Swimming home

Today we are spring cleaning the house. I know it’s not spring, and I know how unhappy some people feel when required to clean up their rooms, say, or tidy the lounge of their guitar paraphernalia, let alone address the back deck which doubles as a bike workshop. But today we are spring cleaning the house, despite the fact it’s mid-winter, because I have finished the novel.

And did I tell you, I have finished the novel? Yes, after a long period of time, most of which was spent petrified of the pen, dreading the desk and/ or delighting in the drink, I am done. I am satisfied. I am happy.

Well, I am finished, at any rate.

A novel starts with such wonder, an image, a feeling, a character. How it sparkles as you turn it this way and that in the moments before sleep takes you or the woken world bids you good morning. And how you will delight in bringing it to life, you think. Women’s swimming in the 1920s (which quickly replaced women in aviation – don’t ask). Just think of it! The suits, the strength of those divas of the deep who first challenged the English Channel, the Victorian morality that told them they couldn’t. They drew a line in the sand and said, “Yes we can!” And such a romantic time in our history, the twenties, when anything was possible. Just pause momentarily. Oh, the novel I could write.

And then, a little like the Great Depression that ended the twenties, comes the reality, what the writer, this writer, is actually capable of, a poor cousin to that shiny thing. Thank God for spring cleaning really, the little corners I can now get the vacuum brush into because I have the time and inclination, the kitchen floor which has been so longingly awaiting the damp mop which will bring it, if not to glory, at least to some standard of hygiene, and the bathroom, oh God, the bathroom. I am not going to say the word mould, but some of you will understand - our bathroom was harmful to human health. No wonder I was hesitant to work on the novel. It was the miasma.

The advice that saved me writing my fifth novel – and let’s not dwell on why, at Number 5, I still need advice – came from Anne Lamott whose Bird by Bird is like a spring clean for the writer’s psyche. Lamott says to write shi*ty first drafts. A shi*ty first draft I did, as my publisher will attest, God love her and keep her, and the shi*ty first draft, nothing like the shiny thing, was still enough to fashion something workmanlike from. I redrafted, with help, and then redrafted again, and now I have a novel I'm excited about and proud of called Swimming Home (the title's always been good, as titles often are). A little like a spring-cleaned house in the middle of winter.

But of course, with the house, the first draft can be perfect. Did I mention I’ve finished the novel?