SECOND THOUGHTS / Quays of the kingdom: Iain Sinclair follows the river back to the source of his second novel, Downriver (Grafton pounds 5.99)

DOWNRIVER was one of my more interesting mistakes. What an innocent, a dupe] I hadn't bothered to learn the first rule: never, ever, admit in advance what a book will be about. (How could you know?) This does, I confess, put raising an advance on a par with raising the Titanic. The gimmick is to keep a stockpot of potential titles on the boil. Jot them down as they pop into your head, short and snappy or minatory and oblique. Develop a folder of spurious outlines, plots that will never mature. Keep them at your elbow like a flask of frozen embryos.

You can always sell a good title. Then you can write whatever comes into your head. Editors are far too busy to actually read these things. They delegate. To anyone who is hanging around the office, some rep or phone-cleaner. Keep them waiting long enough and they'll be pathetically grateful for any scrap of paper. The wretched functionary who commissioned your original synopsis will certainly have been rationalised by now, booted into the street, and - if he or she is any good - surfaced at some other conglomerate. They'll be foaming at the bit to buy the same yarn again, under yet another title.

It was the river that hooked me. The river seen through the window of a train.

The Thames had been off the agenda far too long. It's the lifeblood, the torpid spine, the dream-chute of the city. It obsessed me. It was thick with the auditioning voices of the almost dead, prophetic whispers focused by earlier, finer writers: Conrad, Eliot, Dickens, as well as that literary underclass populated by such spectres as Sax Rohmer's Moris Klaw. Competing ideologies rippled along the shoreline in an unresolvable Manichean conflict. They threw up miraculous anomalies, zones of surreal savagery. Greed spat out its glittering towers to shine above the swamplands of entropy.

It was all too easy. I had only to cultivate the speed to accept the dictation of these furies. Every bend in the river offered a fresh witness. Arriving in Tilbury on a promise from Granta (and with the firm belief that if a story is worth selling once, it must be worth selling twice), I walked out of the station into a narrative that screamed to be transcribed. The town was a posthumous fiction. The stuff was lying everywhere like contraband cargo. I was in the wrong place at the right time. Tilbury Riverside, with its abandoned cathedral of a station, its decaying wharfs, was the capital of wrongness. I spent all that remained of my advance on railway tickets out of Fenchurch Street. There was no turning back. My pious hopes of 'redeeming' with this text certain dubious aspects of my first novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, were lost in a hellish babel of competing voices.

That is what all writing seems to be: waiting, listening, smothering the cruel logic of conditioned reflexes.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor