Monday, October 30, 2006

Two landmarks

First, the Report.

The Report is something we are contractually obliged to deliver to our funding overlords by 31 October each year. It's a full colour fancily-designed glossy brochure detailing all the cool stuff we have done in the last 12 months. Editorship revolves around the editorial team and this year, guess whose turn it was?

The lucky editor gets to trawl through all our quarterly reports and newsletters for the last year, picking out the gems and ignoring the hand-waving "here we are, still alive" pieces. Then it gets woven into a rough sort of coherent narrative. Then the designer is briefed, along the lines of "come up with something we like". (This is one of the few jobs, thankfully, designed out of house.) Then the first draft is drawn up and circulated around the editorial board. At this point it's a good plan to lay down some plastic sheeting for the evisceration that will follow. Some of the board members will return it with a single superfluous comma crossed out. Some will want ... more. Pause to sob - but not as much as the designer - as the carefully designed aesthetic of the layout disappears beneath approximately half as much text again as you had carefully put in. Then remind yourself that you're getting paid for this and you're at best the surrogate mother, not the actual parent.

Anyway, six drafts later, we have our final approved version and the electronic copy has been sent to their fundingnesses. Fortunately that counts as publication. Paper copies to follow.

And so, on to the second landmark. After three years and at least 100,000 words, though edited down to 87,000, I've finished the first draft of the latest novel. Wow. Three years! That's longer than I've had this job. That's about as long as I've been in a remotely serious relationship with Best Beloved. And in the interim I've written three Vampire Plagues and two Midnight Libraries. So it's been a busy three years, but even so. Much of this related to not quite being sure what the hell happened next. There's two brothers. One of them goes on a journey. Fine, I could write that, up until he leaves. Since I hadn't the foggiest what happened to him next (I knew where he was going, but with little idea of what happened when he got there), I then wrote the story of the second brother. Then it had to be back to the first one again - a couple more adventures, and finally I was on ground I had previously thought about, i.e. what happened when they met. (This being science fiction, one brother stays consistently nineteen and the other goes from a day old to almost 40.) So, three distinct yet related strands, written at three distinct times, which had to be untangled and edited together. Not without bloodshed, in the form of two characters who were tentatively written in, before I decided they didn't fit and took them out again. I felt a little sorry for one of them as I had previously tried to fit her into Wing├Ęd Chariot, with exactly the same result. Perhaps this woman exists only to catalyse the stories of other characters. One day she may finally get a book of her own.

Anyway. Now to see what various trusted opinions think of it.

Three years. Suddenly there's this gap in my life. I daresay I'll find a way to fill it. Like, wait for the evisceration of the novel, which will feel a lot more personal ...

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