Thursday, December 20, 2007

When you know a book is finished


I thought this was going to take longer than it did ...
Back in 1997, in our house in the French Pyrenees, I typed the last words of In Search of the Divine Mother. That writing process left me with such momentum I couldn't just stop. The following morning, from seemingly nowhere, a novel started writing itself.
Two days later, I took a break. That start, much revised, turned out to be Chapter 2. Through the following years I wrote and polished Chapter 1. Then this summer, on a longed for visit back home to Santa Fe, the novel kicked in again. An agent loved the early stuff, which was encouraging enough.
This novel is for kids and is called Badger Boy, the first in a trilogy. I've just been on a two day visit back to the Pyrenees, where it all began. Two nights ago, lying in bed but awake, the three main child characters from the novel (they are each to have their own book as part of the trilogy) started talking inside my head, all at once so I could not make out what they were saying but just appreciate the tender timbre of their voices. Last night, in sleep, I chatted to Hilary Clinton about the book. She wondered where I had got the details from about its White House setting. I told here they came from her own book about the place, and we laughed because she had no memory of writing it. So the book was cooking. I finished the first draft this afternoon. Remarkably I'm now back in London, but somehow it needed that desk with its view down the valley to bring the book to a close.
How do you know when a book's finished? This one's still in handwritten manuscript so it has some months to go before anyone reads it, but I do have a way of knowing when a book is finished beyond the natural sense of rightness.
Some years ago, as I finished a novel in Glencoe, I looked up. A stag and two does were looking up at me from the bottom of the garden, and a pine marten was leaning its paws against the french window. An eagle swirled above the French valley at another closing moment. Whatever happens in publishing terms, I appreciate this accord shown by nature with the sense of a book completing itself.
Now it's December and the eagles have flown south. I looked up from my closing paragraph though, and a still larger bird was flying outside my window. I have a sense of herons as my 'lucky birds' in any case, and Badger Boy is all about affinities with the animal world. This grey heron was not only flying above the river, just above the height of my window, but it flew a very tight circle then rose up the hillside to perch on a treetop. I've never known any bird fly such a tight circle before. I marvelled, and felt blessed.

Picture credit: Taunton Wildlife

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