This blog, as you will have noticed, is called ‘This Writing Life’, and I think it’s time I returned to my theme. A couple of years back, I sent my first novel, Déjà Vu, to agents and publishers. None of them wanted to buy it. Ho hum, I thought, and returned to tinkering. A few months passed. I submitted it to The UKA Press — more than anything, I wanted to get the thing into book form so I could have some closure — and they were happy to publish it. My elation lasted about four months, the point at which I received the editor’s report. Blimey. She wanted me to rewrite some chapters, remove whole characters, and make viewpoint changes that would impact upon the whole work. But my disappointment — every writer wants to be told he or she is an effortless genius — lasted about as long as the email. I could see, even in the foothills of that sudden work mountain, that these changes would improve the book. And who would want to turn down the opportunity to improve their work? So I made the changes, added some of my own, published the book, and ended up with a book that had some great reviews (and one or two poor ones, to be sure).
Lesson learned. If I had been bolder in my efforts to make changes prior to having them suggested by the editor (those suggestions confirmed suspicions I was too lazy to follow up), then those same reviews might have emerged from the mouth of a commissioning editor at a major publisher. Two points. First: That’s a big maybe. Second: This takes nothing away from my original publisher, The UKA Press, who were willing to take a chance on me when no-one else would. Anyway, the lesson is this: I will not submit a manuscript to a publisher until I think I have solved 99% of the problems in the work. I’ve left out that 1% on the assumption that it is not possible for an author to fully edit his own work.
So, for much of this year, I have been working on later drafts of a comedy novel called Proper Job (set in Cornwall during the 1999 eclipse), and an early draft of a thriller called Flashback (reprising a character from Déjà Vu, Saskia Brandt). If the first lesson is edit edit edit, the second is learning when to stop. Proper Job has been edited to within an inch of its life, and is almost ready to send off. Feedback from critically-minded friends has been a sprinkling of the positive with plenty of the negative for me to work on. One described it as ‘A mixture of Adrian Mole and Last of the Summer Wine’. When I said, thanks, I’ll just throw myself off a cliff, X quickly added that this was a good thing. Meh.
Flashback is still embryonic. The first draft was written in a continuous session between November of 2005 and March 2006. In the second draft, I started with a blank document, rewrote most of the book while working closely from the first draft, ommitted scenes that weren’t critical, and made sure that good scenes were improved. Also important is the maintenance of tone. A thriller needs some paranoia, character flaws, violence, and style. At the moment, Flashback is in third draft. My girlfriend is currently reading it and the signs are reasonable for a third draft: (1) As someone who is not particularly keen on thrillers or science fiction, I’m glad that she read can it without forcing herself; (2) Thus far, it is ‘gripping’; (3) She reports that it is the first time she’s read something of mine that doesn’t constantly remind her that I have written it — a somewhat cryptic remark that I’ll be interested to drill into during the post-reading interrogation; (4) Some scenes are a bit odd — no doubt these are the scenes that are close to my heart, and probably shouldn’t be in the story but for some attachment I have to them; I’ll have to be very careful with these; usually, they need to be ejected, but occasionally they elevate the work beyond the run-of-the-mill works of the same genre.
I feel better now. I’ve been neglecting this blog lately, but this is the kind of entry I created the blog to host. So Proper Job on agents’ desks by Christmas; Flashback early next year. Watch — as they say — this space.
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