I have been busy recently. As well as magically juggling two novels I wrote the stage adaptation of The Prestige, and I have completed several short stories. One of these went out on BBC Radio 4, and another was written as a special commission from a bank. It will be published in December. I’m currently working on another.
The major push has been on four or five or six novellas, which were written as chapters for The Islanders, but which also would work as standalone stories. When I say four or five or six, this is because one is quite short (so not really a novella), and one is a long continuo which probably wouldn’t work as a standalone piece. The other four are at the heart of the weird mechanism that is The Islanders’ story. I don’t intend to get them published separately, but today I went through the final version of The Islanders and extracted copies of these stories, to separate them out, just in case …
Today I read through the manuscript of The Islanders for the last time (well, last for now), and made a few fine corrections. One short paragraph contained the word “there” three times in as many lines. How do these things slip past? Found a few other infelicities. At these times I remember something John Brunner said: when a piece of fiction has been through at least two drafts (The Islanders went through three), any text corrections a writer makes after that are only for the sake of his own pride. OK, but they still needed doing.
Then tried to move the text over from my preferred word processor to the one everyone else uses. In other words, from the elegant, stable and endlessly flexible Wordperfect, to the obdurately clumsy Word. Everyone who uses Word seems to think there’s no difference between it and anything else, but there is, although it’s tedious and pointless trying to persuade them. In this case, Word made nonsense of my simply laid out page numbers in the original, and the short section of the novel I had formatted into two columns became a scramble of letters laid out perfectly, a long column, one beneath another. Took me ages to correct this.
Now the book exists in the obdurately clumsy, and everyone except me will be happy with that.
The best thing about the acceptance from Gollancz is that it releases me into the next book. This is currently called The Adjacent and is already half written, but because of its unusual approach, beyond even that of The Islanders, I felt creatively paralysed until the way ahead was cleared. I now feel free to carry on with plans.
This time last year I was writing The Islanders and The Adjacent in tandem: two fairly different novels, one during the day, one in the evenings. When both were up to somewhere beyond the 100-page mark, it became clear that I should have to concentrate on one at the temporary expense of the other. The Islanders won this virtual toss of the coin, even though at that time The Adjacent seemed like a more whole novel. It has been waiting ever since. I’ll get back to it soon.
My new novel, The Islanders, is complete, and life starts returning to what most people would call normal. The manuscript (in reality, a PDF file), was delivered at the beginning of August, attended by the usual sense of anticlimax. You hit Return, a green bar dashes across the monitor display, and there it is, gone. In a sense, it’s gone forever, because once other people start reading it, it’s difficult to claw the thing back to make changes. I’m already thinking of small details I’d like to change, but on past experience know it’s probably best not to try. If you make too many last-minute changes, somebody somewhere is going to get hold of the wrong text and send it to the printer, as Jonathan Franzen has just discovered with his new novel Freedom. I wonder how often that happens to writers who aren’t as famous as Franzen, and so we don’t hear about it? It happened, e.g., to my book The Dream Archipelago, which I had expanded with two new stories and in general revised the rest of the text. Somehow, the old text slipped through the process, the book was actually printed, and I happened to notice only when the publisher sent my presentation copies. Fortunately, unlike Franzen, I was able to stop the copies being sold, the print-run was pulped, and the book re-appeared several months later.