AND I HAD such good intentions. But books will be books, and this one turned all scratchy and tricky in the home stretch. The beginning felt slow and awkward for ages, and it took at least a month longer than I intended to get a final final draft off to my editors. But it’s gone now, and has a title (The Bride’s Farewell, which I think is vaguely reminiscent of Thomas Hardy but certain members of my family insist sounds more Mills & Boon). Whatever, as my daughter would say. I’m just relieved it’s finished. And by the way, thanks to all of you who sent comments and title suggestions.
You might want to know how writers know when a book is ready to send off for good. Often it’s the editor who gives the final OK, but I can tell when a manuscript is ready to go when it suddenly reads as if someone else has written it – ie, like a proper book, and not some horrible mess jumbled together by a hopeless amateur. It’s the last four or five readings that pull the book into focus, thanks mainly to fearless use of the delete button. Out go phrases that sound gorgeous but never really fit the narrative, out go the extra adjectives, the unnecessary descriptions, the long meandering paragraphs that don’t really add anything to the story. Five hundred words here, a thousand there, until the story is lean as can be, and seems to leap into focus. If I can read three or four pages in a row without wanting to change anything, I know I’m getting there.
The next draft I see will come from the copyeditor, which in the past has involved some pretty creative re-punctuating, and generally ends up with me putting back all the commas that have been removed, and removing all the ones that have been added. Tedious. A good copyeditor, however, will tell you when you’ve put Wednesday before Tuesday, and the man with one foot in Chapter 2 wins the Olympic 100 meter event in Chapter 6. I have an amazing troupe of foreign translators who read with the acuity of eagles, and phone me with questions (many months after the UK/US publication) such as, “is it usual for post offices in England to be open on a Sunday?” In cases like that, a quick note goes to the English language editors, and with any luck, the mistakes get rectified for the paperback. I’m far too terrified to read my books once they’re bound and finished, in case there’s more editing I wish I’d done, or terrible errors I only now notice — so the copyeditor’s proof is my last good read. By that point, I hope to have had a week or two off (during which I wander about aimlessly and feel guilty about not working) and started the next book. I might use my interregnum as a time to have some bookshelves made at last. If I don’t do it soon, I’ll end up walled up in my office, like poor Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, which still gives me nightmares.
The good news is that the next book already has a title, and I feel certain this time it’s the right title. It’s going to be called There Is No Dog , after the joke about the dyslexic atheist walking up and down outside the church with a sign reading….well, you figure it out. The Bride’s Farewell is chock full of dogs, lurchers , mainly, but I thought I’d build a big retaining wall and keep them out of the next book. There Is No Dog is about God turning out to be a 19 year old boy, and (so far at least) there are no dogs in it.
If anyone hates the title could you please let me know now?