Monday 12 February 2024

Finishing a Novel





Today I'm sending off to my agent the manuscript of my latest novel. This is the fifth in the Rachel Savernake series and it's called Hemlock Bay. I'm pleased with it, but whilst it really is very important for an author to be pleased with a new book, in commercial terms at least, it's essential for one's agent and editor to approve. So - fingers crossed!

I finished the novel before sending it out and also revised it more than once. This is an approach I've evolved over the years and I don't always follow it - it depends on the book. Usually, I want the book to be in the best achievable state before anyone else comments on it. Before I start writing, I'm often asked for a synopsis, but I don't feel tightly bound by synopses - indeed, there's remarkably little resemblance between the synopsis I wrote for Blackstone Fell, for instance, and the novel that was actually published! They are very, very different. One of the reasons for this, of course, is that one gets fresh ideas during the course of writing a book (and that's perhaps also a good reason for taking a fair amount of time to write a novel, not just rushing through it).

But is the novel really finished when it's sent to one's agent? Without getting too metaphysical about it, I'm almost tempted to argue that a novel is never actually finished. This may seem ridiculous, but it's common for agents and editors to make suggestions for changes. Because I'm fairly experienced as a novelist now, changes made at the editorial stage tend to be minor (the main exceptions in my career were I Remember You and Take My Breath Away, both of which underwent radical surgery at the behest of two very good editors, Kate Callaghan and David Shelley respectively).

And even when a book is published, is that really the end of it, for all time? Usually, but not necessarily. What if a new ebook edition gives one the chance to make fresh changes? I'm an inveterate tinkerer (as David Brawn, my wonderful and long-suffering editor for non-fiction books such as The Life of Crime is acutely aware) and given the chance I would always want to make ongoing changes to what I've written - but life is too short to do this extensively. I did, however, make various changes to The Golden Age of Murder for the paperback edition and I was delighted to have the chance to do so.

I suppose all this springs from my belief that writing is in many ways a constant quest for improvement. In trying to improve as a writer, one is also trying to improve the text. If your mind stays receptive to new ideas, then it's almost inevitable that you'll think of better ways to write a passage here, a paragraph there. 

What will be the fate of Hemlock Bay? At this stage, it's impossible for me to know for sure. But whatever its shortcomings, I have really loved writing it. And doing the research - in particular, visiting Heysham, shown in the photo above, last June. That was a trip that really fired my imagination, though Hemlock Bay is very different from Heysham, not least in terms of the rising body count...

8 comments:

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Congratulations, Martin! Having read all of your other Rachel Savernake novels, I can now look forward to enjoying HEMLOCK BAY. What a treat!

Cheers,
Jeff

Martin Edwards said...

Very much appreciated, Jeff! Thank you.

Jamie Sturgeon said...

Just finished The Secret Life of John le Carre by Adam Sisman. In it there’s mention of the fact that le Carre often when he was sent a proof copy of his new book made big changes to it. I definitely recommend the book by the way. Will make you think of him differently but not in a good way. A Private Spy - The Letters of John le Carre is also a good read.

Robin Walter said...

I was just about to ask when Savernake 5 would be available for pre-order, great timing! I was also interested to larn that "Take My Breath Away" was one that had significant editorial assistance, I would not have guessed, that's for sure

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jamie. I've not read Sisman's updated book and I'm interested to learn about le Carre's need to keep changing things. I remember once meeting a Collins Crime Club writer, very pleasant, who said she always refused to make changes. Not a passport to literary longevity unless one is ultra-talented, I'm afraid.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Robin. Take My Breath Away is unusual in that it was too long for David's imprint at Allison & Busby. So the changes were really mainly about cutting and consequent reshaping, because I did need to lose a lot of words!

Anonymous said...

With Amazon KDP at least, Martin, there is no need for a new edition before you can make changes to an eBook. You can upload a new file at any time as long as you aren't changing (I think) more than 10 per cent of the word count. It can be very hard therefore to avoid the temptation to tinker! Martyn

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Martyn. Very difficult indeed, I'd imagine!!