Ah… so I have reached the end of another novel… and here comes the aftermath of grief. I really can’t justify a fifth trawl through for stray typos, grammar blunders and the like. As far as I can tell it is now as good as it gets, and further tinkering could just over-egg the pudding. It really is like the end of a love affair when I’ve completed a final draft. The memories linger on of what he said and she said and all the highs and lows that swept me up as I was writing. Those characters have arisen from my psyche like wraiths of a former self, imprinting themselves on the page and on my heart. I know them so well. I care for them deeply, every one of them. I want to know what happens next. But there is no ‘next’ – not for this cast of players on the stage of my imagination.
It is a peculiar kind of grief that arises when there is no more to add to the story that has so engaged me for so many months. Just as peculiar as the way the mood of a novel seeps into me, stirring up buried feelings and opening up new insights as I listen to what my characters are telling me. They are real people, surely? How could I just relinquish them when their last thoughts and words have been shared with me? I am simply the author, dictating their story on their behalf. I care passionately about their lives and about them as individuals. I feel their pain, I share their moments of joy and liberation. It feels as though they are leaving me, rather than the other way around. They don’t need me any longer. I must content myself with blogging about my grief and telling the world that our relationship is over.
I always forget when I start something new that this is how it will feel when it is complete. I begin with elation, excitement, the blank page inviting me further in with every step. I love the mystery that unfolds with a new relationship: the sharing of secrets, the deeper intimacy that comes from discovering facts you didn’t guess and feelings that only this person could possibly evoke. I am talking about a novel here, and not a love affair – although the same criteria apply. I have only a sketch outline in my mind when I begin writing – the characters develop their individual voices and reveal their motivations as the story gradually unfolds. They tap me on the shoulder at the most inconvenient times (in the shower, while asleep, waiting for a bus – whenever my mind is in free fall, I suppose) and insist on giving me vital new information. And now there is only silence in the place they used to be. But I have no regrets. As it is with the best of relationship break-ups, we have done what we needed to together, and moved on.
‘Round Robin’ is a novel about families – but it’s also about childhood: what blights it, what saves it, what remains of it unresolved in adulthood. Do you remember the child you were at almost eleven? This is the age of the child in this story: on the brink of puberty and all the changes that it brings, wise with the unique wisdom of the soul still largely unadulterated by the psychic pollution in the outside world. I remember how fully formed I felt myself to be at that age and how much I understood about life even though experience had yet to teach me the full nine yards of it (and I still have a way to go.) I remember my children at that age, too: so unaware of how innocent they still were, in spite of all the messiness of the adult world around them. My grandfather had a saying which the family considered naive: “There’s no deceit in children.” But I’ve come to agree with him. Children see situations clearly without the complications we attach to them in later life. They haven’t yet been burdened by what they are supposed to think, believe and feel.
‘Round Robin’ is as different from my previous two novels as they are from each other. You may recognise some of the themes – like all writers of fiction I am continually pursuing certain truths. Just like Robin at the beginning of the novel, I have always asked those most pertinent of existential questions: ‘Where did I come from? Where am I going? What does it all mean?’ and will continue to ponder them until my own story eventually reaches its conclusion – hopefully a good number of novels hence from now.