“Am I a psychopath?”
That’s not the kind of question you generally imagine yourself asking your wife. Not the kind of thing most married couples quiz each other about. But it is actually – word for word – a question I found myself putting to Mrs Jameson last year.
The reason for me having such doubts about my sanity, for me voicing them to me beloved, was writing.
When I returned to writing properly last year – after a busy period of life where I was so half-hearted about it I never finished anything – I started off by writing for twenty minutes each day on the train to work. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wasn’t going to get much done in brief bursts like that, even if they were daily. So, I started to write on the way home as well. That also proved insubstantial and I started writing in a local café during my lunchtime (The Pret on Queen Victoria Street in The City of London, if you’re interested). Fairly swiftly I was in a routine: morning commute, lunchtime, evening commute, all spent scribbling away.
Very productive, you may think; decidedly intense, you may also think – but still, why was I suddenly wondering where I sat on the psychopath scale?
Well, the reason for that is to write so much on public transport or in a public space of a lunch hour, meant I had to edit out the world around me. I had to ignore people yammering away on the phone next to me on the train, I had to pretend that screaming children weren’t there, I had to sit at café tables and write away while other people sat literally on the next seats to me and chattered away. Somehow or other I had to block it all out.
If I wanted to make a proper, serious go of it as a writer, I had to stay focused on the notepad (and computer) right in front of me. All my mental efforts had to be given to my stories and my characters and my plot and themes. And to do that I just had to shut myself off from all ambient noise.
Now, surely that’s not normal, is it?
To be able to block out the whole world in such a way is not something that your average, well-adjusted person does, is it? To be so solipsistically focused on what’s inside one’s head surely suggests a personality order, doesn’t it?
And so thinking about it one night, and talking it through with Mrs Jameson, I found myself asking the crucial question vis-a-vis about me being a psychopath.
Mrs Jameson is an extraordinarily patient woman, a living saint in fact – she has to be as she’s married to me. She’s also incredibly smart, so rather than hide all the sharp knives and alerting the authorities, she put my mind at ease by saying that “No, what you’re doing is a learned behaviour. It isn’t who you actually are.”
And she was quite right, I had learned to do it. I had learned to be this focused and committed, to ignore the minor things that weren’t related to my writing task at hand. After all, your irritation may reach boiling point when some braying fool beside you on the train keeps chuntering on about the great weekend he just had, but really, it is in the grand scheme of things a distinctly minor irritation. It requires some concentration, but you can ignore him completely.
So how did I do this?
How did a normal man like me – that’s to say easily distracted, irrationally annoyed – manage to learn this focus? How did a married man and father of a small baby, with a full-time job to boot, manage to make the most of his free time to write two novels, four novellas and a couple of short stories in the space of a year?
Well, tune in each Friday over the next few weeks (or Saturday if I’m running late) and I will try to explain…
We’re probably getting to last call (so bog thanks to all those of you who have signed up), but of you’d like to read an advance review copy of my new novella, Death at the Seaside for free, just follow this link.