But it is a truth universally acknowledged that debut novelists have so many unpublished manuscripts under the bed that there isn't even any room left for monsters.
Without those character-building decades of agony and rejection, the writer whose first-written novel gets published is seen by the more experienced as a bit of noob who just happened to get lucky and isn't really ready for the cut-throat world of publishing or the terrifying prospect of writing a second book.
My book genuinely is the first one I've ever finished, and the first one I ever submitted anywhere. Sometimes that makes me feel a bit awkward and inferior. What if I can never write another one? What if it really was just luck and I've somehow elbowed my way to the front of the queue ahead of people who are more talented and have worked harder for many more years?
So, in attempt to convince myself that I have served my apprenticeship, I made a list of all the books I've worked on since I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I'm reassured to discover that, although unfinished, they amount to a reasonable body of words.
- My fictionalised autobiography, written when I was 14 (it's always good to get the autobiographical crap out of the way early, I think.) It had the sick-bucket title of Every Cloud has a Silver Lining.
- A comic novel about a beleaguered youth group leader in 1990s rural England. Except it wasn't very comic, and it never got to be a novel either.
- An early version of Kill-Grief minus the gin, the gory bits, the smuggling and the main character, but plus a lot of boring hospital politics.
- Two historical novels set in the 17th century – both about witchcraft but with different characters and plots.
- And my favourite – a YA novel set in 2039, where everyone who reaches the age of 12 is convicted of the crime of “Youth” and the teenage hero and heroine must plot their escape from the sinister penitentiary that aims to obliterate their capacity for independent thought and gives them drugs that turn all skin colours to a uniform shade of grey.
I'd love to know more about the stories languishing under other writers' beds, but it's understandably difficult to get people to talk about these early attempts. Partly that's because all that stuff is in the past now and a lot of it is embarrassing. Partly it's because we aren't supposed to hint at former failure while submitting or promoting our latest work, and partly it's because we were so absorbed by these ideas that it's discomfiting to think of anyone else knowing about them when they aren't ready to be seen.
But although these books fell by the wayside, I think they are important and worth acknowledging. We should celebrate every attempt – whether it was finished or unfinished, whether it was utter rubbish or just infuriatingly “not right for the market.” They are not simply stepping stones on the way to our individual goals, but valuable in themselves for what they've taught us, and for the excitement and inspiration we felt while writing them. And for the fact that – unlike most people - we had the courage to try to write a book at all.
Photo: Some of the unfinished books under my bed.