The new book, THE LOVERS, has finally gone to my editors, and my agent, and it was only three days late which, under the circumstances (lost early sections; last minute rewrite; the insertion by hand, using gum and scissors, of sections of the Enochian alphabet), I consider to be quite an achievement.
Printing off the book always tends to be the most stressful part of the act of constructing a book, for a number of reasons. To begin with, as I've mentioned here before, I never print off the book until I'm ready to send it to my editors. Printing it off is, for me, an admission that, for now, I have done all I can with it. True, I could continue to rewrite until hell froze over, or until my publishers sent some big guys around to reclaim the furniture that I purchased with their advances, but the changes that I might make would become increasingly minor until, in the end, even I might cease to notice them, or to remember why it was so important to make those changes to begin with. When I begin to print off the book, it becomes a manuscript, rather than a potential manuscript, or a work-in-progress. Depending upon the responses of my editors, and my beloved agent, I may make further changes before the novel is sent to the printer, but these will be changes brought about by the actions of others. My feeling, at this point, is that I've probably done, if not everything possible to improve it, then nearly everything, and the best solution for everyone is probably just to let the book go and see what happens.
But that day of printing . . .
It began at 11.30 A.M., shortly after I'd returned from a pair of dental appointments, and concluded shortly after 1.30 A.M. the following morning, with one break to eat, and watch a little of the Ireland V Poland match. I suppose that I could have spread the process of printing the book off over a number of days, but for some reason I never manage to do that. It may be a hangover from journalism, and the urge to keep writing and changing right up until the deadline, in the hope that a burst of inspiration on the home straight might result in dramatic improvements to the text.
On a more practical level, though, it's also the first - and last - time, that I will ever go through the book, chapter by chapter, over the course of a single day. The intensity of that examination, although exhausting, means that I'm a little more aware of the need to catch inconsistencies, and I'm more likely to spot them if I'm reading the last chapter hours, rather than days, since I've read the first. In addition, the knowledge that the manuscript will be read by others for the first time occasionally spurs me on to solve minor problems that have nagged at me for a while, or simply recognize the existence of flaws that had, perhaps, eluded me before.
While printing off the middle section of THE LOVERS, I discovered one small detail that I suspected didn't quite gel with something I wrote in the first book, EVERY DEAD THING, more than a decade ago. I think that I'd been putting off returning to that first book simply because I find it difficult to go back over work that I have written years before. It's a bit like exposing oneself to one's youthful indiscretions, and the critic in me fears that I won't be able to forgive myself for failings, either real or imagined, in those books that I wrote when I was younger. Nevertheless, knowing that the manuscript would be sent off to my editors the following morning, I overcame those doubts, found (with some difficulty) the relevant section, and realized that changes would have to be made in light of it. Better to deal with them now rather than later, when the manuscript has been typeset, or, worse, to dismiss those concerns as unfounded and find, when the book has been published, that the whole delicate balance of the series has been undone by my lack of care.
I suspect that I also felt it was particularly important to get these details right for THE LOVERS, which delves so deeply into Parker's past, and which, if I've managed to do what I intended to do, sets up the series for what is to come later. It's a novel that pretty much puts its hands in the air and says, Look, these are not simply independent novels, but are coming together to form part of a larger whole, and some of the hard spadework for that attempt at unifying them is being done here. Meanwhile, the last chapter hints at a possible direction for the final book, and a character from one of the non-series novels makes a reappearance. All of that had to be done while permitting new readers to begin with THE LOVERS, if they chose, without alienating them entirely by giving them the uncomfortable sensation that they had arrived late to a party that had been going on for some time.
By 11 P.M ., I was sitting on the floor of my office, painstakingly cutting out small rectangular boxes, each containing symbols relevant to the book, and pasting them into the manuscript, since my word processing program steadfastly refused to allow me to transfer them directly on screen. I did that for three separate manuscripts - one each for my American and British editors, and one for my agent - before I realized that it might have been more sensible just to do all of those pages once, and then photocopy them three times before reinserting them into the printed manuscript, since I now fear that the symbols may come off when the manuscript is being photocopied and gum up my publishers' expensive photocopiers. (I'm not sure if my agent has an expensive photocopier. He doesn't seem like the sort. Anyway, I've never been to my agent's office, an admission that tends to surprise some people. It's not that he hasn't invited me; it's just that it's always seemed more civilized for us to meet over lunch, or a glass of wine. Anyway, I'm now superstitious about the whole matter. I'm afraid that, if I do visit, the building will fall down, or my career as a writer will come to a sudden end with everyone confessing that it was all a big mistake, and they'd meant to publish someone else with my name but had been too embarrassed to admit to their error until now . . .)
By midnight, my head was hurting, and I was struggling to keep on top of what I was doing. I was trying to paginate, and forgetting what page the last chapter had ended on. I had discovered that changes made to two early chapters had not been saved, for some reason, so I needed to go through them again while trying to remember what I had altered earlier in the week. The paper holder from my copier fell off and ended up behind my desk, which is against a wall and sits almost flush with the side walls, meaning that I had to shift the desk from side to side until I could lie on top of it and, with the aid of a ruler and a plastic folder, haul the paper holder up until I was able to reach it.
That took a while.
Then, when all the chapters were laid out on my office floor, I put the manuscripts together, making sure that I hadn't forgotten to print a chapter off, and that the pages all appeared to match. Finally, I went to bed, but as I was about to go to sleep I thought of three things that should be checked or changed, so I had to turn on the light again, find a pen and a piece of paper, and write a note to myself reminding me of what those things were when I woke up.
After that, I couldn't go to sleep.
But is was worth it, in the end, and not just because the manuscripts were printed and could be handed over to Peter at Postnet to be entrusted to the courier later that afternoon. It meant that I had one glorious, guilt-free day to myself: one day when I felt that I could breathe easy and do something frivolous, and not feel guilty about not working on the book; one day during which the book existed in a state of suspension, not being worked upon but not yet being judged, a secret thing that might be wonderful or might be awful, one that had not yet entered the next stage of its existence and become part of the editing and publishing process; one day spent wandering around bookstores, drinking coffee, reading a book for the sheer pleasure of it without the nagging feeling that this was time stolen from my own book; one day between the completion of one novel, and the commencement of another.
That's how long that state of bliss lasts: one day. It's the same with every book that I write. I get one day, and after that I start worrying, and feeling guilty again.
But that one day is a great one . . .
This week John read
Bleed a River Dry (uncorrected proof) by Brian McGilloway
Mad Dogs by James Grady
and listened to
Belle & Sebastian: The BBC Sessions
Ladyhawke by Ladyhawke
God Is An Astronaut by God Is An Astronaut
Car Alarm by The Sea and Cake