My target of a weekly blog is now a shambles – five weeks without a post. As I attempt to pick up these nebulous threads and decide whether to overdose you with what I did intend to write about – i.e. the strong dose of South Indian culture in the singeing heat of May in Chennai, being nearly kidnapped in an even hotter Abu Dhabi, returning to revel in the perfect warmth of the English summer, making the annual pilgrimage to Wimbledon, and mourning the tragic loss of Roger to Dojokovic in the repeat final from last year. The time in between, however, was spent working tedious hours at the grindstone, reviewing the magnum opus – the manuscript of my novel, Stirring the Pot, of course. It is still playing on a loop in the dark corners of my brain, as I truly believed that I was an automaton, programmed to edit this one thing for the rest of my life. So, before I dwell on my more exciting escapades, here’s a gist of the experience that was re-drafting my novel over the years, and this probably isn’t the end. Masochism at its best.
One of the first things I did when embarking on this ambitious task was to buy a few self-help books that gave advice on how to do it. Words of wisdom, I’d hoped, on shape, structure, plotting etc. Instead, when it spoke about starting with a completed first draft, I remember feeling paralysed with shock. At the time, I was barely a few chapters in and I really didn’t know whether the end would be in sight at all. One could say that I was still adrift on the endless ocean with a hungry tiger for company.
The final chapter did arrive eventually and I tried to feel like Kathleen Turner in the beginning of the film, Romancing the Stone, having an emotional sniffle as she typed the words, The End, but the book I’d bought was right. This was but the beginning. When experienced friends tried to say this, I wanted to clap my hands to my ears and block the noise out. There were those who clamoured for the date of publication. My Indian family for you. Some of them even asked why I hadn’t made the Booker shortlist. Yes, it must’ve got missed out, I said. Patient friends had gone through it and given me their useful observations, and I’d tinkered as much as I could, but also knew that I was reluctant to be ruthless about the process.
Unable to see what really was the problem, I decided to get expert advice and got in touch with an editor from a literary consultancy, who does this for a living. I printed the whole 250 pages out, boxed it and sent it off to her. A month and a half later, it came back with a 25-page report and pencilled markings on every page. I was really grateful for this guidance and went about addressing every chapter afresh, fixing things as I went along. Was this the end? It ought to have been, I thought. But in reality, it needed resting. That’s the other bit of advice given – put it to sleep and revisit in a few months’ time. In my case, I’d got so tired of it that I decided to give it a swift burial.
Until the day someone replied to an email sent three years before and asked for a recent version. She was sure it had undergone many changes. God, no, I said, I’d forgotten all about it, and then realising my stupidity, said, no, of course it had undergone changes and will send it to her shortly. Ignoring it for so long had helped. I’d been focussing on writing short fiction which meant I could see obvious flaws like overdoing descriptive passages, and I went about making it more streamlined. In short, I conducted liposuction. This gave me confidence to read at Novel Nights, which in turn made me feel comfortable circulating in book circles and doing a little schmoozing. I remembered that I do enjoy meeting people and having interesting and perhaps persuasive conversation. I might even have been good at it once back in the days I did radio. And then, to my pleasant surprise, there were expressions of interest and I plunged myself once more into the Pot and stirred it some more and have sent it off.
As I write this, I notice I haven’t made the Bristol Short Story Prize longlist – rejection with the novel, even after all this, could be inevitable, but believing is never futile.