The advance reading copies of The Unquiet have begun circulating, and soon the first responses of readers to the new book will be known. On one level, this always brings with it a sense of trepidation. Will people like it? Will they 'get' what I'm trying to do with this book? True, it was much more difficult for The Book of Lost Things, which was so different to what I had done before, but there is always a feeling of concern on the writer's part when a new book is sent out into the world.
On the other hand, I know that The Unquiet is the best book that I could have written at this time, just as The Book of Lost Things was before it. That knowledge brings with it a certain degree of comfort. What is important, in the end, is that one can stand over the book one has written, that one can be both fond and proud of it. That pride should not be unjustified, or egotistical, or self-congratulatory, but if the writer doesn't feel a sense of pride and affection for what he has done, then the worth of the whole endeavour is called into question. True, there may be times when a writer's judgement of the work is off, or his pride in it misplaced, but generally I would like to think that I might be able to tell when a book is problematical or deeply flawed long before it reaches the desk of my editor.
Then again, sometimes that knowledge only comes in retrospect. Looking back, I can see the flaws in some of my earlier books yet, even then, they were the best books that I could have written at that stage of my life, and of my writing. I hope that, often, the flaws in them were flaws of ambition. There is rather too much going on in The White Road, for example, and when I look at The Unquiet it seems initially simpler and less cluttered by comparison. It's a book that takes its time, that explores a handful of characters, slowly uncovering truths about them, a book that trusts in the patience of the reader. It is very consciously smaller in scale than, say, The Black Angel, but that focus has brought with it a greater depth. Or that, at least, is how I see it. Others - and therein lies the rub, and the source of the anxiety that I always feel at this time - may not see it the same way.
This week John is still reading
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (100 pages to go!)
and listened to
Instead by One,two
Separated by the Sea by Findlay Brown