There is often a great deal of talk about letting go of one’s characters. Do authors let go? Can we let go?
Obviously, I cannot and will not speak for all authors. I don’t know them, haven’t met them, and haven’t discussed it with them. All I can speak of with any degree of authority is my own experience.
I had, ostensibly, finished May 1812 sometime in early 2009.
With the help of a great friend and ruthless editor, I had done the ‘final’ edit. Not just for the words or punctuation or that primal phobia, MS length, but the whole structure of the novel had been considered, the characters’ interplay, the language, the poetry, the metaphors. It was a tremendous journey that and I relished every minute of it.
(Indeed, I loved it so much that I used to play the Maria Magdalene Motets by Franciso Guerrero on the stereo while we were in discussion about the novel, which are simply the most transforming musical encapsulation of elation…but I digress.)
So then, having completed it to my and my editor’s satisfaction, I moved on.
And began seriously to work on Of Honest Fame: I allowed those characters and their lives and concerns to dominate my thoughts. And they took over with a vengeance and I rather suspect they enjoyed being centre stage. In fact, I know they did.
And I have to say, it was grand to be writing again, not just editing, but creating from the silence words on a page, a new story – several new stories all rolled into one, in fact.
But then came the publishing deal.
Thus in mid-August, I was thrown back into the world of May 1812 by the knowledge that this was finally, after so very long, going to be print on the page bound between two covers. Yet when “This is it!” hits, there’s an undeniable drive to have one final effort to make it perfect.
As it happens though, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Because for all intents and purposes, I was no longer in Myddelton’s head. I didn’t operate there any longer. I was by that point, living in Boy’s head, and Jesuadon’s, both characters in Of Honest Fame.
So I spent days listening to Myddelton’s ‘music’, the music I had written him to. (Beaucoup de Beethoven.) Days reading him in order to get his turns of phrase back into my mouth and his ways of thinking back into the forefront of my thoughts. I edited like mad. I combed the manuscript for places where I’d been lazy and hadn’t kept to ‘style’. Chapters that I’d begun lazily. I filled in all those literary and stylistic potholes. And eventually, I was deep inside his head enough to rewrite the few scenes that I knew were crucial and had to be perfect. And those took days too.
However, I did meet my deadline. And an enormously kind (and selfless) friend proofed the thing for me. (No one can proof their own, no matter how hard they try.) The copy went off to be typeset and thence to the printer. And the rest is history-ish.
But now, as I look upon it, I recognise a thing that Paul House described when he said that you can’t go back in there…sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of your characters, up ahead of you in the street–but they won’t come to have a drink with you anymore and you won’t find them waiting for you in the bar any longer.
And that’s right. The door is now closed between Myddelton and me. He’s living his life forward and I’m no part of that. He doesn’t invite me into his library and he certainly doesn’t invite me into his bedroom. Yet I do, still sometimes, when I’m out with Jesuadon or the boy, see him up ahead…in the street…just the back of him, you know…