Alison McQueen


So Close And Yet So Far

I have ground to an eerie halt, which usually means that the first draft is down. This one (my seventh novel) has been particularly complicated, and has felt like wrestling an elephant to the ground. It’s all very well to have it pinned down, but at some point I’m going to have to decide what to do with it next.

For years, I have kept notebooks. I like to kid myself that I have some kind of system regarding what goes where, but the plain fact of the matter is that I have absolutely no idea where anything is. To make matters worse, all the notebooks look exactly the same. I know, for example, that I have a whole lot of stuff written down somewhere to do with a particular period in Calcutta, but can I find it? I also made an important note some months ago while reading up on pre-partition Delhi, but I can’t find that either. It could be anywhere, and unless I sit and trawl through a whole stack of handwritten books, I haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of finding it.

There are some excellent packages available for people who prefer to keep their notes digitally – Voodoopad springs to mind – but I can’t bring myself to use it, Luddite that I am. I like writing in notebooks. I like the way the pen feels on the paper, and the way I can be a bit anarchistic and stray from the ruled lines. Hell, sometimes I even write things sideways. Nevertheless, things have got a little out of hand. Now that the first draft is down, I am going to have to sit and go through every single notebook, page by page, to try to identify the things I wrote down ages ago intending them for this novel. Knowing me, once I find them, I will probably go and write them down again in yet another notebook on the promise that I will be more organised with this one.

In the meantime, the draft needs a reader. Until now, nobody has seen so much as a page of it. Fortunately, my good friend, the brilliant South African writer Rachel Zadok, has volunteered her eyes. She is a superb critic, which can be pretty uncomfortable, and is the only person in the world I trust with an early draft. Rachel Zadok’s first novel, Gem Squash Tokoloshe, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize, and for the lesser known (but very highbrow) John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. If you like your stories dark and mysterious, it’s an absolute knock-out.