There is a brief lull in the touring schedule for The Book of Lost Things, so I have a chance to catch up with my mail, at least until next Friday when the whole thing begins again in South Africa and then the US. (I know, I know, it's a tough old job, but I'm bearing up manfully. . .)
One of the letters awaiting me comes from my editor, and relates to The Unquiet, the Parker book to be published in May 2007. Basically, I sent off the manuscript of the next book a day or two before I began touring, so copies of it landed on the desks of both my British and American editors, and my agent, in early September. Since then, I've been running around promoting BOLT, so, apart from a brief conversation with my lovely British editor at the launch in London, during which she indicated that I was unlikely to be cast out of Hodder & Stoughton's offices and invited to try my luck elsewhere just yet, this is the first official response to the next book.
I always have difficulty letting a book go, mainly because I feel that it forever remains open to improvement, and given another week or so I might, just might, manage to attain perfection, or at least manage to put a little more distance between the manuscript and gross imperfection. I've spoken before about that brief period when the manuscript is in transit between my desk and the desks of the three individuals mentioned above, who are the first to read anything that I write. For that 24-hour period (and that is how long it is, as my British editor in particular tends to read my new book almost as soon as it arrives, a devotion to duty that I find at once both flattering and rather frightening), I enjoy a sense of relief and disconnectedness that may be akin to the out-of-body experiences sometimes described by those who have found themselves hovering above their corporeal selves during complicated surgical procedures. For now, the book is out of my hands. Its fate lies elsewhere.
I read my editor's letter with a certain degree of trepidation. I know that she is pleased with the book, but that doesn't mean that changes are not required. The problem with changing a book after it has been delivered, I find, is that the sense of disconnectedness described above never entirely goes away. By printing off the manuscript and submitting it to the scrutiny of my editors, I have effectively admitted that I am done with this book, cosmetic alterations apart. In my mind, I am already moving on to the next book, a book that, I hope, will be better than the last one. Returning to a manuscript once it has been submitted feels to me like a step backwards, or a return to the scene of the crime. I am no longer in that mindset, and it's difficult to find my way back into the book once again.
There is also a part of me that, in the event of significant criticism, would like to erase my editor's memory of the book, apply all of her suggested changes, and then resubmit it as an entirely new work, now significantly closer to that much desired perfection. It strikes me that handing over a manuscript sometimes feels like handing over homework, and I always want an 'A' for my written work.
Thankfully, the letter is very kind and generous (and I should add that even on those occasions when my editor has found problems with a manuscript, the criticisms have been couched in such a diplomatic way that I find it hard to tell if they are criticisms at all or merely slight differences in perception). There is only one minor clarification required in the plot, although I have no doubt that, when the manuscript itself arrives from the copy editor, there will be other suggestions to be dealt with along the way, and I would be wise to take them on board, for my British and American editors, and my agent, enrich my books immeasurably with their insights. The novels would be poorer creatures without their help.
Still, somehow I have contrived to get away with it yet again. In May 2007, God willing, my ninth book will be published. Now it is time to start work on the 10th. . .
P.S. The website for The Book of Lost Things has been significantly expanded, and readers can now download free screensavers and desktops, as well as read extensive notes exploring the background to the various stories and myths used in the book, and the original versions of those myths and tales. Please let us know what you think!
This week John read
Lisey's Story (uncorrected proof) by Stephen King
Imperium by Robert Harris
and listened to
Universe by Sebastian Tellier
Sam's Town by The Killers
Live A Little by The Pernice Brothers