I think I quite like this editing lark…It’s been a mere couple of months since my last post and here I am celebrating the completion of the fourth edit. For once this has been quick, and relatively easy. The path has been straight, the sun has shone, I’ve been mostly bounding with energy as a result, I’ve just ripped through the text
Following advice from my writing friend Catherine Chanter, at the end of each edit, I’ve always paid to have a printed bound copy. It’s a great way to enable me to read and annotate (without losing any pages!) before re-writes on the computer. Since my first draft was finished in 2011 I have developed a little ritual of going to the same print shop (the lovely Press to Print in Gloucester Green – whose staff are efficient, kind and always fascinated by my work in progress), paying for a copy and then bringing it home to dissect it. (This has become such a ritual that my son is still peeved I didn’t take him with me last time! Gloucester Green is also important for this novel as it is the place where I had a complete meltdown following an awful tutorial on 2 chapters I’d submitted for a writing assignment. My lovely husband Chris was an absolute star on that occasion, meeting me on a bench, hugging me when I sobbed and promising me we would return with champagne when I get a book deal – I’m holding him to that one…) An added advantage of doing these prints is that I can mark the progress of my novel by these bound copies. The first draft completed in 2011, was a little thin full of stereotypes and half finished characters, and chapters ending in xxx because I wasn’t sure quite how to resolve them. The second, completed last November, fleshed this out a lot, doubling the size and making sense of the narrative, cost me £18 instead of £8 and at least looked a lot thicker, but was still cliché ridden and a lot of it was not up to scratch. The third which took from January to April involved a radical re-working of the text, cutting and pasting, splitting chapters in half, deleting whole sections, in order to re-shape the story. This version cost £30, coming in at 125,000 words, 420 pages, and is satisfyingly solid enough to actually feel like a novel. It has, however needed significant re-writing.
So this time round I’ve been focussing on line by line edits. I went through the whole text with a blue or sometimes black biro, re-reading every sentence and changing every one that felt clunky, overwritten, or too clichéd. Sometimes this has involved rewriting whole scenes, or deleting them, and sometimes the excision of “that”, “but”, “and”, which I over use, the removal of commas and semi-colons, replacing them with semi-colons and full stops. For three weeks I took my copy everywhere with me, on the bus, in cafes, and (my favourite place) the Hay Festival, where I really enjoyed sitting in coffee shops, surrounded by book lovers as I ripped my sentences apart. I even had a wonderful encounter with two lovely women (whose names unfortunately I forget) who wanted to know what I was writing and were so enthusiastic and encouraging, it gave me a glimpse of what it might feel like to be a published author…(speaking at Hay is so on my wish-list, along with staying at Shakespeare and Company and being a writer in residence at the Gladstone Library…one day…).
I returned from Hay ready to start typing, deciding this time, that I’d work backwards. I have a tendency when editing to get a bit bored by the end. As a result, earlier sections are meticulously reviewed, and by the last chapters I’m getting a bit slapdash. I think this was a wise call – I found lots more problems with parts 4 and 5 then I did with parts 1 and 2 and hopefully I’ve picked them up. I did save the middle section for last though, as this is still the part that continues to trouble me…
I was doing really well, managing about 3 chapters a night, thinking I might get two parts done in the space of a week, when our lives had an unexpected interruption. Chris is a peace activist, and from time to time, will take part in civil disobedience. At the beginning of June he headed over to Lincolnshire to join others in an anti-drones protest. This sort of thing is so much part of our lives, and Chris is so often away with talks, I hadn’t really thought much about it to be honest. Half term was busy, with Hay, work and our middle daughter being off in Belgium that I waved him off thinking his absence would help me get on with my edits.
It didn’t quite turn out like that. As expected, Chris was arrested with 5 others, and was held incommunicado all day. This is quite unusual for such a low level action but it does happen. After tea, I still hadn’t heard from him, so I focussed on my work thinking he’d ring me soon. I’d reached a point where Daniel, a character in 1943 is debating whether to be a conscientious objector like his father, and considering the implications of prison, when I happened to look out of the front window to see a police car drawing up. There was a knock on the door, and I realised when I saw their plastic bags, that they’d come to raid our house, looking for evidence of conspiracy to commit criminal damage. I had a very surreal hour watching them rifle through our mail, examine our computers, desperately hoping they wouldn’t take them away. Despite my protests, they took the family computer, and then said they must take the laptops. Aagh…at such a critical moment. They watched me download the novel onto a memory stick, as I silently cursed them for taking away my means of continuing to write, but for some miraculous reason, they forgot to come back to the kitchen to collect it. That was a result, but unfortunately I was so wired there was no hope of writing that night, and in fact the rest of the week was a bit of a washout. For 24 hours Chris and the others were facing serious charges of conspiracy to cause criminal damage (which have seriously heavy penalties). Chris then rang in the morning to tell me that an outstanding fine from a previous action had emerged on the system, so though the charges were lessened, and our friends released, he was sent to Camberwell magistrates court to be asked to pay. We’d been waiting for a summons on that one, and expecting a 2 week imprisonment, so the next 24 hrs was slightly anxious. When your other half is in a police cell, communication is limited to a brief phone call, so like many of my characters in Echo Hall, I was living with the absence of my husband and the uncertainty of when he would return. Luckily for Chris he got the nicest magistrate in the universe, who wiped the fines on the basis of his time spent in custody, and he was unexpectedly home in time for the Apprentice. A case of life imitating art a little too much…
It took a few days to recover from that one, but ever since, I’ve been ploughing through, back to my up at 6 and work till late routine. I am REALLY tired, and there have been days in the last fortnight in particular, when I’ve begun to feel sick of the sight of the damned thing, when I look at it and think Oh God it’s complete rubbish. And days when I seem to spend hours taking commas out, only to put them back in again. But on other days I find myself reading a passage and asking, did I really write that? I haven’t read it yet, but, I do believe the changes I’ve made, have improved the quality of the writing, & hope I’ve got rid of some of the clunkier passages.
Just as I was drawing to the close, I received fantastic and very encouraging feedback from a publishing professional which has provided me with a lot of food for thought. I agree with a lot of what she says, but some points she’s making are a challenge. I have to weigh up whether she is right, or whether her reactions are personal with the thought that I shouldn’t hold onto things I love if they are detrimental to the plot, but nor should I ditch parts I believe to be integral. So, as I completed my final chapter last night (having reworked the central section into three long parts), I’ve decided to pause before the final ascent. I need to think about what she’s said and decide how much to take with me, and how much to discard. I need to reflect on what I think is working and what is not, and I need to seek advice from other readers and writers I trust.
What I do know, is that I am getting close to achieving my artistic aims, and that this novel definitely has the potential for publication. Whether that happens or not, will be partly down to me, to luck, and to finding the person who will be willing to champion it. In the meantime, as I rest here, drinking up the view, my eyes are firmly fixed on the horizon, where I can see a bunch of characters, assembling on a beach. Before “Echo Hall” is finally finished, I aim to make a start on “The Wave.” Publishing is a tough business, I might not be successful first time. I need to keep going, and one day, who knows, I might just get to speak at Hay.
Onwards and upwards!
PS In a spookily twinny moment, my lovely twin sis Julia Williams blogged her take on her writing process yesterday as she launched Midsummer Magic. I find on reading it, we have a lot of similarities – though she of cause being a proper author gets an editor to help! (looking forward to that day…)