The Fear of Finishing Part 1
I’ve always had trouble thinking about more than one thing at a time. Hence the fact that it’s been so long since I put up a blog. For longer than I care to admit I’ve been concentrating on trying to write a new novel. Recently I finally finished it and I sent it off to my agent (or at least the agent I had for Turf, who may or may not be my agent again, depending on what they think of the ms!).
The scary thing about finishing a project like that (or should I say scariest - there are plenty of scary things) is I literally have no idea how it’s going to be received. I think it’s good. In fact, I think it’s great. In places and in certain ways I think it’s Goddamn superb. But will anyone else think the same? I’ve shared scenes and chapters with my writing group and I’ve worked with a writing coach to try and keep the project on track, but no one knows for sure. Maybe some writers do. Maybe Daphne Du Maurier handed in the final draft of Rebecca convinced that she’d written a masterpiece. Perhaps Tolstoy finished the last line of Anna Karenina, sat back and said, Yep, nailed it.
I imagine it helps if you’re an established writer of unarguable talent. But the lack of perspective that comes from producing a long piece of fiction must to an extent always be a pitfall. To my mind you have to fall in love with your characters and with their story, otherwise it’s impossible to spend all that time with them. It’s Stockholm Syndrome in reverse. (Lima Syndrome, apparently, named after a terrorist incident at the Japanese embassy in Lima in 1996, during which the hostage-takers developed sympathy for their captives.) And falling in love is dangerous – especially with your own book. You can be blind to its faults, you can overstate its virtues. In short you are not in the best position to judge.
A book’s success is down to other people’s opinions of it. If they like it, they’ll buy it. But opinions are not always reliable, and are sometimes influenced by more than the quality of the book itself. For example, when we were trying to find a publisher for Turf we had very little interest for the first couple of months. Enough time for me to start questioning the whole enterprise. I convinced myself that it was a dud. It was something for me to put down to experience, little more. With this is mind, whenever I looked over it all I saw were its faults. However, eventually one publisher asked for a meeting, and then as if by magic, it was two publishers, then three, and then four. It was as though each publisher had been waiting for another to make the first move, and then once the ball was rolling it really rolled.
Suddenly Turf was a good book after all. Several publishers wanted to buy it. People sung its praises. It came out to great reviews. Yet this was the same book that I’d given up on a little over a year before. The same book that I’d decided wasn’t up to scratch. Nothing (apart from a few minor tweaks in the editing process) had changed.
I went with it, of course. I didn’t tap anyone on the shoulder and ask, Are you sure about this? I was all ready to write something else. I loved that Turf was so well-received, and I became proud of it because of that. But writing a book is a painstaking, forensic process. The fact that it’s subsequent success is so impossible to determine is terrifying. After all that grind it would nice to have a guarantee of some kind.
For now I’ve just got to wait. I feel like I’ve pulled out all the stops with this new book. It’s not perfect, I know that. But I’m hopeful that it’s got enough about it to strike a chord with people and generate some excitement. I’ve certainly tried to make it exciting – and I felt excited reading it back. But then, I wrote the thing. So what do I know?