15 February 2010
Tony the Tiger update: Tony has taught himself to read music. Four months ago he still thought musical stave lines directly represented guitar strings. Now he can sight read ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. It’s remarkable. It’s like living with a curmudgeonly east-London version of Jimmi Hendrix. We’ve lined Tony up a gig at next summer’s Peace Fest. He’s hoping he’ll attract some groupies.
December was mental. By the 4th I had the month planned out hour-by-hour to ensure I used every moment for the penultimate editing and review sessions – picking through text with my heroic copyeditor, sitting in kitchens soaking up reaction, protracted arguments about the presentation of ideas, then head down: actioning, tweaking, adjusting and fine-tuning.
Concurrent with that another wave of non-book, non-work problems crashed into me: a surge of other people’s crap threatening to spread chaos in my life and overwhelm me during my moment of completion. Emotionally it was an explosive combination of pressure, rage and the electricity of the finale, all mixed with the silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
By the on-off holiday of the festive period, that light at the end of the tunnel had gone from appearing into view to being right there in front of me: a finite and accessible thing. The Oxford Style Manual had become my bedfellow and my editing ever more fastidious. Is there a synonym for ‘albino’? How many times have I used the word ‘kaleidoscope’? ‘That’ or ‘which’? Is this bit edgy or tasteless? 100 meticulous creative decisions. Don’t blink now. For Christ’s sake, stay on target.
During early January, as the big chill tightened it’s grip, I was poring over my intricately constructed edifice of storytelling, taking bits out, polishing them up, then slotting them back in again. Future-proofing. Fact-checking. The final brush strokes.
My reviews complete, I took the last week of January off work. Nine straight days for my brain to cut loose and get back to the state of full immersion it last enjoyed during the spring of 2008. Released from those boxes the rest of the world normally requires that you think inside. Going to sleep with questions. Waking up with answers.
That pretty much nailed the job. I took five days out to sleep on it, then a final weekend, a final scan and a final quintuple-check. Word searching for ‘meter’, ‘principal’ and ‘naïve’. Checking for overuse of particular adjectives. A bubbling sense of anticipation.
When I attacked this project in the summer of 2007, it soon became apparent that it was an all-or-nothing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of gig. At that point I took the gloves off and committed myself to the most outrageously ambitious creative project I could conceivably have pulled off.
If posterity only gets to judge me by one thing, it will be the story of the purest thing I ever did, captured in the best work of art I had it in me to produce. All my intellectual and inventive envelopes have been stretched. No corners have been cut. No principles have been compromised. The finished product is as rich, honest and fully realised as I could make it, and it’s not going to waste anyone’s time with boring words or slow bits.
To get there I’ve pulled out all the stops – freezing my life, alienating my friends, working my guts out and forcing myself to become unattractively obsessive. Yet it still took two and a half years. Trust me, I wasn’t faffing.
Many times, when I saw the labours stretching before me, I wondered what it would feel like to reach the end.
Well, you know what? It feels pretty good.
Word count, completed manuscript, The Jolly Pilgrim: 143,991
Books published annually in the USA: 150,000