So there I was. It was Christmas Eve. Two days earlier I had finally finished my second book. The first draft had been printed off. The plan was to leave it, to forget about, to not even look at it, for a few months. Then, on one lonesome evening, I would pick up the manuscript and go through it with a red pen. But something dreadful would happen before I got the chance.
It is important that no one sees a freshly finished novel, you see, you get so close to the material that after a while all the mistakes become invisible to you. You know the story so well that it doesn’t matter how much you concentrate your mind fills in the blanks. If I write probable instead of probably I won’t notice it. My brain knows what word to expect and my eyes will pass over it without seeing the mistake. This is why you need a few months after finishing the book before you start proof reading it. And that was my intention with A Scoundrel for Love (the first in a series of humorous books based at the stately Rochdale Manor).
As I was saying, it was Christmas Eve. Some of my parent’s friends were round for drinks. One of them, a man named Steve, asked me how my writing was going.
“It’s going well,” I said, “In fact I’ve just finished a novel.”
“Oh, I would love to have a look at it.”
“Sure, why not.” I said, and scurried off to fetch it. That was my mistake. I blame the booze.
He read the first paragraph aloud (at least this much was error free);
“It’s strange being killed. I never thought I’d say it but it is. It’s annoying. Especially when you have no idea why you are being killed. Here I am, standing at the toilet with my pyjamas around my ankles and in walks a man with the intent to do harm. Perhaps I’m somehow to blame? Who knows? Either way, whether I am to be blamed or not, adjustments to my situation must clearly be made. Being drowned in a toilet is not something I take pleasure in. And it is certainly not the way I wish to uncoil my mortal spring, as they say. In the throes of death the automatic instincts of self-preservation set forth a plan of retaliation. My limbs reacted accordingly on my behalf.”
Everyone chuckled. There were positive murmurs.
“Oh, hold on, there’s a disclaimer before the first chapter,” he said, and then read on;
“As a result of lazy research the descriptions of the Whyte and Mackay distillery are entirely made up and so any attempt to carry out the heist described in these pages would be completely idiotic and utterly fruitless.”
More laughs. Things were going well.
Steve put the manuscript down and said he would have a proper look later. After all, the night was early and this was a Christmas gathering not a reading circle. I snuck away and left them to it.
When I went back to my parents lounge a few hours later (having spent some quality time being drunk with my brother) I discover my parents sitting alone watching TV.
“Have they gone?” I said.
“Yes, they left about ten minutes ago.”
“Oh, is my book in here somewhere?”
They frowned. “No, Steve took it with him to read on the train.”
“It hasn’t been edited. He’s going to think I’m an illiterate idiot!”
I rushed off and switched on my laptop just to read the first few chapters. And there they were, the glaringly obvious mistakes you become blind to. The word Authorities where it should have said authoritative. And for some reason (unfathomably! A relic from an early change perhaps) the word bucket instead of cave (how can that even be!). I had also written the word to instead of the. And, oh no, at some point, when I was just getting started with this book one of the characters was called Uncle Henry. It soon changed to Uncle Harry. But it looks like I missed a mention of him early on and within a few pages his name suddenly changes from Harry, to Henry, and back again!
For New Year’s Eve my parents met Steve and his wife for dinner. He mentioned it. He asked my dad if he thought I would mind if he went through it with a red pen and pick out the mistakes.
And actually I don’t mind that. I did have a friend of mine who teaches English to proof read it for me anyway. At least now when I do send it to him he will think I’m capable of producing a far more polished piece of writing than I actually am.
Still, it is a lesson learned. And if Steve turns out to be a good proof reader at least I might be able to rely on him for that in the future. All published authors have an editor and a proof reader. It must be accepted that a writer can’t write tens of thousands of words without the occasional error (there may be one or two exceptions out of the millions of published authors but they will be an extreme minority).
I’m glad in a way that my unfinished manuscript was accidently stolen from me. It will mean that when I send it out to agents and publishers it will be the best it can be.
I’ll let you know when I get the manuscript back exactly how bad the damage is.