How long's a book take? 20 years and counting ...

I've been writing one book now for almost twenty years.

Each time I finished a version I thought, "This is it! I've cracked it!" It wasn't like finishing a draft and expecting to write another. The job was done. I found an agent, found a publisher, and off it went.

And back it came.

Then I started again. This was in days before a computer, when I wrote in pen then hammered the book out on a typewriter. Year on year I wrote another version ... each one wholly different to the others. I didn't pick favourite bits but simply wrote the book again, from scratch. New characters came in, new relationships, new action, new locations. Only the scenario stayed the same. A family (parents, two sons and a daughter) live in a world in which no more girl children are born. The father turns the family home into a fortress, and we take the older son's perspective.

Having written seven completely different versions of the same novel, I began to fear I was losing it. I looked back with fondness at version number four as being the best of them all, yet still not good enough.

Subsequent versions became novellas. Then short stories. I thought I'd put the whole thing to bed. Then this summer, sitting in Santa Monica, the thing kicked in again.

This is the book that is now called CROMOZONE. Science has propelled life forward these last twenty years. I've changed enormously too. This is the same book, but hugely different once again. We're 109 pages in with many more to go. It welcomes my revision now, but doesn't ask to be discarded any more. This, I know, is the final version.

I doubt that I have the strength to complete it just now though. I need a boost in health first, then a boost of good news on the publishing front to give me confidence and funds. I could enjoy writing this through next summer. After twenty years there's no particular need to hurry it (the book just going out in the UK now, SLIPPERY WHEN WET, took me ten years and several wholly different versions ... this is a working habit of mine!) It will be a much stronger book than it could ever have been in the past, whenever it comes out.

As a writer you tend to think of books as your own. In fact they're wilful things that come through in their own good time.