So the manuscript is returning to me gradually, a few chapters at a time.
My editor at Text, Jane Pearson, met with me before sending any of it back. For over an hour she walked me through the first few chapters, explaining what she’d done and why. It looks pretty confronting on the page but really, that’s because she’s thorough. If two sentences need to be joined into one, she marks up all the relevant punctuation – delete that capital letter, delete that full stop, add a comma. Nothing is assumed, which in fact makes it easier to work through.
There are no vague statements like ‘add more depth’, or ‘this chapter needs to be shorter’. If I say something in one chapter, then repeat myself a few chapters later, she lets me know exactly where and on which page the repetitions are, and which I should delete, and how.
The first page, pictured on the right, has more comments on it than most others but it gives you a sense of how it looks. Jane kindly drew up a glossary for me, pictured below, so that I could learn and refer back to the editorial symbols she has used. Again, they definitely help me to accurately understand what she is suggesting. With luck I’ll become fluent enough in their use to be able to apply them to my day job.
Jane has suggested no real structural changes – her efforts are more about weaving the narrative more tightly and 99 per cent of the time I think her suggestions are spot on. Then I think very hard about the remaining 1 per cent. At no point has Jane ever suggested I should accept all her changes without consideration. That’s why she edits in pencil, otherwise she could just use Track Changes, I could press ‘Accept All Revisions’, and we’d be done. Instead I have to work through each of her suggestions manually, one at a time. I’m finding it a useful discipline.
Occasionally I pick up an error Jane has missed, which enables me to feel smug for a moment or two (although obviously it was me who made the error in the first place!) And at least once so far I’ve picked up an error Jane couldn’t have known about, where I used the wrong name for someone – referring to Elizabeth Macarthur’s mother as Grace Hathaway instead of Grace Hatherly. I’ve no idea how that happened. I know perfectly well her name was Hatherly. I’ve looked up Grace’s father; also, obviously, called Hatherly. I’ve spent time wondering if the family was originally from the nearby village of Hatherleigh. No smugness for me then, just an appalled horror about how easily other errors may have crept in…
Jane also provided a few pages explaining her overall thoughts about the manuscript.
It’s wonderfully researched, rich and fascinating and Elizabeth is an enigmatic and intriguing subject. But there is a problem I feel with the balance between the main narrative and the accompanying background and peripheral detail. Getting that balance right is important so that Elizabeth’s story doesn’t get swamped. There’s a need to be selective, to give details which enhance the flavour of the story and of course give necessary scene setting and context, but not to take the narrative too far into these areas.
These comments came as no surprise and I’ve heard plenty of similar comments along the way. You should have seen how much I cut before submitting the manuscript! But Jane is quite right, there is still more cutting to do and it’s very cathartic to simply discard whole paragraphs at a time. And in my view it is much easier to cut than it is to add, so I’m finding it quite pleasant to trim here, and rearrange there. It’s a great deal like gardening, now I think of it, with all the hard work of landscaping, soil preparation and planting already done.
Next steps? Jane has crafted a back-of-the-book blurb for me, which I’ll share with you in a future post. She also mentioned a launch date in April next year, so that’s exciting. I’m meeting with my Text publicist in the next week or two because I want to pick her brains about what happens – and what is expected of me – once my book is out in the world. The publicist (her name is Alice) has sent me long list of questions, about me and about the biography, the answers to which I presume she’ll use to tout the book.
It really does feel like we’re getting to the fun part… stay tuned!