14 December 2011

Haven't You Finished Your Novel Yet?

It’s not so much the scope of the question above that’s tricky, but the little word “yet” with its finger-wagging accusation. 

Every time I’ve been asked this question about my novel The Hand-Me-Down Madonna, some seven years in the making, I’ve been cagey. What in heaven’s name have I been doing all this time?  Clearly fiddle-faddling instead of knuckling down to the task at hand. 

But Andrew Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, has come to the rescue.  Out of the four books that he has selected as novels to watch out for in 2012, two of them, he notes with some significance, took ten years to complete.  (Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.)   

So now I would prefer to suggest that my (rather youthful) book has been marinading all this while, or at least maturing in a cask that allows its contents to get stirred occasionally, each instance making the brew more palatable.

And this puts a new complexion on the gestation period of a future novel.  With a whole decade to play with, the scraps of dialogue, would-be scenes, and back story that at the moment are floating around undefined in the ether do not need to be rushed or churned out.  I can relax and wait to see what characters emerge out of the mist (today a lapsed monk, a cattle rustler, and a tango dancer) then lock them together in the close and sweaty confines of an A4 page.

Ten years could allow it to be a novel of extraordinary scope, poised precariously between ideologies, with postcard-scrawled recipes or snatches of verse.  Ten years could see it journey to Canada and the lakes of northern Ontario where the loons call and the space expands.  Or go continental, board the Eurostar and drink Pernod in Paris.  Or carry its fraying rucksack into a forgotten village of desperate secrets, where the bar is struggling to fill itself even more than the bell-towered church, and where the weeds grow mean and waist-high.     

And so it is fine for a book to murmur, sometimes almost out of earshot, sometimes as audible as laughter in the cellar or a footfall on the one creaky stair.  It has permission to flit, flirt, tease.  It can even, if it must, mass like a ravenous swarm of August mosquitoes outside a screen door.

Two months down.

Plenty of time…

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