Wednesday, 19 February 2014

An Old Flame*

Are you the same person that you were ten years ago? I mean, obviously in a lot of ways you are (name, memories, NI number and so on). In some other less obvious ways you... maybe... aren't. Those pink corduroy flares that you thought were a good idea? That evaporated milk habit? That - ew, squick! - that boyfriend?**

If you're wondering why I'm asking, it's because I'm editing my first novel. I wrote it nearly ten years ago, and it's an odd experience coming back to it. I hadn't even read it for years, and so in some ways it was rather exciting. There are lots of adverbs (sadly) but also some rather fun scenes, and some plot twists I genuinely hadn't remembered. It needs work but I think it could be quite good, if I do the right things to it. And the right things aren't the opaque, totally mysterious impossibilities that they are for my most recent magnum opus, thank God, they are actual definite changes that I can do. This is all good. 

But - as I say - it's odd. It's odd because my writing voice has changed, and I'm trying to work out how much I should go with my old one and how much I've got better. It's odd because the sort of book I write now isn't the sort of book I wrote then, but that doesn't mean I don't want to write that sort of book. It's odd because I recognise myself and I recognise the differences, the way I've developed as a writer and as a person.

It's oddest of all, I think, because it's a love story.*** It was my first love story. 

People talk about how first novels are autobiographical (and then often go on to say that they're rubbish because they're autobiographical). That's not true, obviously, because loads of people write novels without ever writing anything recognisably autobiographical. But in a way it is true: your first novel is the one you've waited your whole life to write. It's the one, I think, where the purest expression of yourself comes out. You're less guarded, less ambitious, less driven by career moves or vanity. Not to mention that every time you write a book, you narrow down the possibilities for your next one - so the first, the first... It's not the best. But sometimes it's the most yours. 

And so... my love story. It's making me feel the way I did ten years ago. I was in love with my character then, and I'm still in love with him. I have to be, or I couldn't write the book. But now... I don't know. It makes me feel... off-balance. Haunted. Maybe slightly unfaithful. Like a perfect lover from the past has walked in and expects me to love him as much as ever. And I do.  

We'll see. But right now, I'm enjoying it. To be fair, I'm only four chapters in. But I can't help thinking, maybe I've cracked it. Maybe that's the trick of happy editing: leave the book for a decade.   

* I love this metaphor. Especially as the character in question is called Ash. 
** This is a joke. I didn't have a boyfriend ten years ago. And not having a boyfriend is never a bad choice.
*** Slashy?! Of course it's slashy.