I wanted to write a quick post about editing and how it has, in several different ways, taken over my life at the moment. I was blown away by how lovely people were about my recent Poppy Pym update, and what a lot of generous feedback I got. One of the things that I wanted to try and do through this blog was to have a go at charting the adventure of the first Poppy Pym book, and how the whole book making process works. I am a ridiculous reader. I read all the time, I re-read my favourite books endlessly - they are a source of comfort and sustenance to me. I collect books as beautiful objects and have multiple editions of many favourites. I will buy a book based on its cover, or on how well-loved it looks just as often as I will buy it based on the blurb on the back or a great review. I am a literature student, I am a literature teacher, and I have been a book seller. I mean...I LOVE books. But I have no idea how a book gets made.
Now, because Poppy is tied into several different deadlines as part of the Montegrappa Scholastic prize I am not sure if my experience is typical (in fact, there are a lot of things about winning the competition that I KNOW are not typical - for example, going to bed one night with nothing and waking up the next with an agent, a publisher, and a whole other team of lovely creative people talking about my book like it's a real thing.) However, I think the whole process is totally fascinating and if it is something you are interested in pursuing yourself then it may be of interest. Which brings me back to editing. I did the first edit on Poppy before Christmas (I finished it on the evening of December 23rd and went straight to my friend Alice's annual Christmas celebration where we promptly cracked open the prosecco) Because of thesis and teaching deadlines I had about three weeks to do this edit and it was A LOT of fun. Unlike the almost physically painful, wrenching act of getting something down on paper, the first edit was a pleasure. There was already something there, something to play with. I got a chance to spin out scenes I knew needed more and to flesh out some really fun characters. Lena sent me a long email and attached the manuscript with track changes suggestions placed all the way through. This first edit was, I think, a more broad edit where we looked at creating more detail, making Poppy's world more fully imagined. It was incredibly, unbelievably helpful and immediately strengthened and tightened the narrative almost beyond recognition - seriously, you guys, Lena is the business and everything you hear about the miracle of the editing process is true. It was where I felt the shift begin between seeing this as a nice story and as a real book. (I still don't totally have my head around this, but it is getting there.)
There were some big, sensible changes - for example, amping up the tension when Poppy finds herself in the alien environment of St Smithen's boarding school - and some small, tricky changes of things I had taken for granted, like trying to make sense of where all the buildings were in relation to one another. All in all the book grew by about 10,000 words and really feels much more well loved and solid. This version of the book is currently being made into actual, real proof copies to be taken to various book fairs (more on this in another post, including the BEAUTIFUL artwork.) And now I am in the process of the second edit. This one is more fiddly - as you can see from the picture above, it came back with almost 3,000 changes and comments. Almost all of these are helpful and necessary little changes in grammar and language (for example, highlighting my use of the word 'suddenly' approximately 10000000 times. I told you it was pacy!) But there are also some more scenes that I want to revisit, and a few more ideas that I want to include so I’m excited to get to work on it again. There is something reassuring about having another edit left on the book and the fact that it is still, in part, unfinished. I love working on it, and it's so much fun inhabiting that world and still having a sense of unmined potential in there. I can easily believe that this will be difficult to let go of - after all, when do we ever feel these things are really finished?
That being said I am simultaneously in the process of editing my thesis which I am hoping to submit by the end of April and I LOVE the idea of that being finished! This is a totally different editing process. While there are bits that just need tweaking, there are also elements that need more research, and structural questions that feel difficult to address from somewhere deep inside the work. I think that having worked on this dense project for four years it is very difficult to create the sort of critical distance necessary to edit and at times this work can feel overwhelming. Still, it has been fun to dive back into the research side of things and I spent this morning reading Victorian medical journals outlining in great detail how the vibrations from new-fangled train travel are responsible for all sorts of health issues. I am also doing some more work on Sarah Stickney Ellis - a woman I find myself coming back to again and again. The contrast between her stuffy Victorian work on female conduct and her life as a feisty, horse-whispering, rebel is certainly worthy of its own blog post in the not-too-distant future. While I am excited and ready to finish my thesis the editing process is also a reminder of how much I love the subject matter, and the passion that drove me to undertake the PhD in the first place. My supervisor often seems bewildered by my insistence that we undertake and talk about JOYFUL reading, but I hope that at the end of the day this thesis will be a celebration of precisely that.
With that I have covered two big editing projects currently on the go…but other exciting news is that
there is soon to be a third! The Devouring team have just signed our contracts with Pickering and Chatto to put together an edited collection of essays based on the absolute joy-fest that was the conference, which happened almost this time last year. (You can read more about Devouring on its very own page on this website.) I am so excited about working on this with Chris and Mary. Not only are they two of the most dedicated and clever people I know, but they are also two of my favourite people in the world. We were all so
proud and happy with the incredible atmosphere that was fostered at the conference and to feel that that project is going to have such a legacy is really exciting. I will definitely be posting more about this project as it happens.
So there we are. Overwhelmed and happy and busy and GRATEFUL.