Just Finished

I don’t normally get covers of books before I’ve written them, but its happened a few times this year, and last week my lovely editor at Random sent me the ‘first go’ at the cover for my next book for them, ‘Whale Boy’. I’ve never had a cover that spoke so intimately to me whilst I was still writing…it plugged right in to all that I was feeling  and sort of validated it. I always tell people I’m like Tinkerbell, I have to hear people say they believe in me or I disappear in a puff of pixie dust, and this cover was the biggest ‘I believe’ I’d had in a long, long time. I was at a pretty low ebb writing last week, losing faith in my ability and in my story, but the cover renewed my belief in what I was doing. So by the time I sat down at my desk on Monday morning I could see the finish line and I resolved that I wouldn’t let another sleep get between me and it, so at half past midnight on Monday I wrote the last words and brought the story to an end.

‘Whale Boy’ has been the most painful, most exhausting writing I’ve ever done. It’s partly the fact that this book is the fourth I’ve written this year and the longest, and partly the substance of the story itself. When I start to write – and I’m sure this is the same for loads of writers – I think I’m writing about ‘x’ but when I get to the end of a story I find I’ve been writing about ‘y’ and probably ‘z’, ‘q’ and ‘h’ as well, and that my sub-conscious has been working through its own little agendas while my conscious was attending to technicalities – where the commas went and how much sub plot to put in dialogue etc etc etc. So whilst my conscious thought this was a book about a friendship between a boy and young wild whale, my subconscious was weaving in all sorts of things: my travels to the Caribbean and to drug ravaged Bogota, my friend’s relationship with a parent with dementia, my own past as a very solitary child with a sick parent…and making out of them a story about love and responsibility. I don’t want to give away the final scene, but my conscious and subconscious finally got together to write it and it isn’t ‘happy ever after’. It’s tough, because really loving and really taking responsibility for your actions is tough.

Of course, that isn’t the end of work on the book; in many ways just the start. Next week, I’ll start to edit. And the cover will help there too. I’ll pin it to the wall above my desk and it will help to tie in all the ends, take away any stray strands that aren’t working towards that vision. In an ideal world I would, like Stephen King, leave it in a drawer for a month or more before looking at it, but I have two more books waiting to be written this year and I can’t afford the luxury of a month. And in any case, this story is straining to be on its way out to the world, already feeling as if it has a life of its own.

I’m shattered. And of course I often am when I finish a book. It seems so daft and melodramatic to say that sitting and making stuff up is in any way tiring, but it is. I can’t  pretend it isn’t because in the few days after a book is done I’m honestly fit for the scrap heap. I look like death, burst into tears and have no physical coordination. Fell over a step last night on my way home and was digging gravel out of my knees at 2 am.  When I finished my manatee book earlier this year I reversed my car into my garage wall…the space that I drive into a million times with mm perfect precision. And this morning, when the proofs for my next picture book for Walker Books, ‘The Promise’ (about which more soon) arrived I was blubbing like a Bay City Rollers fan over a tartan scarf (you have to be 45 plus, to get that sorry).

It makes me realise that all the hippy-dippy stuff about spiritual/ creative recharging is actually true. My batteries are flat and part of my job now is to recharge them because nine am on Monday morning ‘Whale Boy’ will be back on my screen, to be polished and honed, made to match that lovely cover. What I really need is a month trailing my toes in the sea, swimming and dreaming. What I have is four days, one of which – tomorrow must be devoted to coming up with New Ideas so I have some books to write next year too and won’t have to stack shelves in a supermarket. Luckily, I know some recharging shortcuts: singing (rehearsal with my lovely guitarist mate this afternoon) and dancing which I intend to do ALL WEEKEND starting with the Seth Lakeman gig on Friday night. Ahhh. Feel better already!


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