The week of finishing a novel is never a time for rational thinking, although it’s the very moment when a shred of detachment would be welcome.
Stating the obvious to a stupid degree, the business of writing is personal and highly internal. But even the writer herself can underestimate the way the work takes over the life. I’ve never been the kind of novelist who claims that my characters develop their own mysterious momentum. Mine don’t talk back to me, or start up their own rebellious behaviours. I regard it as my job to devise and direct them, not vice versa. But still, the people I’m writing about do – sometimes – seem to pace alongside me, and to offer a sort of daily companionship that can – sometimes – seem preferable to being with real friends and family. Actual people tend to be annoyingly attached to their independent lives. No making up both sides of a dialogue with them, no autocratic plotting of their future triumph or doom. Imagine!
So it’s another statement of the obvious to say that the last line of the last chapter brings a sense of loss as well as satisfaction. No more shutting the door and resorting to the imagination in interesting company. I have been lucky, so far, that whenever I have finished one book there has always been a new set of people and places coming into view, but still it takes time to get to know them. Temporarily, therefore, it’s oddly lonely. (This isn’t a plaint. Just trying to describe what it really feels like).
So the sprawling, maddening, unruly heap of words – ie a novel – has finally been patched and pruned into some kind of order, and (yesterday) gone off in an email attachment to my agent. Now there’s a wait… which is where the rationality would come in handy. As it is, I swing between embarrassed certainty that it’s really, really terrible, and a wild euphoria of daydreaming Spielberg-comes-calling scenarios while I unload the dishwasher.
The reality, of course, will – as ever – be somewhere between the two.
In the meantime, until my agent and my daughter respond (she is also a writer, and my first and best critic), it’s like the day after the end of exams. So much looked forward to, rather confusing and a bit flat when it finally arrives.
I don‘t know what to do first: whether to attend to my poor garden plants or go out for a pedicure…
(There will be further posts about the bringing of a novel to publication day, as it happens.)