A few days ago, copies of my book arrived from my publishers, Honno Press.
It’s beautiful. I tore open the packet and lifted out the top one, and sat down and stared. I couldn’t quite believe it was real. Of course, I’ve been looking at the cover of ‘The White Camellia’ over the past months, and I’ve been working on story for over two years, and this is not my first book – but it still has that punch-to-the-stomach astonishment that it’s there at all.
Holding it lovingly in my hands is a reminder that the creation of a book is such a long, intricate, and at times agonizing process. I love that first moment when an idea hits, like an explosion in the brain, sometimes apparently out of nowhere, and you just know it’s going to work. Then comes the long, hard slog of getting that story down, revising, and revising, and revising until it works. I always find the first rush of enthusiasm inevitably turns to despair at some point, as the whole thing begins to feel like a seriously bad idea, and it just becomes a slog to get to the end, because I’m stubborn like that.
Then, just as you get it to where you think it’s right, its time for the first outside view. In my case, it’s my editor, the wonderful and totally perceptive Janet Thomas, and the whole process starts all over again. I’ve said before how much I love the editing process. With each book, I’ve also found that each time is different. Each time, I’ve learnt a little more, but also I’m stretching myself, trying something new, and so with something new again to learn. I might pretend to myself that I don’t, but I usually find that the bits that are picked up are the ones that were niggling at me, along with the bits I haven’t thought of at all, and which are usually down to me still living in the story, and forgetting my reader. Which is where an editor comes in, as a mediator between writer and reader, so that story gets out there just as you want it to be.
I get such a buzz from the to and fro of refining the story, ironing out the glitches and the bits that don’t make sense, and being pushed and pulled and prodded into going places (particularly emotional depth kind of places, where your very soul is ripped apart and hung out to dry) I never thought I’d dare. Then finally, after the line edits and the copy edits, at the point where you loath the story and wish you’d never started this writing lark in the first place, this miracle appears. A real, beautiful, book.
It’s quite strange, glancing every now and again at the copy of my book propped up on my Welsh dresser to be adored as I pass. At the moment it’s in limbo, waiting for publication day. Very few people have seen it, even fewer have read the story. It hasn’t met its readers yet, so it stands there, in a curious kind of existence, both exquisitely real and not yet quite real at all.
When I saw my first book, ‘Eden’s Garden’, I couldn’t believe it was so small. After all that blood, sweat and tears, it felt it would be at least size of a building. It still felt a bit the same with my second, ‘We That are Left’. With ‘The White Camellia’ it just felt beautiful. It wasn’t any less hard work, but it wasn’t such a totally overwhelming experience. I’ve grown in my writing journey.
So, while I wrestle with the soggy middle of the next book, and wonder why I ever though this was a good idea in the first place, while making notes for the one after that, which is in the totally pure inspirational state (as in, I haven’t started writing it yet), I’m getting ready to send my latest baby out into the world. I’m enjoying having ‘The White Camellia’ all to myself for a couple of weeks, before she sets out to find her own way in the world, in her rightful place among her readers, and doesn’t really belong to me any more.
Because, in the end, it’s readers who make each book really live – and that, I’ve realised, is the whole point of the editing process, after all.
I can’t wait until September 15th – publication day for The White Camellia’, when Sybil and Bea, and all my beloved characters (even the ones that make your skin crawl) finally become real.