Slash and Burn
Manuscripts have seasons. The spring time blossom of first drafts, the long hot summers of rewriting, the autumn of copyediting, the neat pruning/proofreading of winter before the book reaches the printer.The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie is my tenth novel and I’m finally at the stage of marking up the proofs before it goes to press in a week or two. But sometimes, in Winter, you discover a random branch you should have pruned months earlier.My editor, Susannah Chambers, told me that Chapter 1 should go last year. Stubbornly, I hung onto it. After nine novels, I can find justification for anything and Chapter One fitted perfectly with many traditional ideas of how a story should be structured. But Susannah was right.
In marking up this final version of the novel I saw it clear as day. The first chapter was superflous. This afternoon I transferred a stray 80 words of information from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 (The new Chapter 1) and deleted 900 words. It felt so good. The minute I hit delete and the words disappeared, I knew the novel was much better for the cut. It was a thrilling, absolutely satisfying moment. I also felt grateful that my editors encouraged me to be so bold despite the lateness of the hour. One of the nicest things about writing is learning to appreciate every aspect of the process. In the early days, I found editing difficult. Learning to trust your editor and your instincts means wrestling with both your prejudices and your manuscript. Though I spent the entire day agonising over 1,000 words, I left my desk feeling deeply satisfied that I’d lost most of Chapter 1. Every book deserves a new beginning.