A quiet week, once again immersed in The Sea Garden. The US proofs arrived, the final stage before the manuscript becomes a bound book to be published next year. The copy edited version is now laid out as the pages will appear for the reader. This is the last chance to spot mistakes - of plot inconsistencies, fact, spelling and punctuation - and rectify any infelicities.
Only the small things, mind. We've gone far beyond the stage of wholesale re-writes. Any great new ideas will have to remain missed opportunities. I find proofreading quite nervewracking precisely because of these constraints: this is more-or-less it, and the fear is that you will sit down in front of these pages with your red pen and cup of tea, and despair at what you read. The words aren't perfect, and it never will be as perfect as they were in your head.
The danger is also a terrible kind of word-blindness. As a writer, you've gone over the same words so many times that the story can seem dull. Obviously there are no surprises, but even the phrases that seemed good enough to survive this far seem lacklustre through familiarity. A few can be struck out, but you don't want to be completely ruthless or there'd be nothing left.
I find it most relaxing to sit on the floor, leaning back against a sofa, with the pages in piles on the carpet around me, anywhere but at my desk where I feel too much like the person who wrote them. As much as possible, I want to feel like a reader of the book. A very critical reader. Those pages where I mark some alteration are put in one pile, to be sent back to the publishers. The clean pages go in another.
Sometimes I realise that I ought just to run upstairs and check a fact, either in my research books or on the internet, and return relieved that I'm in time to change something. Just as well I had mental alarm bells when I came to the part set in wartime London and saw I had my characters walking past the statue of Eros in Piccadilly; it took five minutes to ascertain that Eros was packed away in storage during the course of both world wars. Pity, that was one of the better descriptions that had to be red-penned!
But obviously, there's excitement and a certain pride in reaching this stage. The steps in the process by which writing turns from a private endeavour to a public one are gathering speed. I never forget to feel hugely grateful that anyone wants to publish me at all, and that top-notch editors and agents in New York and London have devoted their time and expertise to my efforts.
I wrote here a while back about the section of the book that is set in Provence (you have to scroll to the end of the post - note the change of the overall title, though not of this part). Well, here it is, and if I say so myself, I think it looks great on the page:
The Sea Garden will be published in summer 2014 by HarperCollins in the US and by Orion in the UK.