I’ve been working on a book for over a decade, but like Jack in the Shining I’ve found myself recording the same things again and again. What am I waiting for?
I don’t believe in New Year resolutions, but I do believe in becoming so fed up with doing – or not doing – something that you realise something has to give, whatever the date. It just so happened that this came to me on 2 January, when I realised I’d been researching a long-planned book for (the dates on the files do not lie, as much as I wish they did) 14 years. As a teenager, I dreamed of growing up to be like Dorothea from Middlemarch, all spark and goodness, but it turns out I am actually Casaubon, her creaky husband, who rots away as he spends decades researching his magnum opus, The Key To All Mythologies.
I have spent a frankly bizarre portion of my life researching early 20th-century Poland and France (hey, we all get our kicks somewhere). But when I went through my crate of notes last week, I discovered something rather unsettling. I hadn’t just been researching for 14 years, I’d been researching the same things for 14 years. Like an archaeologist digging through strata, I went through my files going back over a decade, and the same information kept recurring: this fact, that figure, these statistics. I wasn’t Casaubon, after all; I was Jack in The Shining, allegedly writing a book, but actually just recording the same things again and again.