This is one of the much-quoted openings that every writer would like to imagine. If I remember correctly they are J P Hartley’s opening words in The Go-Between. Remember the wonderful film with Alan Bates and Julie Christie? It was filmed in a early 18th-century Norfolk country house, Melton Constable,
that was subsequently left abandoned. There was an outcry. I don’t know what happened.
‘The past is another country. They do things differently there.’ So will ‘they’ in the future.
Here I am stuck between an intriguing past and future: past is the first draft of my novel; future is where it takes place. ‘They’ are all the people I imagined in the future who are coming alive again after I had deserted them for a long while. I’m a third of the way through and it’s like reading a new novel, except that there are a few echoes, as if I had read it in the past.
The past makes it more difficult to rethink the whole work as I didn’t remember that I had abandoned it with spidery corrections inked all over it. So now I’m facing two sets of manual corrections, one lot made a couple of years ago and the other this morning on Chapter 17. I’m getting a bit confused. I’ll return to decipher them after I’ve posted this.
I regret I didn’t find the time or the will to type the corrections in just after I made them. It would be much more exciting to return to a clean manuscript.
Was it unwise, I ask myself, to abandon the first draft of a novel to write an account of the most extraordinary summer in my life? Friends urged me on when I told them a bit about it. So 1955 The Summer When… was written and published while my imaginative journey into the future lay abandoned inside button files, 7 to 8 chapters in each.
Each morning I revisit the next chapter, revise it and sometimes correct the earlier corrections. Did I lose heart? Can I decipher the result?
It is a strange, sometimes fearful, even exciting experience to read one’s work, fearful that, if one is honest, one might find it disappointing, if not just bad. I’m now reading it as if it were by someone else. Another country indeed. I can’t remember how and where it will lead me into the book’s equally undiscovered future. Next week will tell me a bit more.