Whooopee! Nomansland is finished!

Of course when I say finished, I don’t mean finished. Over the next few months it will get longer. There will no doubt be two or three more drafts, revisions and plot adjustments, fleshing out of characters I couldn’t quite be bothered to invent back-stories for, more dialog here and there, and a more satisfying ending (it’s so tempting to rush and get to the end of the whole damn enterprise). And then at the very end, the book will get shorter again. After everyone has approved the final draft, and it’s gone to the copyeditor, I’ll cut and slash one last time, eliminating those paragraphs that really don’t need to be in the book. There will be a lot of last minute cleaning-up-of-language. And there will no doubt be a new title as well. Start thinking now, please.

In the meantime, the only person who’s read it is my husband. He’s my first reader, my most encouraging and harshest critic, and I wait for his thumbs up/thumbs down with bated breath. He scribbled so much on one book (which shall remain nameless) that I began to lose heart, and nearly gave the whole thing up. My editors had long given up on it, but it came through in the end. And won the Carnegie medal. There’s a hint.

This time, he had to tell me to stop hanging over his shoulder, asking “what’s so funny?” and “what don’t you understand?” It’s hell being a literary critic, especially when you share a bed and a breakfast table.

But I’ve had the thumbs up, and an excellent lecture on moral ambiguity and sentimentality (when I make the mistake of having a child who is “shy as a fawn” or introduce a cute puppy he grimaces horribly and takes out the red pencil). I’m so grateful that I don’t even flinch.

Writing a book is such a strange process. Two thirds of the way through, each one has been a total disaster, excruciatingly dull, not worth finishing (cue: hair-tearing, weeping, crisis of faith). Thanks to Edward Gorey, I realized that I’m not the only one who experiences this.

Next it goes to my agent, then my editor, and in something like a year, it emerges like Venus on the half-shell and comes crashing down to a Borders/Waterstones/Independent bookseller near you. The reason it takes so long has lots to do with marketing, publishing “slots” (in the UK, mine is August, which makes all my books Leos, now that I think about it — not a bad thing), and the fact that about 48 people have to read it and make helpful comments in the meantime. And I’m sorry if that sounds sarcastic, I genuinely love helpful comments.

So I’m celebrating by taking the afternoon off, and then will get going on the next one, while I wait for various verdicts on Nomansland. It’s going to be called There Is No Dog, after the joke about the dyslexic atheist, and is about the discovery that God is actually an 18-year-old boy. Won’t say any more just yet, mainly because it’s all still in my head, but have a little think about history – I think you’ll find my theory explains a lot.

And whoopee! While I’m tapping away here, I’ve just had a text from my agent that says “Brilliant!”

I’ll be on tour in the US and Canada for the next few weeks. In the meantime, may I suggest Henrietta Branford’s very wonderful Fire Bed and Bone? And all you writers, rush out now and get yourself a copy of Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp.

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