As regular readers will know, not least because I have wittered on about it endlessly, I spent the best part of last year penning my first novel. Despite numerous self deluded daydreams, by the time I’d finished I was pretty certain that this was not the book that was going to propel me into the literary spotlight. However, I thought it might not be totally without merit and was interested in a third party’s perspective. I hit upon the idea of sharing it with my book group.
When I bounced this proposal off various people, I was met with two responses. ‘You’re brave!’ from my friends and ‘You’re mad!’ from people who knew a little about the publishing world. Still, always one to plough my own furrow, I soldiered on regardless, distributed copies to the relevant people and waited for the crucial meeting of my critics.
The evening began with the usual chit chat and when I could bear the suspense no longer, I brought the meeting to order and the dissection of my novel began. Now, I had a fair idea of the merits and flaws of my work and I know the members of my group and their literary likes and dislikes pretty well so I wasn’t expecting any shocks. My greatest fear was that they would all smiled at me glibly and said it was good because then I’d know they hated it.
But they didn’t. Within ten minutes they were in hot debate about the credibility of my characters and whether teenage girls would really have hitched to London as a dare. To an outsider, the meeting would have seemed to have been progressing along our well worn path. We were a group of well educated, well read women robustly discussing a novel and all reaching different conclusions.
Of course, for me it was a little different. Each time they said that they wanted more of this and less of that my insides squirmed. Sometimes, their criticism was so fierce that I thought that perhaps they had forgotten that the author was in the room. But then maybe this was a good thing. They discussed my book, chewing it over backwards and forwards in minute detail for at least as long as we spent on Ali Smith last month. If nothing else, it had provoked debate and not everything we read does that. Almost worse was when they said that they liked a scene or a character or the writing style. Never good with compliments, this was nearly as difficult for me to take as the criticism.
Despite almost begging them to stop a couple of times when I thought I could bear it no longer, after about an hour we wound the discussion up and conversation floated back to something more general. I collected my copies back in, thanked them for taking the time and walked home, breathing deeply of the the crisp night air and processing what had just happened.
And now how do I feel? Well, in all honesty I feel inspired to continue. I shall take what I’ve learned both from the writing experience itself and from sharing my work and crack on with the next one. All I need is a good idea and then who knows?!