Snowstorms and straws in the wind
Writing courses: the pros and cons

A new use for an old Christmas tree

So, at 3.30 on Monday morning I reached the end of the story of my new novel: I finished it. I went to bed on a high, slept till nearly noon, did ten useful things around the house and then pranced off into a shiny afternoon of sun and frost to do some pleasurable shopping. But it isn't finished. In fact, there's a lot to do yet: it needs a bit at the beginning and a bit at the end, a full line-edit, and working through thirty or so pages of what an inspired writing friend has called the snag-list, which includes everything from "change Elinor to Isobel" to "put body in ditch in Ch 4: ?what fallout?" to "find title". The snag-list is what architects and set designers do, finding all the little things in a house which need sorting out. But the roof and walls are on, and I feel like a builder topping out by tying a tree to the chimney. Of course there is several weeks' work still before it'll be heading off to my agent. And then there'll be a week or three more of nail biting before she'll have read it and be able to tell me what more work it needs.

And on Tuesday I was standing in the kitchen when the radio started playing some Rennaissance polyphony of the sort which I had on the CD player for much of the writing of A Secret Alchemy and this new one. And I was swept with a sense of loss. I wasn't expecting it: it's something which hitherto has overcome me much later in the progress of a novel, round about the line-edit stage, when my tears are alternately about boredom and impatience, and about mourning. But, having got to the end, I have lost something, I find. I've lost some kind of sense of possibility. Juliana and Simon's story is told, and to the extent that we're storied creatures, when the story is done, we die. My characters aren't dead, of course: indeed they have the advantage that they never will die, in one sense. And because I'm not yet bored to tears with the book - far from it! - I'm looking forward to making them more real for the reader, more characteristic, more compelling, more convincing. But what they're not doing any more is evolving. I know who they are, now, because I know their story. They're not finished, but they're finite: I know what they're not and what they'll never be.

If that sounds mournful, it shouldn't. For one thing, at the moment I'm absolutely thrilled with this book, partly because compared to A Secret Alchemy it's been pretty straightforward and quick to write (I started it exactly this time last year) and partly because I feel I have indeed achieved my goal of pulling off something which I've never tried before. It's also incredibly energising. If the definition of creative work is making something which is greater than the sum of its parts, then now that the book is finite, though not finished, I can see that it is whole, and it is greater than the sum of its parts. I hope. Whether others think that remains to be seen: my agent will be the first person to read a single word of it. But it exists: the house is built. Now, to give the children a shout to hurry up getting the ornaments off the Christmas tree; I've got an even better use for it.