Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Editing my Novel

I have been editing my first novel since moving from a village just east of Leicester, to a village just south of Cambridge at the end of August 2011. I am about three-quarters of the way through, which is behind the deadline I set myself when I had my last mentoring session with the author, Kathryn Heyman, in January 2012. Family and friends keep asking me why I am still editing, why haven’t I managed to finish it, they were expecting it to be published by now… How to explain to them? Anyone who has been there, writing their first novel, knows only too well how long it takes, and that it is just one rung up the long ladder towards maybe, just maybe, being published.
I don’t think I’ve been overly slow with the editing. Not when you consider that at the same time I’ve moved into a new home and trained a new puppy. I started off really well, since the first few chapters had gone through the mentoring process twice, which is probably better than going through an editor.
Pommie the puppy has consumed some of my editing time
Being mentored, having my writing looked at and commented on by someone who is highly accomplished and whose opinion I trust, has been so worthwhile. Kathryn Heyman, part of the Gold Dust mentoring scheme, is both supportive and enthusiastic, constantly urging me towards better writing as she pours her treasures into my lap, gently addressing issues such as pacing, structure, characterisation and using passive constructions. I know that using her detailed notes as I edit has lifted my writing. It hasn’t helped speed me up though.
Okay - it’s my fault that I chose to completely rewrite some chapters. For me that meant writing in longhand in my notebook, in first person, present tense, and then typing it all up in third person, past tense. Don’t ask why! I must just be a masochist. It was something I started doing with Kathryn, to help me keep close in on the main character’s point of view, while at the same time keeping the action immediate. The writing in longhand developed because we were travelling round Europe in a small van as I wrote and didn’t always have electricity, and I found that writing in my notebook made me get on with producing the first draft without constantly stopping to rework it. All of this worked for me, and I kept it up for the rest of the book. Around chapter 30 I stumbled across a section that was still in the first person present that I’d sent to Kathryn. I’d somehow missed that bit.
Checking and rechecking historical details has delayed me somewhat, and I am now debating whether or not to have an author’s ‘historical note’ at the end. I think I will, if only to point out that I know Waltham lock was destroyed in 1592, when I have it in use in 1594. What can I say? I wanted to have my characters go through the first pound lock in England, and they had to do it after the death of Christopher Marlow, for reasons I might explain in the sequel.
I have also got delayed through looking at the etymology of some word choices. It’s not that I’m trying to write in ‘Tudor speak’, but sometimes I’ve had a character use an unusual word in dialogue, and my husband, who’s proof-reading for me, has made a comment about whether the word existed or not. I was traipsing into central Cambridge to check out words in the Oxford English Dictionary, until I made the discovery that a Cambridgeshire library card allows you to use the online OED for free. What a valuable resource that has proved to be!
Most days I have got stuck in to editing, working my way through 4 or 5 chapters in a good week. There have been slack days too. One of those, when I felt as if every creative bone had been plucked from my body, I slumped over the keyboard and just edited my use of commas in dialogue. I know, it’s riveting stuff this editing, isn’t it?
I am through the trickiest parts of the editing now, so hopefully, even with the constant banging of builders in the house, I should make good progress towards the end. I am troubled by still not having a title though. The one I thought of early on in the writing process keeps coming back to me. It’s just a pity that it was used for a children’s historical novel set in the reign of Elizabeth I, written by Geoffrey Trease in 1940. 
Guess what? Same genre, same period, same target audience.
In between ploughing on with the editing I have also been seduced into some ‘now the end is in sight’ activities, such as compiling lists of agents who might accept an author aiming at the young adult market, and composing a letter to those agents. I’ve also got my eye on the synopsis, and have been doing some Googling around the issue of how long it should be, what sort of style to go for etc.
It can be quite a lonely task, sitting here, writing or editing, and not knowing whether I’m doing it ‘right’, so it was lovely to meet up with some of the good folk I met on the Arvon course three years ago, which started me out on this novel writing lark and introduced me to Kathryn Heyman. I was pleased to find out that my fellow ‘Arvonites’ were in much the same boat, a few were further ahead having got published or bagged themselves agents, but most were still editing, or in one case rewriting their novel as a screenplay. It was all somehow reassuring and refreshed my determination to keep at it.
I haven’t yet typed ‘The End’ at the bottom of the manuscript, but I’m close to taking that deep breath before starting on the round of letters to agents. Oh, I tell you what I have been doing though – making notes for the sequel. Yes, it’s true. Well, you’ve got to chase that two-book deal, haven’t you?