Monday, March 22, 2010


Publication of The Whisperers, the new Parker book, is now imminent, and it strikes me that, when the novel appears, it will mean that I will have published three books in less than one year, which smacks of trying a bit too hard. I mean, that’s almost like having a proper job, which can’t be right.

Unfortunately, my unusual spate of productivity means that I seem to have spent large parts of the past twelve to fourteen months doing edits, which really is no fun at all. In the case of The Whisperers, the fact that it was only delivered to my publishers in January means that the whole editing process has been accelerated. Thus, last Tuesday, as I was about to head to London with the final corrected proof pages for the British edition in my bag, the American copy edited manuscript arrived on my doorstep. Worryingly, it came with a letter informing me that the manuscript should be returned to my editor by March 17th which, given that it had only been delivered on the 16th, was likely to prove difficult.

So I’ve just spent this weekend with three versions of the book spread across my desk: the American copy edit, which is essentially my original manuscript with the copy editor’s notes, queries, and instructions to the typesetter; a copy of the British copy-edit, so that I could transpose the changes I had made to that version to the American one; and, finally, the British proofs, or typeset pages, so that I could also add the final tweaks to the American edition. As is the way of these things, the American copy editor had caught some errors that the British copy editor had missed, and vice versa, so I’ve been sending pleading e-mails to my British editor’s lovely assistant asking her to try to have those corrections inserted into the British edition before it goes to the presses.

There is a difference between this kind of editing and the kind that occurs earlier in the writing, in my case after the first draft is complete. There’s a pleasure in honing material that hasn’t been read yet by anyone, aided by the relief of knowing that you’ve managed to bring almost to fruition what was originally just an assemblage of ideas in your head. But once the book has been delivered, editing becomes less of a creative act and more of a technical requirement. Of course, it’s a big part of the process of publishing a book, but it’s also the only part that really is a chore. There are only so many times that you will want to through a copy of your own book, and by the time the proof pages arrive that figure has been exceeded with a vengeance. It becomes impossible to tell if the book is actually any good; in fact, you start to become convinced that it’s terrible. Oh, there will be sections that don’t seem so bad, but overall it’s difficult to shake off the sense that your weariness with the book won’t be shared by the first-time reader. Thus it is that the point when the writer should probably be going through the manuscript with maximum concentration, as this is really the last chance to correct errors and inconsistencies, is also the point at which that capacity for concentration is at its weakest.

Allied to this is the knowledge that, despite your efforts, and the efforts of your editors, and their assistants, and the copy editors, and the experts who have been kind enough to fact check the original manuscript, mistakes are still going to creep through. I don’t think I’ve ever published a book without receiving a missive from a reader containing the question “Doesn’t anyone copy edit your books?”, or words to that effect. The answer is, yes, someone does. Lots of people edit them. They ensure that errors are kept to a minimum, but that’s all. It’s simply not possible to eradicate them entirely. The Whisperers is about 125,000 words long. If there were two mistakes in the finished manuscript, it would still represent only a tiny fraction of one per cent of the words used. That kind of margin of error would be acceptable to most scientists, let alone the average writer.

Still, at least the editing process is almost complete, and I can get back to writing, even if it’s only for a month or so before publicity for the actual book itself begins. We’re now well into March, but I don’t seem to have managed to get a whole lot of writing done, and May, June and most of July will be lost to touring. Perhaps I’ll have to train myself to write while on the road, but the idea doesn’t appeal to me. I like to keep writing and publicity separate, if I can. Anyway, I find that I have so little time to myself when I’m touring that, even if find the will and the energy to write, the hours are not there. No choice, then, but to make maximum use of the weeks ahead, and hope that progress is swift…

This week John read

Race of a Lifetime by Mark Halperin and John Heileman

and listened to

Broken Bells by Broken Bells
Fever Ray (Special Edition) by Fever Ray

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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