On The Ups And Downs And On The Up And Up
I mean the reader's report that was given to me at the first stage of editing was pretty complimentary overall -- a few clarifications needed, this could be tightened here, here and here, but generally speaking I didn't crawl away from it drenched in my own blood and tears (as I remember my first experience of getting a story critiqued at the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer's Circle). Instead I came away thinking, Somebody's read this more fucking times than me and they still bloody like it.
Keen, as my dear friend Jack would say.
Then there was the visit down to Pan MacMillan's London office, to meet my editor, Peter Lavery, and Rebecca and Steph and the design chap and the foreign rights people and a few editors from other imprints and the Grand High Poobah and the ship's cat and a bottle of very nice red wine. Some people might not like getting whisked around London for a photoshoot, writers being supposedly the quiet, sensitive type. Me, I used to be the quiet, sensitive type, until I realised at a too fucking early age that life is too fucking short and the phrase "Fuck that shit." became the mantra seared into the lining of the empty hole where my heart used to be. I like the limelight almost as much as the moonlight (on the trees of the wee park round the corner where I walk my dog last thing at night), the sunlight (streaming from a blue sky on the lounging layabouts on the Big Slope of Kelvingrove Park on a hot summer's day), or the streetlight (carving out the West End's sandstone buildings in a fiery chiaroscuro after dark).
So I fly down to London just after Bonfire Night, the plane coming down through fireworks blossoming below like sea anemones glittering with bioluminescence at the bottom of an ocean, and on my last day there it's the flash, flash, flash of a camera pointed at a childishly delighted me.
Peachy keen, as my dear friend Jack would say.
Then came the line-edits, and again it was a relatively painless process of corrections and amendments to try and get the spelling and date format consistently inconsistent. Vellum has American, English, Scottish and Irish characters who all get POV in various sections, and I wanted those POV's to be right, even in little cultural differences like realise/realize, October 19th / 19th October (I pity the poor copy-editer who deals with my work). But the thing is, that was mostly it. A few alterations here and there but none of the wholesale slicing and dicing of my prose that I was expecting. No cherished sentences taken apart and put back together again in a new order. No whimpering to myself, but it was better before, it was, I know it was. I know I've been fucking lucky. As I say, I'm getting scared now in that paranoid way. It has to happen sometime. Something bad has to happen sometime.
But, no. What happens is I get a continued level of involvement with the book as it goes through the cover design process. I swear to God, I know why Jeff VanderMeer is published through Pan MacMillan in the UK -- because Peter Lavery is either a saint or a madman in the way he treats his writers (not to mention his role as current champion of literary SF/Fantasy); I know how well Peter and Pan Mac in general responded when Gary Gibson had some qualms about a proposed cover for his book. At the end of the day, I know how much of a formality it can be when a writer gets a look-see at the proposed cover. But from an initial meeting with the design guy through to the other day when I received the newest .jpg I've been asked for my opinion every step of the way. And I know I've been listened to.
I mean, scroll down a little. Yeah, right now. Just scroll down a little and have a look at the cover for the bound proofs, or click on the linky to the left. I'll wait for you to come back.
Yeah. That's what I thought. Fucking downright gorgeous. When I got my copies through, man, I fucking knew just how lucky I am, how much Pan Mac are getting behind Vellum. I don't want to think about what that means. I can't help thinking about what that means. Fuck it, I'm a fucking writer -- imagination on overdrive. Four months to go before the actual beast gets released into the wilds, and Pan Mac are taking real good care of it. Protein shakes, high fibre diet, constant grooming -- they're making Vellum the most beautiful, powerful, fucking panther of a book. And my baby's growing up fast. As I say, I can't help thinking about what that means. I don't want to think about what that means. Fuck it, I know how good I think the book is; the last thing I need is fucking validation. I'm already far too good at my impersonation of John Lithgow as Dick in Third Rock From The Sun. I have a whole four months in which to become utterly unbearable. Maybe I'm unbearable already. Nah. Fuck, you ain't seen nothing yet.
So I don't want to think about the two page splash in the Pan Mac catalogue. I don't want to think about how those ARC's are going out there and kicking up a storm, it seems. I don't want to think about the Russian publishers Eksmo who just picked up the translation rights yesterday. Or Rick Kleffel's Agony Column, which just gave it a wonderful preview/news feature today. I mean, I shouldn't be backward in coming forward, right? I'm trying to sell my goddamn book, so I'd be an eedjit to play the bashful ingenue, to say, why gosh, that's lovely of you to say, but honestly, it's too much. And worse, I'd be dishonest because when you spend 10-15 years on a book, it goes without saying that you have a certain degree of faith in it. Sort of a fundamentalist zeal degree of faith. But faith scares me. Zealots scare me. And most of all, I really don't want my pride in Vellum to turn into fucking asshole arrogance just waiting to get punctured by critics and readers who might decide that the book doesn't fulfill its bonkersly big ambitions.
So maybe there is a down in all the ups, in the fact that so far, fingers crossed, it's all been pretty much up and up and fucking more up. Too far up and you end up up your own ass. Too far up and it's a long way down. Nec Spe, Nec Metu as one of my favourite fags of history, Caravaggio, had carved on his knife. No Hope, No Fear. But the flipside of that is what I'm living with right now. Blue sky fucking elephant's eye high hopes, and not just mine, it seems.
So I was almost fucking relieved last night, when one of the guys doing up the shop downstairs, converting it into a flat, comes up to tell me I have a leak, a leak which we finally trace to an almost completely inaccessible lead pipe in my crumbling tenement flat (with its dysfunctional toilet cistern and huge cracks in the wall where the previous set of builders down below knocked out a wall and then scarpered sharpish). I'm almost relieved that the only way to get access to the leak looks like being by dragging my washing machine out into the poky kitchen and completely deconstructing the units under and around the sink. I'm almost relieved that these guys downstairs really need the leak fixed so they can put the ceiling up, that I need an emergency plumber and a fucking joiner and my kitchen's going to be fucked for fuck knows how long and it's going to cost me fuckloads. It's the bad luck I'm building up. It's my karmic balance restoring itself. Thank fuck for that.
But no. After running up and down stairs to borrow torches, saws and whatever in my attempt to get at the leak, the guys realise my utter ineptitude as regards all manner of handymanual work and so one of them comes up, takes a single panel off in about twenty seconds and says, There you go, there's your leak. And this morning he fixed it. At virtually cost price. Ripped out the old lead pipe and replaced it completely. The whole fucking length from under my kitchen sink, down through the floorspace (which they have access to right now, there being no ceiling and all) and all the way along to the main water supply. So no more problems with that hundred-year-old pipe, now or ever again. For virtually cost price.
Oh, and he's coming back to fix the cistern in my toilet. The cistern in my toilet hasn't worked for about three years, the valve in it being completely fucked and refusing to do anything even remotely resembling pumping water up and over to flush the toilet. I've kept a bucket in the bath for the last three years and it's almost become a symbol for me, a latter-day symbol of the hermitic, ascetic lifestyle of the stereotyped writer. A deliberate lowering of dignity, a prick to false pride. Ha, you think you're something special, Duncan? Ya still gotta flush the toilet with a bucket. It's a lesson in humility. Or it's just an example of my ability to prevaricate and put off till tomorrow what should have been done three fucking years ago. Have you got your toilet fixed, yet? they ask me, my friends. Look, it's the Goodyear Blimp, I say, pointing out the window. But no more. The guy's coming back to fix it later today and my toilet will flush once again. It feels like the end of an era.
Maybe he won't come back. Maybe the plumber chap's going to rook me for that extra tenner (a whole tenner) and just never come back. Or maybe I'll become an alcoholic so I can flush it all away down my newly functional toilet. But I suspect that neither of those things will happen, and I'm just going to be left with a spanking new pipe and a functional toilet along with the rest of my current good luck. Christ, I even got a letter in this morning from a nice chap called Varun Chadha who wants to turn the shop downstairs-next-door into an organic vegetarian cafe that'll do poetry readings, evening classes and acoustic bands. He came round to the door to talk about it a few weeks back -- nice guy, wanted to sound out the residents before putting in planning permission, make sure nobody had any objections. Fuck, says I, go for it. Sounds fucking superb. A fucking socio-politically conscious, literary venue right outside my flat. How fucking cool is that? I'm just about to email him and express my whole-hearted support, soon as I finish this blog entry.
But, hey. Wait a minute. I got the letter beside me and there's one little thing. Thank Christ Almighty, there's one little spot of cloudy ink on the whole drapery of silver lining...
It's going to be No Smoking.