She began the book with her characteristic rush of early enthusiasm, which as usual barely lasted beyond the second chapter. She wrote at speed, spurred on by the inspiration of the Olympics and the testosterone-fuelled enthusiasm for ‘personal bests.’ Within the month she had surpassed her own ‘pb’ and completed a piece of writing so turgid and dull that she despaired of ever editing it to her satisfaction.
She attempts a change in tense. She sits at her laptop and tries to inject life into the story of her poor protagonist. It is hard, harder than it should be. She thinks about all the other books that she has written and changes her heroine’s name. When that doesn’t work she writes a short story. The short story is quite good, at least compared with the novel, which is still terrible. She walks to the shop and buys more coffee. She cleans the house. She discovers that the laundry basket is not actually bottomless. The book is duller than ever and as the summer fades to autumn she finds her spirits sinking lower than the barometer.
I make a decision and change my point of view. Not that radically, I still hate my book though at least my prose perks up. I am still drinking a lot of coffee, but I am less morose and I have stopped whinging about my inability to work. I begin to see what might be done, how the blasted thing could be beaten – violently so that it is light as a meringue. Books are trickier than meringues and the lighter they are the more effort they take to get off the ground.
I was perhaps too optimistic too early. It was the tense. I was tense – obviously – not working always makes me tense, but the present tense was a little too tricksy for a romantic, frothy tale. It was too earnest and literary. I needed to find an easy natural voice, and I thought this first person past tense would work. Of course I underestimated the effort involved: simple is always hard. I was very tempted to cut my losses but you know how it is.
You start something and you want to finish it. You pride yourself on being a professional, on doing what you set out to do. You consider turning your fluffy romance into a crime novel as it better fits your mood.
You knew that the plot was never that strong and your protagonist never that likeable. You brewed more coffee and drank the whole six cup cafetiere’s worth. You wished you smoked, perhaps that would have worked: nothing else had. You considered locking yourself in a small room without internet access. Maybe past tense was better after all and just maybe, you speculated, your protagonist was more believable in third person?
It all depends on your point of view…
As I sit here wearing full combat gear, chewing on a cuban cigar and fiddling with my moustache I am obliged to wonder if we give too much prominence to the character of the author these days. Do readers care and, if they do, should they?
All this focus on the person rather than the work priviliges the charismatic, the beautiful the promotable and detracts from the only important thing, the writing. I know it’s all very well for people like me – as I toss my long blonde hair over my shoulder, cross my endless legs and readjust my generous assets so that I don’t show too much perfectly tanned cleavage as I type, but what about you ordinary authors out there? you middle aged women who’ll never see thirty again or all you men you don’t wear hats like Terry Pratchett, who lack beards like Philip Ardagh or teeth like Martin Amis – how will you fare in PR campaigns?