By Christmas I had revised eight chapters and was enjoying the rediscovery of what I’d written a few years ago. Then came the mishaps. After the accident on my birthday I felt even more trepidation handing the manuscript of the first three chapters to my friend and faithful reader.
Many years ago, after another run of ill luck, I asked Susan to look at some short stories I had written. She had strict instructions to advise me whether there was any point in my going on writing. Whether it was worth doing. I have always been a voracious, if slow reader, and written on and off, when I could find any time. My efforts were so often interrupted by family illness, financial problems, urgent work – the usual activities that push one’s writing into the background. At last I could free up more time. Did she think it worth my while to devote it to writing?
Of course I knew all the encouragement that goes along the lines of ‘if it gives you satisfaction, then go ahead.’ But I don’t think many writers just write for themselves. Kafka is the one often cited. He may not have wanted his work to be found only after his death, but ‘stuff happened’. Most of us write to communicate what matters to us and, we hope, to our readers. But if we think we’re better than we are? Susan was charged with telling me the truth so I could make an informed choice whether to continue.
Here I am with the short stories, a novel and a memoir published, but I still needed Susan to give her trenchant judgement on the crucial early chapters.
I steeled myself. Our friendship would not be harmed if she slated it. Instead she like the start so much that other guests clamoured to read it. It led her into the mesh of characters – I think my work is character-led – but she sees this novel as both character and plot led and ‘strikingly imaginative; unlike anything you’ve written before’. Precisely. I’d be bored if I wrote the same sort of thing all the time. I like striking out on a new path, challenging myself. I’m still in seventh heaven, and tomorrow, after revising Chapter 10, I’ll tweak Chapter 1 a bit and send it off to an editor who asks to see first chapters. We’ll see what happens, if anything.