My pretend mentoring scheme kind of worked. I stuck to my daily word targets until I got to 85k which was when I began to relax and congratulate myself on how close I was to my 90k goal. I think the pause for self-congratulation also cloaked the fear of the finishing. I was close to the end, but could I do it? Would it fall flat? How would the characters get untangled from where they were now to get to where they were supposed to be at the end? The last 5k was like doing the 5k Race for Life which I signed up for when it was months ahead in the far off land of the future and for which I didn’t train very well. Through every bit of training I swore I would never run again after I’d done the race. I never did manage 5k before the race, but on the day itself I did run every step of it (very, very slowly) thinking at various points I would die, but I did cross the finish line, my cheeks the deepest red they’d ever been from the exertion, my legs a trembling wreck. Of course the final 5k of writing wasn’t physically the same as running - I can’t say I’ve ever built up a sweat while sitting at my desk - but that horrible sense of not being able to carry on was often weighing me down. Finding the right words and the right pathways to shepherd the characters through to the ending seemed impossible at times, but somehow they got through the maze.
|In the woods of the Hurst|
|The bluebell woods at the Hurst|
Because it wasn’t a real mentoring scheme I wasn’t actually getting any feedback on the draft so how could I tell if the 90k words were any good in their current configuration? I could have given it to my Beloved to read, but as he hasn’t yet acquired the art of a praise sandwich (or a shit sandwich, depending how you view it), I didn’t much fancy the inevitable maelstrom that would follow. I could have sent it to friends but I didn’t want to infect them with first-draftyitis – I imagined them wading through it, worrying how to tell me it was terrible and then my shame of them thinking it was the best I could do. Arvon stepped up with a possible helping hand. I couldn’t resist the lure of a tutored retreat at the newly renovated John Osborne Arvon Centre in Shropshire - a complete luxury which I could only indulge in because I’d been squirreling away a small amount of money each month for a couple of years for any such personal emergencies. I’ve done a tutored retreat before and sending off the chapters in advance for the tutors – Monica Ali and Jacob Ross - to review for this retreat wasn’t any less excruciating than the first time. To cut a long story short, after my sessions with Jacob I felt I’d got this novel licked, but after my sessions with Monica I felt like my characters had been psycho-analysed to within an inch of their lives and had been found wanting. In the saying out loud to Monica of a couple of the plot points they suddenly sounded a bit, well, far-fetched and delusory. The couch was the right place to be.
I hope that post therapy, the current draft is all the richer for the intervention. Now it’s out there with a friend, being read and I’m feeling a bit lost without it.