The only thing slower than writing books, it seems, is publishing them. The mechanisms of major publishing houses grind at glacial pace, bogged down in spreadsheets, marketing plans, inflexible orthodoxies and creaking supply chains. Behind the scenes, of course, are hundreds of underpaid, overstretched workers pedalling ever more frantically, keeping the rusty wheels turning just quickly enough that the entire contraption stays upright. The author, meanwhile, mostly waits… becomes obsessed with writing an entirely new book… a year or two passes and then, finally, the alarm sounds and everything happens all at once.

Hurry up, please, it’s time! Remember that novel you wrote, I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning? The one about five childhood friends from Birmingham trying to build beautiful lives from the rubble of their ambitions. Quick! Go and talk about it, sit on stages and in bookshops, go on the radio, record podcasts, give crap answers to decent interview questions because you are shouting them into your mobile phone on a train with bad signal, sign your name over and over, inscribe the names of others, ask politely how to spell them, immediately forget the answer, feel embarrassed, settle on a squiggle that vaguely resembles the sound they made three seconds previously. Repeat. And repeat.

People want to talk
In some sense, it is readers who decide what your book is really about. Time and again over the past couple of months, I have been struck by how many people want to talk about the elements of my novel that deal with social mobility, about the various ways in which it defined and distorted an entire generation. Growing up in a working-class community under New Labour, social mobility was presented to us as an uncomplicatedly “good thing”. Shamefully, it took decades for me to fully understand the ways in which it was not.

Because despite being from solidly socialist, Irish-Brummie stock, I swallowed whole the myth of escape, an idea of success that resembled one of those ’90s National Lottery adverts. One day, if I was really lucky, a big finger would point at me from the sky and declare… it could be you.

But what does it mean to grow up in a world that teaches you that to succeed means to leave? That if you work hard, do the right things, adopt the right ideas and dreams, then you might, you just might, get to rise out of your class… but you will never, ever, under any circumstances get to rise with it or alongside it? What does it mean that millions of parents have to look their own children in the eye and say… I love you so much that I need you to get as far away from your home as possible? And what does it mean for the kids that take this on board and begin the long journey, physically and psychospiritually, away from the people and places that raised them – never feeling accepted wherever they land, and never quite being able to return home either? Above all else, these are the conversations that keep recurring lately. Turns out, I’d radically underestimated the number of people who feel like ghosts, haunting the edges of their own lives.

Social mobility was presented to us as “a good thing”

People want to dance
On a lighter note, I also recently fell down the stairs. Which is a thing I thought only happened in cartoons and soap operas. And to be clear, we aren’t talking about a stumble down a few steps, twist-your-ankle type of affair here. I fell from the top to the bottom of my staircase. In fact, it took so long to reach the bottom that about halfway down I remember thinking… fucking hell, I’m falling down the stairs!

I like Buster Keaton enough to find my falling down the stairs funny in theory, but not quite enough to find broken ribs funny in practice. For a number of weeks I was pretty moody – turns out it is a real struggle to maintain good spirits in the face of ongoing physical discomfort, who knew? The good news is I am so petulant and contrary that six weeks in pain made me resolve to do more fun things with and to my body. So far this has included piercing both my ears, purchasing some faintly ludicrous earrings, and spending more evenings dancing in nightclubs in the past month than I have in the previous decade. I fully intend to use this excuse in perpetuity – Keiran, why have you got a full body tattoo/gold tooth/side-hustle as a pole dancer? Well, you see, the thing is… I recently fell down the stairs…

People want to live
Finally, and most importantly, it is impossible to write about my own month without acknowledging that these events have been taking place against the backdrop of unimaginable horrors being inflicted on the people of Palestine. So the small stuff of daily life, of family and career, has been punctuated by the steady beat of marching and protesting, of campaigning and solidarity, of doing whatever I can while being despairingly, heartbreakingly, conscious that is not even close to enough.
So that’s my journal. I got to do some things. I got to live. I got to do some things because I got to live.

Keiran Goddard’s latest novel, “I See Buildings Fall like Lightning” is published by Hachette; his previous one, “Hourglass” (Hachette), is now out in paperback

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Columns, Journal, June / July 2024, Opinions

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