Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A new baby, called Flesh

It has been a while and I apologise. By way of excuse, I shall blame it on the baby I have just had. The third book in the Staffe series is done, dusted (for now). I sent it off to my editor last Thursday, just two days before Willing Flesh emerged onto the shelves (it’s out now, £6.99 with Faber). And the feeling is a strange one, having immersed totally in writing the third book (let us call her Pain of Death, for now). It is like a stroll back into time; or going back with an ex-girlfriend.
Two days after I sent Pain of Death to my editor, I found myself on a train to London, for Flesh’s launch and a series of events requiring me to wax lyrical about the ex. And to gild that promiscuity, I hadn’t read ‘Flesh’ in almost a year. I had to move quickly and read it in two sittings. Strange, to read my own work without scribbling in red. It did feel like something ex, but in a good way: a familiar scent, a vividly reminiscent conversation; a glimpse.
Writers often have an ambivalent relationship with their old works. Part of the process and something readers demand and deserve, is that we move on to produce something better, and to do that we have to commit ourselves wholly, exclusively to the new one. But flicking back through Flesh, I was largely happy with what I found. A strange thing, to be surprised by your own words. As ever, there is a word here, a phrase there that you would like to have back but like the artist in danger of overpainting, you have to stop sometime. There is something magical, irretrievable, about the energy that fizzes from early drafts. You run the risk of writing that away if you redraft too much. I was happy with the balance, the way she looked and sounded, still.
Perversely, though, I am already eyeing something up, down the road – it will be fourth in as many years. Say nothing.
The experience with the ex was brought on, in the short term, by readers groups in Redbridge, Liverpool and Beverley and last night, the Redbridge group was wonderful. When we are buried away clattering at the keys, it is easy to forget the people on the other side of the screen, the people the words are for, and the enthusiasm of the Redbridge group* was a reaffirmation of why we put ourselves through it. Readers are hungry for the new stuff. All the pain of the writing felt worthwhile; the joys of the writing not a deceit.
We talked about Flesh, the direction the Staffe series is taking, and the process of writing, then finished off with a really interesting discussion about the coming of the iPad and Kindle. Some liked the look of these tome slates, some were sceptical. I get the impression, having chatted about the new technology earlier in the day with Stephen Page (Chief executive of F&F) that we are going to have to live with digitalisation whether we like it or not. The Americans are probably a couple of years ahead of us and the early signs from there are that digital readers will be ‘switchers’ from books, that the market will see substitution rather than expansion. I’d like to think that the iPad and Kindle could bring a new generation of readers. There are opportunities and dangers. For the writer, it is all we can ask: to live in interesting times.

*special thanks to Nick Dobson and Allan.