A door closing…

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…


17 comments on “A door closing…

  1. junebugger says:

    This is a very interesting post indeed. I guess, in this sense, it’s good that I’m not dying with the need to write another story. I guess if I do get sucked into a new story the door to TRC will be closed to me? And I won’t be able. To work on the story as an empathetic writer (as I surely will have to revise this story several more times if I land and publisher one day) if I stray to another story… I never thought of it this way. But it must be true! I’m no longer feeling so bad that I don’t feel too inspired to start a new book right now.

  2. cavalrytales says:

    I kind of know what you mean. Some time ago I decided that, if I can get them both there, one of my two main characters must die at Waterloo.I know which, and what happens to the other in the aftermath.
    But now, months later…I’m not so sure. I keep trying to find ways to prevent his death; lying awake at night or driving between jobs. I don’t want him to die, basically.
    But perhaps he must. Perhaps the other must carry on alone, a metaphor for…something.

    Isn’t it weird how writing bares what you wouldn’t expose to your best friend?

    Who needs a psychiatrist!

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I don’t think I wish to know what one would tell me what my characters may reveal about me.

      As for Waterloo, I do not envy you that conundrum. It’s one of the reasons why I have decided I will not write about it.

  3. Wow. This is something I was trying to explain to a student of mine in a conversation just last week -how the characters voices “speak” to me, and how hard it is to realize that I’m not hearing them any more. It is, for me, something like losing a friend.

    Of course, I’m working on something new, and these characters are with me all the time now, and they are pleasant company indeed. The only problem is, when talking about Davide and Emily, I find myself slipping and speaking about Federico and Abigail, and for a moment, I feel like I’m cheating on both pairs, somehow.

    And still, there are those glimpses, from time to time, which make the heart ache that telling, tiny little bit…

    Very well stated, Bennetts. As always.

  4. authorsanon says:

    Mmmm.Any possible antidote? Such as . . .a Myddleton sequel ? (Hah, or is that perhaps one masochistic thought too far ?) Well, but surely Mrs Myddleton occasionally invites you to tea, at least ? If not, then she ain’t the genteel creature I took her for,for shame ! But yes, all the virtually cathartic energy has gone into the massive final effort. At least he’s up ahead of you in the street, instead of walking into you from behind, nudging you and whispering in your ear ‘You ain’t finished yet, ye know,’ or, ‘By the by, that paragraph on page so and so . . .ain’t quite the thing,’ etc. Another Mmmm here however, – for I suspect he will be back, sooner or later, further on in his career, probably, and most likely suffering from gout while Mrs Myddleton runs the Home Office from her Salon, haha. Meantime, I’m achin’ to hear more of Boy and Jesuadon. So I’ll just ring the bell for more punch and ices, shall I, while you scribble on and read out ? ‘Tis now well after dinner time in Madame Bustle’s Tea Room, after all . . .

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I suppose I’m cheating, Madame Bustle.

      Book 2, Of Honest Fame, contains three characters from May 1812: Shuster, Dunphail and Jesuadon. Book 3 will also contain at least two characters from May 1812: Hardy and Dunphail. Book four will certainly contain at least one character from the first book…ha ha ha. That would be telling.

      So while I am still in contact with Myddelton’s circle of friends, it’s more as Trollope did it in his sequences–the focus of each novel was different, but the characters from earlier novels were mentioned, albeit incidentally.

      • authorsanon says:

        Now, perhaps my mind is playing tricks, but I thought I remembered catchin’ sight of Myddleton himself at one point in Of Honest Fame . .and not so far into the book either – but that’s precisely the kind of thing I like, and I suspect a good many others; it probably comes down to recognition : we welcome familiar characters as old friends (even those we did not care for originally)simply because they are familiar faces in that foreign land, the Next Novel, or The Sequel.
        I have experienced only a milder sense of finality with my main character in Green Wood, even though the book is complete; I think this is because I had already the idea of a sequel in mind. So rather hard, indeed inadvisable, to let go just yet. There is that touching anecdote I am reminded of, concerning Puccini: he admitted to having wept after writing the death of Liu in Turandot. And then Dickens too, over Nell, was it ? or Nancy ? or both . . .my Bustle is creaking, my memory fades . . .ring for the footman, send for my smelling salts, I am overwhelmed by all this literary discourse . . .(politely coughs up a few unwanted quotes and stifles them in handkerchief)

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Myddelton is mentioned at least once in the early chapters of Of Honest Fame. You’re right.

        And I always cry at the death of Liu in Turandot too. Even when it’s only the cd I’m listening to. That pieta is quite simply one of the most splendid bits of opera ever composed.

      • authorsanon says:

        That and Manon’s aria in the desert. And Vissi d’arte. Oh, and that bit in La Boheme where Mimi overhears Rudolfo . . . I must stop stop stop, I shall be spouting Puccini all night when I should be trying to go to sleep . . (again). . .

  5. authorsanon says:

    And he always gave singers easy vocal transitions/passages – in fact I used to adapt phrases from Liu as warm up exercises, partly also to vary the monotony of scales, but also because Puccini is kind on the voice(which Rossini and Verdi are not, the rotters).

  6. M M Bennetts says:

    And now to wander wholly off topic–as an accompanist, I would say Puccini is easier and usually less monkey-music than anyone of the other operatic composers, which is how I’d describe Verdi’s orchestral reductions which are quite possibly the most boring things to have to play and to play repeatedly than just about anything else in a singer’s repertoire.

    The person who really understood and wrote for the voice is Donizetti. Though, like Robert Schumann, he died of syphilis, which (and now back to topic sort of…well, time period)was spread across Europe in the early part of the century by the hundreds of thousands of infected French soldiers (an 80% infection rate in the French army of 1812)and which continued to decimate the European population long after Napoleon had been sent to St. Helena.

    • authorsanon says:

      well, Verdi did start off writing tunes for brass bands,which I think never entirely left him . . although his last two operas Othello and Falstaff I find quite sublime, but yes, on the whole I cannot imagine him on the piano . . .poor old Donizetti – although there are those (naturally enough, there always are) who dispute the cause of his paralysis, and put his enormous output down to some form of cerebral dysrhythmia . . .but a propos Donizetti, a couple more of my favourite silly anecdotes comes to mind : Rossini writing in bed, dropped one of his duets on the floor and wrote another in its place rather than get out of bed to pick it up; a friend later obliged and Rossini,m determinded not to waste all that effort, combined the two in a trio – I’m not sure whether it was a trio in the Barber, but he had to finish that in less than a month : at which Donizetti said ‘Well, he always was a lazy boy . . . ‘
      (I think it’s time I went to bed . . . tiptoes away bashfully with nightcap and candlestick . .. )

      • M M Bennetts says:

        I’m rather fond of Rossini. Cimarossa too–although he was a lover of all things Bonaparte.

  7. Phillipa says:

    I’ve never been to this blog before, but now I’ve found it I shall frequent it.

    You hit the nail on the head. I loved, I mean LOVED my characters, when writing The Book of Love. Wake up thinking about them during the night, daydreamed about their lives, obsessed over their motivation when supposed to be at a social event and was thrilled for them when I was offered a contract for the book. In fact, my first thought was, ‘oh, I’m so happy for Lily and William.’

    Then the publishers asked me for a sequel. Had the moment passed? I knew I could never have the passion for them that I did at first. It was like being asked to sleep with an old lover. You know each other, you’re over each other, still fond but have moved on. But I did it. I did it by going a little deeper into their psyches where there were more surprises for me. It wasn’t as passionate but it was good. And in fact I’m glad to leave them a little more mature, a little deeper. But that’s it, I’m moving on and letting them get on with their lives.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      That’s a superb way of putting it–that very awkward process of getting back into the heads of characters from whom you’ve moved on.

      And this really is the stuff no one tells you about. Ha ha.

  8. Jeff Blackmer says:

    Exactly how I feel! There is a camaraderie you hold in your heart for these characters. You get to hang out with them, partake of their adventures, share their glories and their sadness. They silently welcome you into their lives. You watch them win and you watch them lose. And when it’s finished, you are torn between lingering and leaving, but the denouement ends; hugs are given all round, and then they turn away, leaving you standing alone.They will continue their story without you. And it’s sad; your part in their story is over and they no longer need you.
    And then, off in the far distance, you hear other voices and you know new friends are calling your name.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Absolutely! Ab-so-lute-ly! Except for the ‘silently’ welcoming bit. I don’t think mine ever shut their gobs.

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