Eleven years ago, I first put pen to paper on an exciting new novel. Last month, my agent finally sent the book (now a graphic novel) out to publishers. How does it feel to let go of a project after such a long gestation?
|Illustration by Nick Cross|
I'll be honest, my initial emotion was relief. Relief that after all the many, many, many hours of work my job was done – even if a publisher showed interest, there would be months of waiting for that to happen. But I also knew that the end of any big project is a dangerous period for me, and a slump would inevitably follow. Typically, this manifests as low mood, but this time around I had a huge spike of anxiety – magnified no doubt by the febrile times in which we live.
Anyway, I’m back to something approaching neurotypical now (pandemic fears notwithstanding) and feel more able to reflect on my experience with this long-in-the-making book. I should clarify that I hadn’t been working on it non-stop for those eleven years. The initial novel consumed me for a couple of years, then there was a seven-year gap spent writing a whole load of other stuff, before another two years spent completely rewriting (and illustrating) the story as a graphic novel. But even when I wasn’t working on it, the project still rattled around in my head, the title popping up unbidden when I was thinking of something else. When my current agent asked me during the query process if I had other novels, it was top of my list.
That may make the process seem straightforward, yet it was anything but. The original novel was written a decade ago under intense pressure, while I was in the throes of a mental breakdown. Did the pressure of writing the novel cause the breakdown? Or was writing about a world shackled to grief and depression an essential form of catharsis? Either way, it was not a fun experience. The book became so bonded to my psyche that when my former agent demanded sweeping alterations to the plot and characters, I was left with no choice but to walk away from our business relationship. To this day, I have not reopened the Word file containing her edit notes, out of the fear that I may find myself agreeing with her.
So, even though I knew the project still had value, it was with some trepidation that I approached the manuscript a second time around. I’d already had a great idea for a new graphic novel – why shouldn’t I write that instead? But I also knew that I had unfinished business with this long dormant story. So, I set my new idea aside and dived in to revise and reinvent.
|Illustration by Nick Cross|
Maybe part of the reason I’ve struggled to write this blog post is that I’ve been telling the story about the story, for almost as long as I’ve been writing the story itself. I can trace its development through the early breathless blog posts, and the later tortured missives. As authors, I think we are prone to see everything as narrative, including our own biographies. We search for a neat plot arc for our lives, even as we know in our hearts that real life is messy and ultimately unresolved. We hope that by chronicling our “journey to publication” we can make sense of a capricious process of missed opportunities and successes that are only visible in retrospect.
Will this be the book that finally sees me published? Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t think a long gestation period is any guarantee of success, but it does at least guarantee a certain amount of rigour to the process. This is not a NaNoWriMo book that has been rushed off to publishers before the ink is dry on the first draft. And I take heart from other slow-gestating graphic novels such as Seth’s Clyde Fans (twenty years in the making) or Jason Lutes’s astonishing Berlin (twenty-five years). I realise I’m putting myself in rarefied company there, but one can dream!
I've certainly run the full gamut of emotions with this book, and then some. As much as I believe in it and want to get it under the noses of readers, giving myself a little distance is probably a good thing. So, as the manuscript makes its tour of editors’ inboxes, it's on to the next project for me. This new graphic novel idea has only been in my head for two years, making it practically a baby in comparison. Onward!