I finally sent the second draft of ‘The Dead’ off to the publisher last week, meeting its deadline by, well, minutes, if I’m honest. The second draft is the big one. When I send the first draft to my agent and editor it feels a bit like stepping off a cliff. Nobody else has seen it until that point, so I have no idea what their reaction will be. There was a huge sense of relief this time when they both really liked ‘The Dead’, because they would tell me if they didn’t, believe me.
So they both loved it but there were just a few changes needed. Even though I have been through this process before with ‘The Drop’ and ‘The Damage’, I was still lulled into a false sense of security by their positivity, mainly because I was pathetically grateful that they didn’t hate the book. They really like it! So I must be nearly finished, right? Wrong.
I then had to wade through every comment on my one hundred and four thousand word manuscript and there were a lot of them. Not every page warranted their scrutiny but every now and then there’d be a little observation on the side of a page, “Can we have a little bit more of this….or a little bit less of that? Could we delete this bit for pace but could we expand on this? How about an extra scene here, where we see this explained earlier and, I hate to say it, but do we really need this chapter at all….you know…the one you spent a week writing.…..oh and that character…you know the one…..sorry but I’m afraid she doesn’t really work for me at all.”
At this point my heart sinks and not because I resent my agent and editor’s input, far from it. It’s precisely the opposite in fact. I really respect their opinions and had to think long and hard about what they had told me, because I want this book to be the best it can be. I obsess about it in fact. I picture readers having the exact same thoughts they do. I know what it feels like to spend eight quid on a paperback and invest a week or two of your commute time or that precious last hour before bed, only to be disappointed by the outcome. I don’t want to be responsible for that feeling in anyone, so I am my own worst critic. I’d rather change or bin anything that doesn’t quite work long before it reaches the reader.
When I wrote the second book in the David Blake trilogy, ‘The Damage’ I took out two whole chapters because both my agent and editor thought they were “good but they slow down the narrative”. I think I allowed myself to use the word ‘bollocks’ quietly to myself more than once, as I contemplated the time it had taken me to write, edit, re-edit and final-edit the words I was about to delete but when I looked at the book again with fresh eyes I knew they were right.
Editing ‘The Dead’ was tricky. I’d specifically asked my extremely talented editor, Keshini Naidoo, if she could help me get the word count down and she removed 5,000 words before returning it to me. This was great on one level, because it saved me a lot of work, but it still hurt a little when I saw some of the writing I had been quite proud of culled from the page, even though I knew it had to be done. I then went and made another fifty-five fairly major changes. I know it was that many because I made a list of all the work I had to get through to complete that second draft, so I could cross each one off when I’d finished. Some of those changes took a few minutes, some half a day. The worst one involved removing a key character that had become an integral part of the story and one of half a dozen plot lines that were all interwoven nicely together in ‘The Dead’. As I mentioned, neither my editor nor my agent were convinced by the character and felt removing this plot line would streamline the whole story and make ‘The Dead’ a stronger read. No problem I thought, as I methodically removed every scene involving that character, sobbing to myself inwardly as more than eight thousand words hit the cutting room floor.
Eventually, draft two was complete and a manuscript covered in electronically generated amendments – the Microsoft word equivalent of reams of red pen crossings-out – was off to the publisher. This version will be copy edited and returned to me with just a few grammar amends and literals that three pairs of eyes all somehow missed (it happens, believe me) and I’ll get to read through the whole thing again to check that I’m finally happy with it. Draft three will be the final version that hits the book shops on April 25th. We will be launching ‘The Dead’ with a couple of events and some signings, plus radio and press interviews, which is a fun and exciting way to complete a very lengthy process. I can go into the launch with a clear conscience because, after all of the hours of hard work, fretting, editing, more fretting, further editing and fretting about my fretting…..I am really happy with the end result and I hope that readers of ‘The Dead’ will be too.
The only bit that remains is the nervous breakdown, which I have pencilled into my diary for the end of May.
It’s strange though. I had been really looking forward to completing that difficult second draft and was going to reward myself with a nice little rest from writing for a while. After a couple of days I was already reading through my notes on a new book.
The writer Eugene Ionesco once said, “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” In my case, he could possibly have added ‘with just a few strategic breaks to read web articles about incoming Newcastle United players during the January transfer window” but, aside from that, the gist of what he said is undoubtedly true.
The next book after ‘The Dead’ will be my first that does not feature David Blake. I have some great ideas for this one and I think it will work but I know there will be countless man-hours devoted to knocking the first draft of that one into shape. Then, if I am really lucky, my agent and editor might both agree that they love it……………but they’ve got just a few, little changes in mind…………