Last Saturday I finished the first draft of my novel. I sat in a café for two hours whilst my daughter was at a party a couple of streets away, and I put the last of my editorial marks on screen, then emailed it to my writers’ group.
On Sunday, I flew away. Literally. It was my birthday, and my husband took the kids and me to Amsterdam. We stayed at the Lloyd Hotel, which was massive and eccentric, and we moved between two rooms: one had an eight-person bed, the other a swing and a bath in the bedroom. We jumped on and off trams; got lost along the canals; soaked our feet in puddles; ate lots of smoked fish and pickles.
On Thursday we flew home, and I dumped my dirty clothes, and filled the same bag with clean ones, only to fly alone this morning to Shannon, Ireland. I am here to attend a workshop run by author Niall Williams, who’s latest novel, the History of Rain, was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker, and to get a little space, to spend some time alone.
I had a good time in Amsterdam, but felt a bit strange. I wandered around as if I were in a bubble. I was extremely tired, and my head was sore. It was a little like having an underlying bug. I was reminded, as I walked the streets and mechanically responded to my kids, of Julian Barnes writing that he always feels depressed at the end of a book. I understand what he means. When you’re writing, you are immersed in the world you have created and there’s something strangely comforting about it, and its privacy. You might struggle with the book for months, and the tunnel can feel long and dark and never ending, until everything clicks, and the words can’t leave you quickly enough. It takes over everything: every spare moment, every thought. You don’t want to be anywhere else. And just as you’re enjoying it the most, it is over.
Of course, it is only a first draft, and my writers’ group will no doubt have a lot to say about it, but for now it’s gone. That private creation that I’ve kept close to my heart is now out there and vulnerable to a new eye, one that views the world in a different way, that belongs to a heart that feels differently to mine. As I wandered the streets my mind recalled certain scenes and turns of phrase, and I found myself second-guessing how that new eye would interpret them, whether my story will move readers in the way I have intended. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge. To hold onto that initial impulse and to translate the story, and all it comes to mean, into words. Or is it unrealistic to expect readers to experience your work in the way you intend? Is it not enough that they have their own response, some awakening of a personal private part of themselves?
But it’s gone now, and I am here, and there is nothing I can do, but watch the cows grazing from my window, go down to the beach and let the wind bash me and bring me back into myself; attend the workshop and learn new ways of writing, new ways of bringing life to the thoughts and feelings that flutter through me.