‘You’re doing what?’
‘I’m writing a series of novels set in all of the historic counties of England.’
‘That’s what I thought you said. Just remind me – how many historic counties are there?’
‘Aha, yes, well, good question! Strictly speaking I think there are 39 historic counties, though if you divide Yorkshire into the three Ridings and then add the City of London, and throw in the bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey that makes …’
‘Well, I’ll probably combine Jersey and Guernsey.’
‘Uh-huh. 43 or 44.’
‘You are seriously proposing writing a series of 43 [expletive deleted] novels, each one set in a different English county?’
‘That’s right. And then once I’ve done those I can move on to Scotland, Wales and Ireland, which would make – ’
It is surely a testament to the sheer optimism and utter professionalism of my publishers that my editor did not simply slam down the phone at this point in our conversation. Indeed, not only did he not slam down the phone – he has even allowed me to begin. Westmorland Alone is book number 3 in my new series of 43 – or maybe 44 – projected novels, The County Guides, in which my intrepid heroes, the People’s Professor Swanton Morley, his daughter Miriam and his assistant Stephen Sefton set off in their Lagonda to tour the England of the 1930s and to seek out adventure and mischief wherever they may.
It is, admittedly, a bit of an undertaking. I’m nearly 50 years old. I have a full-time job and I currently average about a book a year. So if I continue in my current habits, writing a book a year, I won’t be be finished until I’m in my 90s. But if I can perhaps do two a year, or three even. If I can just stay up a little later, or get up a littler earlier. I currently start around 5 or 5.30 every morning, in order to get the writing done before work, so maybe if I started at 4, or 3 even? Maybe that would do it? Maybe that would speed things up.
I know, I know it sounds unrealistic. I know it sounds ludicrous. But in the end I suppose I want the books to add up to something – something more than themselves, a testament to the massive, ungovernable, horrible, messy excess of existence. Isn’t this what all artists want to do? What all of us want to do? A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, after all, or what’s a heaven for?
I’d love to say more but you’ll excuse me – I have another 40 books to write.
Ian Sansom’s latest County Guide, Westmorland Alone, is out now.
If you enjoyed this, try: