This piece was written for and published in The Western Mail Weekend Arts Section
Who's that guy?
Looking inside yourself can reveal some pretty startling things, says novelist and musician Colum Sanson-Regan
I wrote a short story. It didn’t take long, I really I didn’t think it through. It was just a few pages, not long enough for anything to really happen. Not long enough for any action, or suspense, or storyline. Not long enough for any elaborate description or detailing, or any character development. Just long enough for two people to meet. Martin, a seemingly mundane and predictable chap, met a mysterious guy called Henry. Henry knew more about Martin than anyone else did. More about him, in fact, than Martin was willing to accept or admit about himself, and so Martin resolved to find a way to get rid of Henry. That was it. I put it down, but story stayed stuck in my mind like a jagged piece of glass. In the evenings, gigging in Cardiff with my band, I found myself scanning the room, mid-song, trying to spot which one was Martin and which one was Henry. What was it Martin was trying to hide? How did Henry know everything about Martin? Again and again my thoughts snagged on this abstract short story I had written without thinking.
I didn't want to do any writing for a while. I read The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein, and loved them both. Weeks later, driving home in the early hours of the morning along the A4232, the shard came loose. Martin had created Henry. Henry came from inside Martin. The story began to flow. My mind was filling up. As soon as I got home I started to write. And write. Just a few days later I was knee deep in interlocking stories of a detective, an author, a drug lord, an addict, a property agent and a body guard. Martin was the author, who created Henry the detective. And now Henry had appeared in Martin’s reality to investigate him. That was how it started. All of a sudden I was writing a novel.
I didn’t tell my friends. The last thing I wanted was to be that guy, we all know one, who’s writing a novel and has been for, what, how long now? The romance of a writer is an alluring one, but the tragedy of the failed writer is not. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote poems and stories before I ever wrote a song. I’ve always thought I’d like to be an author, but I wasn’t prepared. The reality of writing a novel is totally different discipline to poetry or song. You have invented people. You need to find out what their motivations are. You look around. You look inside. You end up opening doors within yourself you didn’t know were there. Doors which otherwise would remain locked, but now you’ve got to see what’s inside and once you’ve walked through you can never go back.
So I wrote. I would get back from gigging and sit down at the kitchen table. At 3 or 3:30 I’d find myself flagging and go to bed. Connections I had made during the day, or on the drive home after the gig, were tested and stretched and reversed and either discarded, broken, or woven in to the story. But there was a momentum that I couldn’t afford to stop. I just had to trust myself. These night-time sessions were all about trying to build a body. When I was a young teenager, about 13 or 14, my bedroom was in the attic room. I remember these hours having a magic about them, as if at midnight a switch went on, and now! Now was the time to write! Get as much down as you can before time runs out and you fall asleep with the pen in your hand. I’d pull the blinds back and write poems for the girl who lived across the road, and for the bare trees in the streetlight, for the people in the cars passing on the quiet road outside, for my family sleeping in the rooms below. Now 20 years later, I was inventing the girl across the road, pouring moonlight on the trees, filling the cars and my families’ beds with characters whom I trust far less. All along I knew how the story would end. I just didn’t know how I was going to get everyone there. I wrote. Gradually, carefully, I put The Fly Guy together.
I moved my writing time to the day. Now was the time to try to bring it to life, so I went back to the start and rewrote and rewrote. It needed to be muscular and lean, it needed to move fast and strike hard. It needed to be strong, if it was to live long, then my god it had to be strong. In the daylight the hours went quicker and by November ‘13 I was finished the first draft. I wrote. In Feb ‘14 I let The Fly Guy out. I was ready for long slog which everyone told me is the journey to publication. There’ll be time to write another while you try and get this one published, that's the general advice, so I wasn’t quite ready when it was spotted and picked up by an American Publisher in June. Now less than a year later we are on a countdown to March 15 for release. I wanted it to move fast and strike hard. The first part has happened. I’m excited to see what happens next. The Fly Guy is a story about how much of ourselves we invent and how much we can never change. It’s about what slips between the cracks of imagination and reality. It’s a story about creation and losing control. It's about stepping through the door. You can never go back.