First Draft - First Reader
Updated: Feb 11
I wrote a proposal for Tales of Spring Rain on 4th February 2021 and today 19th November 2021, I printed out the first draft of the whole book.
That’s not very long really, but I was thinking about the book for about a year before the proposal was finalised. I actually wrote another little book in the summer of 2020 while I was thinking about this one. (But more of that later…) I used to have to do a full time job to support my writing but I'm lucky that I don't have to do that any more and can write every day. It took years to write the first book because I had to work for a living at the same time but I don't eat much and I've never cared about the future. If you want to be a writer or any kind of artist, that is the way it is unless you are wealthy or have a wealthy partner.
Tales of Spring Rain has met paper for the first time and is in the hands of my ‘first reader’, who is of course Kate. Now I have to wait. And wait. Nobody has seen this story before. I’ve lived with it privately for a year or more in which time both the story and myself have undergone many transformations. Nobody has seen it. Kate will read it and approach me with a serious face because she thinks it’s funny to frighten me, then she will tell me what she thinks. She will be brutal, she always is, she is a professional. And I will hate it but be grateful and gracious. I have lived so closely with this story that I have inevitably become blind to some of it. I want her to say ‘it is wonderful’ of course, but I need her to tell me what, in her opinion, doesn’t work. Some of her criticism I will agree with because deep down in my subconscious I already know what is wrong with it, she will help me to bring it out. Strangely Kate always says the same thing to me as I am her first reader, in the subconscious we already know its flaws just as we know the flaws of our children but would never dare utter them to a living soul. I won’t always agree with her of course because it is my story and I have to stand by my artistic vision of the book, but often I will agree and make some changes. Most of the changes will involve cutting.
The writing is far from over. This is the living cow wandering in the field, from which we will make a wonderful meal. (Why am I saying this, I am a vegetarian! Anyway you get the analogy). Things can get a bit hectic now that much of the long process of fertilising and feeding this book to make it fat and juicy has been done. There will be different edits of this MS flying around, so to keep track of this I give each edit a number. This is version 1.3. I am reader one and have made three distinct edits. Kate will be reader 2 and any edits I make with her will be numbers, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2 and so on. Then my agent will read MS 3.0 and I’ll make more edits before it goes of to my editor who will be reader 4 and her edits will possibly go as far as version 4.5 then proofreading and copy editing and so on. By the time it goes to the printer as a book it could easily be version 7.0. Each edit will be an improvement, a correction, sometimes a compromise, each cut improving the book as a whole and helping it to become the best book it can be. It is no longer my book. It is in the world and building its own life with its teachers and mentors and I am free!
Oh, I was going to tell you about that other book. In the summer of 2020 while I was thinking of this book but had not yet got as far as a proposal. I wrote another little book for fun. We got trapped in France because of Covid, locked down and could not leave and I spent the summer taking photographs of the street cats that lived in that town. While I was working with the pictures I thought about how every cat I had ever known had taught me something about timing and relaxation, about conserving energy and remaining calm so I wrote a book to go along with the photographs. I called it ‘Every Cat’s a Buddha’ and sent it to my agent who enjoyed it and sent it to a variety of publishers, some of whom were very complimentary about the book, none of whom would publish it. Their responses were, quite correctly that this is a ‘little gift book’, a book to sit at the check-out, but none of the checkouts were open or likely to be for some time. My favourite response though was that there were dozens of similar books being written at this moment by actual monks rather than gardeners. We pictured each of the publishing house as having a resident Buddhist monk in their saffron robes sitting in the basements, all banging away at MacBooks.
Why am I telling you this? Because the life of a writer is an odd one, you speculate on what might sell, some obsess about the charts, emulate other writers, but you have to forget all that and write your own book and let it take its chances, because it is the only book you can write at the time. We try to think of it as a business and for many of the people involved in the process it is, but for writers and many of the other people involved in producing a book, it is an art and - the only art you can do - is the art that you can do at the time and it might fly or it might fall. Sometimes a person’s art hits a note that makes a reader ring like a bell, and sometimes it doesn’t. It has to take its chances.
It is time for ‘Tales of Spring Rain’ to take its chances.
Peace and love