So it turns out writing a book isn’t that straightforward. I think I had it in my head that an author writes the book alone in a candlelit room and then, weeks later, the publisher (like some kind of stork carrying a bundle Dumbo-style) delivers it to all of the bookshops. Yeah, that doesn’t happen… For one, the whole serene candlelit room thing does not exist. Sure, there are some occasions where you get a whole day at home just to write (cue the Zen music and scented candle) but often, I’m scribbling down ideas in the car (like now) or typing up edits on the train.
And as for the idea that an author writes the book ‘alone’ – that the book is their creation only – I don’t really believe that happens either. I mean, you give it your best shot as an author: you find that idea, you research like mad, you think like mad, you write like mad and you try like absolute MAD. But even after all of that, there are things you don’t realise about the manuscript – chapters that lack pace, characters that are underdeveloped, words you repeat again and again without noticing. And the eagle-eyed person who notices that kind of stuff, who helps bring your book to life even before you send it to your publisher to read? Your agent (love that word – makes me feel like some kind of insanely clever spy). And luckily for me, I have a pug-loving edit-extraordinaire from DHH Literary Agency, Hannah Sheppard, on my side.
Even before I signed my book deal with Simon & Schuster, Hannah was at work on the manuscript: developing the motivations behind Skull’s actions; thinking of ways to bring Moll and Siddy to the forefront of the action; making sure my writing was as tight as possible. And when my editor at Simon & Schuster, Jane, mentioned I should up the pace in the middle of the manuscript before meeting with her to discuss detailed edits, I knew I’d bring Hannah in on it all. I worked away on the manuscript then set up a meeting with her for a second opinion on the changes I’d made. After scoffing a sandwich in a side street in Piccadilly before our meeting (classy: I was running late from a creative writing class), we sat down and talked.
‘It’s great,’ Hannah said, ‘but…’ Suddenly I wished I’d ordered a pint of gin instead of cup of mint tea. ‘But I thought you were simply upping the pace. You appear to have turned Gryff [that’s Moll’s wildcat] into Lassie.’ Long pause. A glance around for the waitress. Where’s the blinking gin? Hannah and I talked and talked and talked and everything she said made sense – only I’d been so ‘involved’ in the manuscript I hadn’t been able to see it before. I thought I’d been developing Gryff’s character when often I’d been making him too ‘tame’, too ‘unreal’ – and it was suddenly so obvious. Armed then with invaluable nuggets of bookiness, I’m now back with my manuscript, polishing it up before sending it to my editor, Jane.
And through writing and re-writing every day, I’m getting closer and closer to what I want Oracle Bones to be. Tomorrow I’m sending the (de-Lassified) manuscript off to Jane and really excitingly we get to have our first editorial debrief – sounds grown up but I know for a fact that Jane likes singing Enchanted songs with Simon & Schuster pals so I’m not too scared (and besides, I sang Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ standing on the kitchen table with my sister last week – it sounded like this – so I reckon the meeting should be just fine). All I need to do in the meantime is concentrate on my edits – and try my absolute hardest not to let Gryff morph into some exaggerated version of Scooby Doo.