Fingerposts and celluloid smiles
Letting go of the outcome

Without pain

Over the summer I did some fairly serious surgery to one strand of my current novel, and was hugely relieved to get an email late last Saturday night from one of my trusted readers. She's already pointed out plenty of not-yet-right things earlier in the novel, but here she was, saying, 'The ending is brilliant!'

And, as with the bits she's not so impressed by, I know she's right. Those last scenes are at once a real surprise, and a conscious, careful, crafted pulling together of all the themes and ideas and threads. Crafting it has, I think and hope, given rise to art. I even had a lump in my throat as I wrote, and maybe readers will too. I'm not sure I did write, mind you: it feels as if the last scenes just wrote themselves. I didn't stop, I didn't think, my fingers flew, and when I came to I was cold and hungry and I hadn't even noticed.

Whoever said, 'What is written without pain is read without pleasure,' wasn't altogether right. At least, not always. Or is it 'without pains', in the old fashioned sense? I took pains over these scenes, no question: my fingers flew, but only at the rate of a dozen or two words a minute, and many of those words got changed in the revising in the following days. When I say I didn't think, it was because I didn't have to make myself think: I just knew what needed to be said was right as it arrived in my head.

And yet, I swear, until I got there, I didn't know what was going to happen with these people I've spent two years with. I didn't know how everything I'd set up was going to resolve itself: my pencil plan just says... but I can't tell more without giving away the ending. But it certainly doesn't say much. And I think my own not-knowing is part of why it's worked. How each small step towards the resolution occurred to me was close to how a reader receives it, and so each new word was conditioned by a reader's as well as a writer' instincts. And that's why I know it works. Because writing it was like reading it: new, unknown, a story I didn't know was there, appearing in my mind, unrolling before my eyes.