Shaun Levin

Time for a New Book

In Writing on April 3, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Not until you start putting together a collection can you know what it’s about. In the beginning, the motivation is the idea itself. A book. A new book. It’s been a while since the last one. You have, in a variety of folders on your desktop, various stories and essays that have been published over the past 24 years. You start by creating an inventory, the first draft of a contents list. You create a new folder and copy into it all the pieces you’ve already published, minus all the stories that appeared in your first collection ten years ago. The truth is, you finished a novel and sent it out to a million agents – at least a million – and to some publishers, and 10% of them sent back their no-thank-yous. The rest, if one was the waiting type, one would, eighteen months later, still be waiting for. You figure that in the meantime you might as well put together a collection of stories and essays.

At the new bookshop up the road, you stumble upon Hanif Kureishi’s Love + Hate: Stories and Essays, and you take it as a sign that the two things (things?!) can go together. You fell out of love with Hanif Kureishi about ten years ago, but this book has revived some of the love you’d lost.

So, once you’ve packed the folder with your stories and essays, you print them out.

By you I mean me. I.

I’m surprised how many there are. I give myself a pat on the back. Well done you. Well done. Not bad at all. Already I’m feeling better about things. The piece I like the most is a gratitude piece, a list piece about the writers and other humans who’ve made me the kind of writer/human I am today. The essay was published in a collection three years ago. It feels like a good place to start. The call in the call and response. The response being the rest of the book-to-be.

The New York piece comes after that, then the piece set in Abney Park Cemetery, then another one and another one, and a theme starts to emerge. A book that was going to be a collection of twenty years of sex writing, is turning into a book about immigration, London, Tel Aviv, rootedness, rootlessness. The pieces seem to flow from one to the next. The book gains its own momentum.

Shaun Levin edited page

From an essay on Shakespeare and Co Bookshop in Paris. Originally published in Hebrew in Masa Acher, a travel magazine.

You read through the book. You edit as you go along. From a distance of 10 years, 5 years, a couple of years, it’s easy to be ruthless, enjoyable even. Look how sharp I am. I feel focused, clear. It’s like you’ve been training for this. It feels strange not to be tormented by doubt and the chaos of creation. Cleaning things up is fun. Being streamlined.

Then you get to a story that refuses to comply.

To be continued.



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