At last! It’s 5.04 in the afternoon, the 12th of June 2016, and I’ve just typed THE END. Don’t ask what it’s THE END of – the book doesn’t yet have a title. What it does have is 101,876 words. But that’ll change, too, because this is just the first draft. I’ll be reading it, cutting away big chunks, rewriting bits and trying to get it presentable to send to a professional editor, who’ll probably recommend more of the same.
All of which is par for the course. The only reason I’m bothering to make a note like this is that it’s taken something like 4 years to get this far. Which is unheard of for me. A first draft usually takes 6-8 months. Then again, this is different. There wasn’t just a crime to be solved but a romantic relationship to be… well, dealt with.
And it was as I was working on sorting that out that I was reminded of what I’ve said several times before about writers resembling actors. Somewhere recently, I heard or read an interview with an actor who talked about needing to have a ‘dual consciousness’. In crude terms, he meant inhabiting the consciousness of the character he was playing but simultaneously being aware (as himself) of the mechanics of what he was doing, the director’s instructions, the audience’s reactions and so on.
The few pages I’ve just finished writing covered the resolution of the relationship between the two lovers in my story. I know them well. They’ve already lived through my novel The Figurehead, when their love started to grow, and part of the reason for writing this sequel was that some readers had actually said they wanted to know what happened to them. I had no answer, but realised that I wondered the same thing, so the only way to find out was to revisit them.
That final scene has been very difficult to write, and it’s because of the writer’s equivalent of the dual consciousness effect. I (i.e. the ‘me’ here in 2016), knew what I wanted them to decide, what I thought would make sense in the context of their characters and of the two books together. But the moment I began writing their dialogue (i.e. inhabiting them, listening to what was being said, reacting to it, experiencing what they were thinking and going through, exploring what was possible), I felt their difficulties. In the society of 1841 when women married, they and what they owned became the possessions of the husband. By law. They were also expected to remain faithful whereas their husbands could have dalliances all over the place. Then there was childbirth and its associated dangers.
Simultaneously, I felt through them the suffocating demands of that society and, as a writer, the freedoms I wanted them to have in the narrative. Having just finished it, I have no idea whether the resolution is satisfactory or complete rubbish, whether, in fact, it was possible to find a satisfactory alternative to marriage without being ostracised.
But that’s all for consideration at a later date. For the moment, I can switch off both consciousnesses for a while – or at least until the next non-existent beings start making demands.