A sharp rap on the knuckles from the Bassano del’Grappa chapter of my fan club. Too long between blog posts. Quite right, of course. It’s just that my life is narcotically repetitive. Get up, write words, throw 50 percent of them in the trash can, go to bed. But anyway, here I am, just in case you thought some terrible fate had befallen me.
Well apparently it DOES sometimes pay to throw a tantrum.
After posting about my proposed book cover I lay down on the floor and held my breath until my publisher said, ‘okay, okay, calm down and take a look at the designs we rejected.’ There, in the See Me Later pile, was an image, kind of Forties women’s magazine-style, of three women arm-in-arm. It’s not perfect but it’s a million miles closer to perfection than the one they’d planned to use. Result! I’m up off the floor and breathing again.
I’m going to jump.
And why, on this fresh but sunny November afternoon? I just got the proposed jacket design for The Early Birds, that’s why. I’m not going to display it yet because I live in feeble hope that they’ll come up with something better. They won’t though.
The aim, apparently, was to give me an Anne Tyler look. All very well because she’s had some spiffing covers, but Anne Tyler is Anne Tyler. How about a Laurie Graham look? And given that Early Birds is a sequel to The Future Homemakers of America, which had a fabulous (and much imitated) cover, wouldn’t you think they’d do a riff on that? Like a row of old ladies in deckchairs? Like a cover that says ‘This book will probably make you laugh.’
After several dispiriting weeks of casting upon publishing waters and failing to tempt my publisher with any of my ideas I finally got a nibble. Which book in my backlist do readers seem to remember most fondly? Perfect Meringues. I’ve alway felt it to be a weak book, so much so that I could never bring myself to reread it. But I wafted the idea of a sequel under the nose of my editor and her nostrils quivered.
Here I sit, waiting to tie up any loose ends with The Early Birds. The publishing house wheels are grinding slow and the typescript is out for copy-editing before the editor has finished her final structural edit, which is not at all how things should be but hey, nobody asked me. The trouble is I find it impossible to pitch the next book when there is still unfinished business on my desk. I’m not a fastidious worker but a new project requires a major psychological shift. I’m still pondering whether I was right to kill off…… oh, no, that’d be telling.
I’ve almost finished faffing with The Early Birds. Peggy has been granted a bit of love interest (credible, I hope) and I’ve trimmed some of what my editor deemed to be excess baggage, but not all. We don’t always agree.
One moot point in this book has been how many characters I should kill. I don’t enjoy doing it. Well okay, sometimes I do. But given the advanced years of most of these characters, one has to be realistic. And then there has been the question of language. I was very surprised when my publisher queried my use of American spelling. As my narrator is American it seemed logical to me. It’s not as though I’ve written it in Sanskrit. Am I wrong? I’d be interested to hear people’s opinions.
Here I am, back from my jolly hollies, sand purged from my shoes and ready for a bit of light re-writing. My editor enjoyed the first draft of The Early Birds and has requested just one thing: that I insert some love interest for Peggy, now in her late seventies. Ah well. It’s at times like this that I’m grateful for my experience as a short-order journalist. Just tell me what you want and I’ll hold my nose and deliver.
I’m always glad to hear of an editor becoming a writer. ‘Now they’ll find out,’ I mutter to myself, ‘that it’s not that easy.’ I actually know of someone who does both: writing his own stuff and critiqueing other people’s. This sounds to me like a recipe for schizophrenia.
A few years ago an esteemed former editor of mine quit the world of publishing to write his first book and I seem to recall a high-pitched whimper of pain when I asked him how it was going. But publishing is no longer a gentle, civilised world. The suits and the bean-counters reign supreme and in all likelihood they’re coming after your treasured mid-list with a scythe. So I can understand why people leave it all behind for the freedom of being self-employed. Or as we in the business now joke, the self-unemployed.
I should begin by saying that my desk never looks likes this. When I started out with this writing lark I still had young children, so the table where I wrote was often littered with Lego and orphaned plimsolls as well as my own clutter. These days I have no such excuse but my desk is still a dumping ground for items that betray my flea-like mind. Things I’m going to do, things I should have done last week. The one pesky thing that’s gone from the heap this morning is The Book. It landed on my editor’s desk late last night.
Book-wise I’m at what my marathon-running children tell me is around the 20 mile marker, also known as Just Shoot Me Now. I’m about ten days off finishing first draft and still, somewhat worryingly, making major decisions. Yesterday I tossed a coin to see who would inherit the worm farm. So much for a carefully crafted plot. But I’m a great believer in coin-tossing. When you think you’re undecided it’s a very quick way of discovering what your true feelings are.