, as a friend recently pointed out which made me stop and consider how I compare to the natural world.
Camels have a gestation period of more than 400 days while walruses carry their young for 15 – 16 months, Even more impressive is the killer whale or Orca with a gestation period of about 17 months while some sperm whales need up to 19 months before producing their young to a wondering world. Unlike most fish, sharks are classified as “K-selected reproducers,” meaning they produce a small number of well-developed young as opposed to a large number of poorly developed young. Basking sharks can carry their offspring for as long as three years before giving birth.
Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals, carrying their young for nearly two years before giving birth. Long developmental periods are common among highly intelligent animals and I suppose I should take a renewed pride in the length of time it has taken me to produce my novel.
Interestingly, for me anyway, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in what is referred to as horizontal as opposed to vertical writing*.
Horizontal writing refers to the amassing of words and pages in the putative hope that a body of work will emerge after days spent pounding away at a keyboard or scribbling in a notebook (I do both, actually).
Vertical writing, on the other hand focuses on depth, valuing the building of setting and character rather than on merely conveying the essence of the plot, allowing the salient features to develop and grow over time so that organic growth can occur.