30th September 2013 - Anna Freeman
In 2011, literary management company and arts consultancy Tibor Jones and Associates chose the winners of the first biennial Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize, open to unpublished writers. The prize of £1000 and representation by the agency went to Gabriel Gbadamosi, whose debut novel, Vauxhall, was
published by Telegram Books in May.
In 2013, the judges, including Foyles' Head of Buying Jasper Sutcliffe, selected 'The Fair Fight' by Anna Freeman, as their winner, praising its 'its vigorous storytelling, the dexterity of its language and the author's ability to create characters that live and breathe'.
Here Anna talks about the process of editing the novel with her new agent, Sophie Hignett, including the difficulties she found in accepting changes to her writing and learning when to call a halt.
I entered the Pageturner Prize because I thought it was a good place to start, I never for a moment expected to win. I was ready to spend the next god-knows-how-long trying to find an agent. Suddenly I don't need to do that. Instead I have to edit it, for professional people to think about marketing. It's surreal. Of course it's wonderful, but it's also quite scary.
The hardest part of writing a novel must be getting the first draft done. Right up until the end I was worried I'd fail to finish it. After that I worried that it would turn out to be rubbish. Those feelings seemed usual and expected. What I wasn't expecting was to find the process of editing so painful. I've been in so many creative writing classes I thought my artistic ego had been battered into submission; I was ready for editing to be fun. It's not. It hurts, despite the fact that I am incredibly, wobblingly grateful to be doing it and to have found an agent who cares about the work. This is partly me - I quite often become a vibrating string of anxiety in fairly normal situations - but I've talked to other writers and it seems that in one way or another we all struggle with editing.
It's not so much my ego that gets me as my heart. When Sophie, my agent, sends me lists of things she'd like to see changed I want to gather the manuscript into my arms and hiss at her over the top of it. I know the novel isn't perfect but I went and fell in love with it, didn't I? It's like I've got a bit of a wonky-looking baby and someone else is offering to help get her ears pinned back and her wandering eye corrected. I like my novel how it is. I'll just stay in the house and cuddle it and breathe its inky smell and no one else need ever read it. But of course, that's not fair. It deserves to fly and make its own life or it'll end up resenting me. Also, I am increasingly desperate to be a 'proper' writer, in case I ever find myself at a cocktail party and someone asks me what I do. So the editing has to happen.
All the advice suggests that it's a good idea to put the novel away for a long time, so as to look at it with fresh eyes. I can't bear to do that because of the impending cocktail party (there isn't one that I know of specifically, but it's important to be ready).
I'm trying to keep my grip on the gratitude. Here are the things I've managed to learn about editing.
Thing one was: I mustn't try to edit early drafts as I go. I had to let it be shaky and rubbish in places, write everything and work out what to do with it later. If I didn't suspend judgement I might not have written anything at all.
My early drafts either need fleshing out or major amputations. This varies, not just chapter to chapter, but sometimes even paragraph to paragraph. Fleshing out detail is easy enough, that part has actually been fun. For the over-long bits the key is to work out the purpose of the scene. How does it drive the narrative/develop the character? How do I distil that functioning part, and lose the rest? Sometimes perfectly good bits of writing have to go. The trick there is to put them in a folder called 'offcuts' or similar, and pretend to myself that someday I'll turn them into a short story.
When I really notice how imperfect the novel is I am swamped with despair at how much work I have to do. For this I have developed the sophisticated technique of shouting out loud, "It's normal to have to edit a book, you massive numpty."
Another thing I've learned is that I do need other opinions on the work, even if they can be hard to hear. So what if Sophie doesn't love the novel quite like I do, that's precisely why she's useful. I've had my face pressed up against the story for so long that I'm blind to its flaws. It turns out that my baby can lose a few limbs with no harm done. I may have to get rid of another one before we're done.
It's also lovely to have someone to talk to about the characters as if they were real. Sophie is almost as interested in them as I am. Writing can be an isolating experience and suddenly someone wants a guided tour of my imagination. It's better than therapy. If it's published maybe other people will talk to me about them. I'm looking forward to that.
The hardest part might be deciding when to stop editing and let it go out into the world to be criticised or worse, ignored. A debut novelist I once met said that every time he picks up his published novel he sees something he wishes he could change. At least when it's finally published I'll still have something to be stressed over. I wouldn't want to stop being me.
Find out more about Tibor Jones & Associates and the Pageturner Prize on the Tibor Jones website