Friday 28 November 2008

Emily V: The Process of Writing

This is my third post on how I wrote The Case of Emily V. I have today put Chapters 5 and 6 into the archive of Original Fiction. You can read them by clicking here.

When I wrote this novel, I tried to convince myself that to write fiction was to take psychological thinking towards a larger world, and that was part of my job as a university professor. But despite this, I found I could not write my novel during term time. It jostled with teaching and research. It seemed to occupy the same mental space, so that I could not just say: "OK, I'll do a couple of hours of fiction from six to eight in the morning, before I start my academic work." Instead, I worked on the novel in the vacations over three summers, or was it four? At the beginning of each summer, I would load the whole thing up into my mind, so that was what was going round in there. I would get up at 5.30 am, before other members of the family. I could concentrate. Then, by mid-morning, I could do other things.

My main sense of writing during those summers was of being very caught up in it. I fell rather in love with the two female protagonists, Emily and Sara. So getting up early to think about them was a delight. I wrote to see what they were doing, and what they would do.

I continued to read round the subjects of Freud and his circle, of turn-of-the-century feminism, of the literature surrounding Sherlock Holmes, and so on. From my reading, or sometimes just from having the novel go round in my mind, I would have a new idea, and write something to embody it. That would produce ripples through the whole structure, so that modifcations had to be made to other parts. The sense was that everything had to fit together. It gave the process of thinking and creating a rather enjoyable quality.

I can't remember how many drafts I wrote, but when a particular stage of drafting was completed, Jenny (my spouse) would read it, and her suggestions would suggest further modifications, which made further ripples. When I the end, as I thought, that is to say when it seemed polite to let the manuscript make its way outside the circle of the family, I passed it round to friends: more modifications, more ripples. My final draft was done in response to the editor at Secker and Warburg, Dan Franklin, who had accepted the book. He said that in the version he read, Sherlock Holmes disappeared too quickly in the final part of the story, too soon before the end of the book. He was right: more modifications, more ripples.

What a good editor can do, I think, is to enter a book with the mind of the author, grasp the purpose and flow, see the book from the author's point of view but from a position outside the enclosed bubble of the author's mind.

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