Thursday, 3 May 2007

Letting it Go

I'vebeen quiet for the past few days because I was printing up (with yes, final tiny edits) my typescript, and repaginating the whole thing because I keep each chapter as a separate file. Fun.

Yesterday I sent it off. There's the frisson of gently pushing a pristine MS into a Jiffy bag (remember when submitting, no staples, slippery plastic wallets and the like - keep it as simple as possible) and another kind of frisson as you seal it up, because you have to resist the urge to haul it out again and tamper some more.

Then you hand it over the counter at the post office. It's gone. You try to have faith in the postal service. You tell yourself you won't hassle your agent to check whether it arrived. You really won't, even though the Royal Mail is in a parlous state these days and anything could have happened to it. You won't drop a carefully light email to him/her, now, will you? You wouldn't dream of it. He/she is busy and you'll merely antagonise them. You'll possess yourself in patience. At least until after the Bank Holiday ...

In Sunday's Observer, Sebastian Faulks, who's publishing a new book, 'Engleby', described the writing life, saying that 'For three years, you're alone with your thoughts, then for three weeks you're thrown to the microphones in the name of 'publicity'. The modern writer's life is like a cross between that of the Venerable Bede and Naomi Campbell.' He talks of the difficulty readers seem to have when it comes to differentiating between art and life. Of 'Birdsong', he says 'One man asked me how I knew what it was like to fight at the Somme. I told him I'd read a lot of documents, visited the site, then made it up. 'You made it up?' he spat at me.' This reminds me of how in my youth I used to doodle faces a lot (still do) and some well-meaning friend/relative would peer (yes that word again! - for those of you who've read an earlier post on editing) over my shoulder and say 'That's nice - who's it meant to be?' (And when you come to think of it this is patronising because if it had been meant to be representaional it implied I hadn't exactly captured the reality.) This used to drive me up the wall. I'd explain it wasn't meant to be anyone: I'd made it up. 'What, out of your head?' they'd say, bemused.

There are crossing guards at the border between fiction and reality and they give writers a hard time. Witness the trouble Ian McEwan had recently because he'd used material from a memoir by Lucilla Andrews as source material for part of 'Atonement'. Shock! Horror! Writer uses source! Writer acknowledges source! Therefore writer did not commit plagiarism, the ultimate modern literary crime. Chaucer and Shakespeare, well-known literary recyclers, would not have understood the furore. The art lies in the reshaping, the transmuting of the source, of the familiar, into something new, personal, original, rich and strange.

Strikes me this blog has been a bit of a ramble. Anyway, wish me luck with my MS - and feel free to slap me on the wrist if you see me reaching for the phone anytime soon.

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