The reviewer, Judy Darley, is mostly nice about it. She says some bits are ‘truly fascinating’, that ‘you can’t help but be awed by his audacity’ and that ‘you’ll be alternating between feeling depressed and inspired by Tim’s revelations, and may even find yourself making decisions about your own future as a writer’. But she also thinks I’m whinging and self-indulgent and sections of the book read like me chucking my toys out the pram.
I think that’s probably a fair comment. When I was working on Astronauts I had lots of decisions to make about how to portray myself, my moods, and my aspirations. On the one hand, I wanted to be honest. On the other hand, I didn’t want to come across as such an unlikeable arsehole that I alienated the reader. Severe depression can have a weirdly narcissistic component to it – sometimes you end up projecting all your feelings of doom and self-loathing outwards, deciding that there’s no possible way you can be happy in this shitty, fallen world populated by hollow bastards. Like I say in the book, I puffed up myself and my idea of my future because as a teenager I was lonely and unhappy, and an aggrandised narrative gave me something I could cling to. Up close, depressed people are often hugely unsympathetic, but their suffering is still real, as are its consequences.
In the end, after several discussions with my agent and my editor, I went for being as honest as possible, because that seemed like the most interesting option. In her review, Judy says that in places I come across ‘like a kid with a strop on because they didn’t get the part they wanted in the school play’. I think that’s very perceptive and I absolutely agree. And it’s easy, if you get the part you want or you’re not invested in the play at all, to dub that kid a grasping obnoxious pranny and move on. Jealousy isn’t a very noble pursuit, and it rarely evokes our sympathy.
Personally, I wanted to investigate. Most of us experience jealousy to a greater or lesser extent, although we’re not all prepared to admit it. I expect most people deal with it better than I did, but then, the useful thing about a grotesque is it’s easy to see the mechanics of the trait it embodies. I don’t want to start vaunting the cheesy, life-improving benefits of Astronauts, but I do hope that some readers recognise smaller, less destructive instances of the same sort of thinking in their own lives, and can let go of it a little as a result (or at least feel like slightly less of a twat for not being perfect).
I realise that the moments in the book where I say ‘I know I was being really self-indulgent and actually I was a very fortunate young man’ don’t negate the fact that much of the story focuses on a character who has his priorities badly out of whack, so I think it comes down to whether the conflict and psychology of that interests you. It’s just who I was, and who, to a certain extent, I still am. I get the impression that Judy would have preferred a straighter account of the writer’s path, with all the various hurdles between page and publication. Which is fair enough. I’d prefer The Bill to have more ED-209 cameos but until we get out of this damned recession and ITV starts filming bespoke episodes I’ll have to make do with my crappy retro fan fiction. In one episode, ED-209 and Tosh uncover a cache of stolen video recorders in a Sun Hill lockup – but who’s the culprit?