I finished it. All 144,000 words of it – 20,000 more than Netherwood, so it’s going to be a right old door stop of a book, unless Rebecca, my editor wants me to cut it. The manuscript is with her now, and since sending it last Wednesday I’ve been obsessively checking my inbox, only to learn yesterday that in fact she hasn’t been able to start it yet, let alone finish it. It never occurred to me that she might have things to do other than read my new novel: I suppose she must be quite busy, down there on Victoria Embankment.
Anyway, I sent another copy to my Mum, who is already on Chapter 48, and has reported back – completely objectively and without bias, of course – that she’s absolutely loving it. I love Ravenscliffe too, and I’m really hoping Rebecca will when she reads it this weekend (I hope she doesn’t have any other plans – it’ll wipe out Saturday and Sunday, no problem). It’s a nail-biting time for us rookie novelists, this hiatus between submitting the finished work and waiting for the thumbs-up, thumbs-down or thumbs-horizontal. No matter how confident and happy you might feel as that crucial email with its precious attachment goes whizzing through the virtual post to the publisher in London, the confidence begins to ebb with each passing day. I have to keep reading random bits of the book, to remind myself that it’s really fine. I wonder if this insecurity is something that passes with time and experience? I sort of hope it doesn’t, in a way. Partly because it would take a particular type of arrogance to feel utterly confident in what you’ve written, and partly because if anxiety does start to creep in, a positive response – assuming it comes – is all the more joyfully received.
Of course, this is just the beginning. If and when Rebecca approves it, the copy editor and proof readers then get their hands on it, following which are all their queries and corrections, reducing the manuscript to a long series of mistakes before it eventually emerges leaner, fitter and stronger. If Netherwood is anything to go by, this weeding of silly mistakes is a vital process. I do try – honestly – to check dates and facts and whatnot, but sometimes I get carried away in the moment and have someone saying or doing something that they wouldn’t or couldn’t have said and done in 1904. The proofreading of Netherwood really spared my blushes. I confess I used the wrong term of address for the earl and countess first time round – they were Lord and Lady Hoyland, when they should have been (and were, in the finished version) Lord and Lady Netherwood. Picking my way through the whole book pre-publication and removing every incorrect mention of Hoyland and (thanks to the dropped aitch in the Yorkshire dialect) ‘Oyland took hours, and even so there are still references out there on the internet – reviews of uncorrected proof copies and such like – to Lord Hoyland. It’s a minefield, I can tell you.
In the meantime, my thoughts are wandering inexorably to the next book, and where it might take me. Such is publishing. Ravenscliffe doesn’t come out for another eight months, yet here I am dreaming up ideas for the next one. It seems like a useful way to spend my days, though, while I wait by my inbox, biting my nails.