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The Dangling Man

So, and almost inevitably, after a frantic burst of work on the first two days, the contractors (I've decided I'll stick with the Americanism for the benefit of all you lovely Powell's readers. Also, the novel I'm about to start writing features American characters, so I'd better get used to it again. Haven't written me a novel in American since Music From Big Pink back in '05) have ground to a halt. The whole structure is up. Doors and windows are on, and it's weatherproof. But they can't finish the interior until the electrician comes and does all the wiring. And now the electrician can't come tomorrow as originally planned, so nothing's happening until Thursday. I'm sitting at my desk gazing sadly out of my window at this half-built thing.

Actually, I went up there to have a look around this morning and had something of a Proustian rush.I went up there to have a look around this morning and had something of a Proustian rush. I went inside and the smell of sawn timbers, the sense of being inside an unfinished building, with putty smears on the glass and tools lying around, took me powerfully back to childhood. I grew up in Irvine, on the west coast of Scotland, in what was called a "new town": basically, an old Scottish town that had been very rapidly developed in the late '60s and early '70s. They built new roads and factories and lots of council housing to accommodate people who were being moved down the coast from the inner-city slums of Glasgow.

Thousands of these new houses were still being built when I was a kid, and it was the greatest playground imaginable: games of soldiers and hide and seek amongst the empty terraced houses. Bulldozers and stacks of 2x4s to play with. When I walked into the shed this morning and inhaled, I had a brief, lovely flash of feeling 10 years old again: running around those construction sites, trespassing. Then, of course, the adult kicked back in and I started grumbling and cursing the electrician for the delay.

The thing is I'm finding it very hard to work right now. I've just finished correcting the proofs of my third novel The Amateurs (due out in America via the good folks at HarperCollins sometime in 2010, out here in the UK this April). I'm tidying up some short stories for a collection further down the line, there's a few pieces of journalism in the "in" tray... but really, what I should be doing, of course, is starting the new novel.

I like starting a new book in January. It's happened that way with the last two.I like starting a new book in January. It's happened that way with the last two. A nice, clean, best-foot-forward kind of start to the year. But I really want to start the book in the new office. Something about the idea of writing the first few pages and then downing tools while I spend a couple of days moving books, furniture, computer, and papers really upsets me. (Does this mean I'm an anal, OCD basket case?) I just love the idea of sitting down in my shed, smelling fresh paint and new carpeting, opening that file up and typing "CHAPTER ONE." And then there's the constant authorial anxiety, the little voice saying — are you really putting off starting the novel because you're not ready to write it yet, loser? But then again, that voice is always there.

Either way, I'm not really working and I'm not really on holiday.

I feel like Bellow's dangling man...

÷ ÷ ÷

John Niven read English literature at Glasgow University and spent the next ten years working in the United Kingdom's music industry. His debut novella, The Band: Music From Big Pink, was published in 2006 as part of the 33 1/3 series. His second novel, Kill Your Friends, was published in 2008. He lives in Buckinghamshire.

Books mentioned in this post

John Niven is the author of Kill Your Friends (P.S.)

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