Distractions from editing the novel – the night I sat in a bar in Bali.

It’s Tuesday night. I’m meant to be editing the current draft of The Boathouse. I’ve got a date with my editor at the end of the month, but fuck it, I’ve worked the last three days, I’m one beer in and I’m itching to just have a chat and reflect on the words I’ve written so far. What’s prompted this is a friend sent me her manuscript today to read. I’ve been reading early drafts of her work for the past few years, chunks of chapters, not always in order, but today I was given the entire work as a whole for the first time. I feel humbled that she trusts me as a reader, excited that I get to have the entire story in one hit, and proud of how far we have come as writers.

Two years ago I sat in a bar in Bali (Ubud, actually) with my writer friend Susan. It might have been several mojitos in but we were deep in conversation on the art of writing novels. It was workshopping in a way that required total immersion in our surrounds. Oh there was a pool, and massages, and time to squander on the back of a bike as we made our way down past rice paddies into the hub of the village, but we were writing. Every single day. We talked about our projects endlessly. We brought our notebooks to breakfast. We talked chapter outlines over beer and nuts by the pool.

I was starting again. I had abandoned the manuscript I’d been working on for the past four years. I had an agent for a year, then I didn’t. There was interest out there, but writing about Dylan Thomas seemed to scare people because he was a real person, and everyone knows about Dylan Thomas, as though my angle was not permissible. So I handed it over to Editor N. She was honest over the phone. I tried not to cry (actually I did) as I bled out over the kitchen floor revived only by the fact that it was summer and hot and I could disappear into the ocean, which helped stem the flow of disappointment. I lay in bed at night, ceiling fan whirring, hot, pissed off, angry, but so determined that I was going to make it work. So I started again. A blank page. I wrote 20 000 words. I was so impressed with myself as I handed them over. Again, Editor N was honest over the phone. It still wasn’t working. Fuck. A second bleed of confidence in my ability to even think I could write. But I listened. Start with the first chapter, she said. Just start at walking pace with the first chapter. So I did. And I found myself in Bali working on that first chapter. On the eighth day, I sent it off. I waited for the honest response, ready to scrap it and begin again, even smaller this time, perhaps just the opening sentence.

To distract myself as I waited and sweated on her reply, I considered buying a pony. Of course, I did. Amber’s first born. She was beautiful. A baby really, and she was up for sale. I panicked, worried that someone else would snap her up, while I lounged in the tropics and obsessively worried over chapter one. I showed photos of her to Susan and I listened to her advice, someone with no knowledge of horses. She thought it was a great idea.

Word was in on the first chapter. Editor N had sent her reply: “Thanks for the new chapter one. It’s really good.” She elaborated further but those words were what I’d been waiting to hear and after all that honesty, all those tears, they meant something. At last I was on track. I had found my voice.

And so two years later here we are. Susan has finished her manuscript, has handed it over like a precious gift that I now get to read. And I’ve finished the draft I started in Bali. There’s still some tweaking to do but on the whole it’s done. Or so I think. I can’t wait for Editor N to read it. I don’t know what will happen next. Perhaps this is a draft on the way to the next one. Whatever, it’s getting better. I’m getting better, and to get better, you gotta write. A shitload. And I’m trying.

I bought the pony.
The day after I arrived home.
Amber woo-ed me with red wine and cheese and all things Connemara. How could I resist?
I just love my pones.
As much as I love writing.

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