I finished the first draft of my new novel, Our Stuff and Our Things last week. This happened more quickly than I anticipated - the final section of the book was much easier to write than I thought it would be. I finished the draft. Not without feeling a bit amazed.
The book is odd. It has a complex relationship with its two companion works, my on-going project Flight Paths, and my new digital fiction project, Duel. But it needs to be able to stand completely independently of these two digital projects - it needs to work as a novel for people who aren’t interested in media-rich hybrid forms of literature that have to be viewed on computer screens - it needs to work as a book.
I showed an early draft of the middle section of the book to my Canadian agent this past winter; at that time I thought the middle section was the opening of the book. Her reaction was the opposite of reassuring. But her rather harsh words of criticism made me rethink the structure of the book and made me realise that one of the many things I was doing wrong was that I was writing the novel as though it was a series of screens, as though I was writing for the computer screen, in fact. (I wrote about this here in an earlier blogpost: ‘first person bad, third person good’.) So I rewrote and restructured and re-conceptualised.
When I got to the end of this new draft, I thought I had better show it to someone other than my agents first. I didn’t want to make my Canadian agent read a new version of the book until I felt more confident about it. Most agents put up with having to read many drafts of the same book as it makes its slow progress from total crap to half-way decent. But it can’t be much fun, and in a world where you need your agent to be as confident as possible about your book, I thought it would be a good idea to do as much work as possible on the book prior to showing it to either of the agents who work on my behalf in the industry, let alone the one who had read the first draft and said, basically, ‘ugh’.
So, I wrote to an old friend of mine who is a respected, experienced, and adept editor; she’s read manuscripts for me in the past. I’m paying her to read it; expertise like hers is hugely valuable. And, luckily for me, she had a bit of time this week.
Waiting to hear back while your manuscript is being read is one of the most painful and difficult and entirely inevitable experiences a writer can have. Combined with the almost epic bad weather we’ve been having here in England this summer, near-continuous rain and cool temperatures, I have felt myself wilting since the day I sent the ms off. Last night I reached a nadir - while getting dressed to go to my publisher’s annual summer party, I put on my pyjamas and got into bed instead.
Then this morning, an email from my editor friend. Reader, she ‘loved’ it. Reader, she had good things to say.