A little over six years now I had a odd dream, woke up in a cold sweat, scribbled some rather idiosyncratic notes, and then tried fleetingly to get back to sleep. After an hour of staring at the ceiling, as light started to creep passed the curtains, scribbling more strange notes as I failed to shift the ideas that were floating around my determinedly conscious brain I got up, threw on my dressing gown and went down stairs to my desktop, opened a blank word file and started to write. Because sometimes a story is determined to be written no matter how much you really just want to sleep.
I had no idea what I was writing, I was just working from those idiosyncratic notes I had scrawled so badly I could barely decipher them. If anything this was an exercise in clearing out my mind, it wasn’t unique in of itself, the results of doing so on the other hand were. By the time I went to work that morning, three hours later, I had a couple of thousand words of something down. I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was still on the back of my mind all day so when I got home I carried on writing, scribbling notes and at some point when I next slept some time in the early hours of the following morning I was still thinking about that first dream.
I’d fully intended to leave it there, and come back to it at some point and try to figure out what it was. I was half way through writing ‘Passing Place’ at the time, which while weird, strange, complex and definably hard to define, was at least somewhat more comfortable, in the sense it was what I wanted to write, than what I had found myself writing after that dream. As it was however Passing Place got put on the mental shelf for the next month or so as what was to become my first novel ‘Cider Lane’ took shape. Which was odd in itself because ‘Passing Place’ had long been the novel I always wanted to write. Something Cider Lane was definably not.
‘Cider Lane’ needed to be written, rather than wanted to be and at some point a month or so after that dream the first draft was complete, and I still did not know what it was. I put it on one side and got back to the novel I wanted to write, and found myself revising whole tracks of the early chapters of ‘Passing Place.’ Something about writing ‘Cider lane’ sharpened everything in ‘Passing Place’ though I could not tell you what exactly and I still had no idea what ‘Cider Lane’ was, but it also kept dragging me back and a month or two down the line I was once more working on it, in a second draft which ended up changing the ending in subtle ways. By the third draft, still not knowing what it was it had become the only thing I was working on , and by the end of the four and fifth drafts, in the late spring of the following year, its as as complete as it was going to get. I had written a novel, just not the novel I expected to write, or wanted to write, instead it was a novel I needed to write.
And no, I still did not know what it was…
I did however know I needed to publish it, if for no other reason than because it was the only way to move on from it. So that’s what I did, and then I went back to the novel I had always wanted to write…
Now, some of my readers still tell me ‘Cider Lane’ is their favourite novel of mine. Some, perhaps most, prefer Passing Place, or the Hannibal novels, but there are plenty of people who really like ‘Cider Lane’ and ask me if I am writing a sequel, or other books like it. But it remains an oddity. This morning I woke up, and while drinking my first coffee I found a new review of Cider lane I want to share with you because its a great review. A near perfect review in some ways as it relates to how I feel about Cider Lane myself. It is perhaps an odd review to share considering what it says about the novel. But then everything about Cider Lane has been odd from the moment I woke up form that odd dream six years ago….
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 August 2020Verified Purchase
I know what you’re going to ask me, “Why did you give a 5 star rating rating to a book you didn’t like?”
It seems somewhat paradoxical, but “appreciating” and “liking” are two very different things so please, bear with me while I do my best to explain.
First off, I read Cider Lane because I’ve read other works by this author and genuinely loved them. The humour, the style, the worlds he creates and just the sheer skill in story telling. Hayes doesn’t simply ‘write stories’ he ‘crafts tales’ with artisan skill. A genuine wordsmith. A contemporary bard.
So… to Cider Lane…
Cider Lane is nothing like any of Hayes’ other works. For a start it’s contemporary and set in the real world unlike any of his other novels. I wouldn’t even know what genre to put it in. It’s a kind of a love story, except it isn’t. It’s kind of a crime drama, except it isn’t. It’s kind of a modern horror story, except it isn’t.
What it is however is a fantastically well written tale.
So why didn’t I like it? It begins in a dark place, a mind shutting down to block out a horror it cannot deal with… and steadily gets darker from there. It is a tale of tragedy, of people whose lives have been ruined through combinations of their own errors and the malice or misunderstandings of others. There is anger, hatred, love, fear, obsession, all played out on the smallest of stages, there is no comedy here, no redemption, and only the merest glimmer of hope, of a lighter, happier ending than the one you suspect is coming but hope in your soul that it isn’t.
This book made me feel uncomfortable. At times, really uncomfortable. More than once I felt it was taking me in a direction of something I didn’t want to see. Curiously it brought back long forgotten childhood memories of hiding behind my grandmother’s sofa, watching Dr. Who, squinting through gaps in my fingers as I was torn between not wanting to see the monster I could hear shuffling its way towards the protagonist and a driving need to know what the terror looked like.
And there in part is where Hayes demonstrates his exceptional skill as a writer, leading you along a path you’re pretty damn certain you don’t want to explore, yet you keep walking anyway. You almost can’t help yourself.
Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. Depends on who I’m recommending it to and why.
I’d recommend it because it is such a well written book and as such it deserves to be read. It got under my skin so much I was compelled to write my first review in a very long time, but it’s not a happy tale. I didn’t come away feeling happy. If you want ‘happy’, go watch a Disney movie. If you want to read something that you can appreciate for the telling of the tale, then read Cider Lane.
There could be a sequel, but I doubt Hayes will ever write it. This is a book that stands alone and is probably stronger for it.
So there you go… Possibly the most complimentary review I have ever had, from someone who did not like the book they were reviewing. Which is I am sure you will agree, odd, yet at the same time in seems to me very much in keeping with Cider Lane and the story of the book itself.
Whatever Cider Lane is, it made me a better writer, passing place and everything else I have written is I feel better for Cider Lane. It may never have been a book I intended or wanted to write, it it was a book I needed to write, and I love it as much as any of the others. I seldom recommend it to people though for much of the reasons expressed in the review. Which BTW is a very strange thing for an author to admit…
I also love this review, perverse though it may seem, because, well it expresses very much how I feel about the book myself. Baring strange dreams imploring me to write them, I suspect there will never be a sequel which will disappoint some of my readers I know. Its sold well over the years, and is at least as successful as my other novels, perhaps more so as I seldom try to sell it and yet it still sells, but its still never what I wanted to write, it is however the book the writing of which made me so much better as a writer, perhaps that is the reason I needed to write it all along.