This afternoon I came to the end of the first draft of Far From the Tree. After six months and 28 days of near-solid writing, and close to 125, 500 words (not including the rigorous chopping along route), I think I can finally say it’s finished. Not finished in the ‘done and ready to send off’ sense, but complete, narrative wise, and making decent sense. I’m sure, once I hold the hard copy of this draft in my hands and get my red pen out, there will be further line edits galore!
Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent most of my professional life correcting, tweaking and fixing my own, and students’ work, but I do feel quite confident that this is the best thing I’ve ever written. Or maybe I’m just a bit high on the ‘I’ve finished!’ feeling, but this really has been a labour of love. I’ve never been precious about my writing – as an English teacher by trade, it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy to be all sensitive about what I produce when I spend my life marking, critiquing and sometimes stabbing the page in frustration at my students’ efforts. Oh, and shouting with joy when they produce something truly worthy of themselves, of course! I’ve had plenty of practice at this writing game; now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and send my baby to market.
So, the next step is doing my homework. Put the hard copy of the novel in a drawer for a month, ignore it and focus on writing the kind of query letter that will make an agent love me, after I’ve spent lots of time on the Writers and Artists Yearbook website, of course! I have the feeling that the research process might take as long as writing the book itself – but I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.
As for the story and its characters – at the moment, it feels like it’s come to a natural end, and, oddly, I’m glad. I still want to write about Matthew, Anna, and the rest of the village, but the main narrative thread of Far From the Tree is complete. And I don’t feel remotely sad about that. I’ve lived with my characters playing out their lives in my head for just over half a year, now, and they’re where they need to be. It feels completely natural to shift my narrative focus to one of the other story areas now, and have Matthew, Anna and the rest of them playing cameos in another character’s arc. The question is, whose story do I pick up next? Will it be Charlotte Taylor going back to the classroom, or Caroline Hemingway encountering reformed playboy Jonathan Carter during a very unorthodox dinner party? At the moment, I just don’t know, but I think it’ll be enormous fun to find out. Just not tonight. Tonight is for celebrating, and, while the Dom Perignon might be virtual for now, who knows, in time, I might be able to afford a real bottle ;).
So, thank you, Matthew Carter, for walking into my head on January 15th this year and refusing to go away. Thank you for falling in love with Anna Hemingway and letting me tell the story of that love. I hope, when Far From the Tree does eventually get out there, that my readers will fall as much in love with you and Little Somerby as I have.