Friday, 4 October 2013
Knowing when to let go
"The shepherd’s body was found up on the steep slopes where the lavender made its last wild clutches at the mountain peak.
Each year the sheep were moved across the high meadows above the lavender fields. Here men still adhered to the old ways: hardy men with gnarled and twisted limbs as if they had been carved by the same winds as the rock sculptures.
One of them was the shepherd Pineau. Alone under the blue citadel of the sky, he guided his flock from one ancient stone borie to the next. All the farmers knew him: Old Pineau in his ragged clothes was part of the landscape when the great surge in lavender growing for the perfume industry had begun, when the Mussets and others began staining the slopes purple. The shepherd was a man who knew every stone and tree of the ridges, a man who had seemed part of nature: part mountain, part stream, part animal, living his life by the turn of the seasons, solitary with his sheep, walking from rocky ledge to pasture, valley to plateau as they fed. He sang as he went, songs that had been sung for centuries.
That summer day in 1943, when small puffs of his flock broke away and drifted in lazy clouds down the hill, the lavender farmers knew something was wrong. In the uplands men and women had always relied on one another. They went up looking for him."
from The Sea Garden
No sooner had I started to immerse myself in research for a new novel last week, than the copy edits on the book to be published next summer arrived on my desk and I had to put the notebook away to re-focus on the previous story.
Quite a good thing, I think, to have started to move on from the completed work. I'm sure it sharpens the critical facilities. Sometimes, when I've spent too much time continuously a manuscript, it feels as if I can't see the wood for the trees, or the sense for the words on the page. The terror at the copy-editing stage is in wanting to change everything, and I'm sure there are authors who give in to temptation.
The art is doing enough, but knowing when to let go. Now is not the time for wholesale rewrites but for trust in yourself and your primary editor, and the work that has already been done.
A tiny glimpse inside The Sea Garden, then. I chose this extract because I know many of you enjoyed the lavender sequences in The Lantern and this gives a flavour of the link between the two novels. I hope it's not too misleading, though: the new book as a whole is not a prequel, but one section does relate the story of Marthe Lincel as a young woman and how exactly she became a perfume maker. And it gives me a chance to post one of the lavender photos I took in the summer!