Monday, 16 February 2015
The Proof of the Pudding
Ah, the ups and down of a writer's life! I was chatting the other day to a talented young writer, who was asking how I dealt, in psychological terms, with bad reviews. I doubt it's a problem this person will encounter too often, but we all get poor reviews from time to time, The answer, I guess, is to take on board any helpful criticisms by people trying to be constructive, and not worry too much about comments from those who may have some kind of axe to grind - you can't please everyone. In any event, I made the point during our conversation that there are worse things than bad reviews. A published author's life is privileged, yes, but we all have our bug-bears. No point in wasting time worrying about things one cannot control, but I must admit that I do find proof-checking a major challenge. And this week-end, I've had to give a final once-over to not one, but two sets of proofs.
Proof-checking is important, but I've done so much checking of legal documents, as well as articles and books over the years, that my skill has declined. I now tend to see what I think I've written, rather than what is actually there. And, when looking at proofs of my books, I'm apt to become self-critical about what I've written, instead of focusing on some of the minutiae that I really ought to focus on. This is the moment when it's too late to make significant changes, yet all of a sudden, one tends to have a better idea...it's a reminder that the perfection for which we seek is unattainable. Do other authors feel like this when confronted by their proofs, I wonder?
One of the worst moments of my writing career came when I received the page proofs of my very first novel. It should have been a magic moment, but I felt despondent, because I realised for the first time how far short it was of being a masterpiece. I try to be objective, but that time, I failed completely. Mind you, I cheered up quite quickly, and All the Lonely People did very well. The ebook (and the Arcturus paperback reprint) are selling nicely right now, something I'd never have imagined back in 1991. But I've never forgotten those deeply felt pangs of self-doubt - no review, good or bad, has ever made such an impression on me..
Checking the final proofs of the Truly Criminal anthology for the CWA was happily straightforward, because my fellow contributors have already done their bit. It's all looking fine.. And I was delighted to have a final glimpse of The Golden Age of Murder before it goes to the printers. The illustrations have now been sorted out by Harper Collins, and their indexer has produced not only a general index, but also an index to the main titles discussed.
Long ago, I prepared indexes for my early legal books, but it's a task I've been very happy to delegate. There is an argument that the best indexes are done by the author, not a third party, but I never felt comfortable doing it. I have done a selective bibliography, though, and didn't find it easy; the challenge has been how to limit its length. Some slimming down has become essential, just as I've done a lot of work on editing down the text. Similarly, not all the images that I contemplated including can be accommodated. Even so, the book is now well over 500 pages long...
And yet as I looked at the proofs, I couldn't help asking myself if I'd been over-ambitious, in trying to write a book that is very different from what has gone before. It's what I've been working on for many years, but even so...however, there comes a point where one simply has to draw a line.
Luckily, I've had one snippet of news that cheers me enormously. The Golden Age of Murder has been read by a distinguished author who hardly ever gives quotes for books, and although I felt this was a honour, I did also feel some trepidation. To my delight, however, the reaction has been wonderful. I won't give the quote in its entirety just yet, but there is one phrase that I really love, because it sums up exactly what I have been trying to do - to provide "a new way of looking at old favourites."
And those kind words, from overseas really have made up for the week-end's proof-chccking!