This is my theory: you don’t really know what you’ve written till it’s finished. But somehow, always, the seeds of the ending were there at the start, innocently waiting for you to start paying attention around Chapter 14.
Now I think the book I’ve written, Ready to Love, is the only kind of book I could have ever written and enjoyed writing. In fact, it was the sort of book I wanted to write when I was 16 and clear-minded and confident, the way you are then. But it took 25 years to get there. And that interests me. I haven’t not been writing. I have also been reading. And editing.
Learning, often. But not always. You’re never the best judge of your own work.
As an editor, I can see things the author can’t, and am very aware that that’s really the one thing I can offer them – perspective. I’m on their side but also the side of the (hopefully) thousands of other strangers who are interested to hear what they have to say.
Pat Barker wrote three novels before she was accepted for publication. What was the problem? ‘I was being a sensitive lady novelist, which is not what I am. There’s an earthiness and bawdiness in my voice.’ Encouraged by Angela Carter at a writers’ workshop, Barker honed that voice and harnessed her theme – and she was away. Wonderful books have followed. Regeneration. The Ghost Road. Toby’s Room. Border Crossing.
Another reader stepped in to liberate her. It happens in other ways, too, of course.
The writer of psychological thrillers, Sophie Hannah (whose early novels were comedies), had a plot idea but she couldn’t make it work until she was commissioned to write The Monogram Murders, a Hercules Poirot continuation novel.
Ruth Rendell, more dramatically, allowed a second persona to emerge. As a child, she was called by her first and middle Christian names.
‘Growing up with two names doesn’t make you into two people. It does give you two aspects of personality, and Ruth and Barbara are two aspects of me. Ruth is tougher, colder, more analytical, possibly more aggressive. Ruth has written all the novels, created Chief Inspector Wexford. Ruth is the professional writer. Barbara is more feminine. It is Barbara who sews. If Barbara writes it is letters that she writes.
‘For a long time I have wanted Barbara to have a voice as well as Ruth. It would be a softer voice speaking at a slower pace, more sensitive perhaps, and more intuitive … There would be nothing surprising to a psychologist in Barbara’s choosing, as she asserts herself, to address readers in the first person.’
Some writers take a change of name for commercial reasons, to put poor sales and restricted readerships behind them – although I’m sure artistic considerations apply as well. I’d love to know how that feels.
Liberating? But possibly scary, too. What if you lose interest in your new persona? What if it doesn’t lead to success?
Hopefully, aspects of the original writer can remain in the new work – for him or herself to appreciate, if nobody else. The writer’s interests remain, cast against a fresh new canvas that speaks to a whole raft of new people.