Alison McQueen


The Last Mile

Good news: Orion love the new book, or rather, the new manuscript. The bit in between, meaning the part of the process between a loved manuscript and a finished book, is the part where I start to get twitchy. Before a novel is finished, it belongs to me. I can do whatever I want with it; hack bits off, add a little here and there, wake up in the middle of the night and change that one word that’s been bugging me. Yet once it’s been handed in and signed off into production, that’s it. It is no longer mine. It’s out there on its own, grown up and gone, left to stand on its own two feet.

This novel, for some reason, I found inordinately tricky to write. It took a great deal of research, both before and during the writing process, yet upon reading the first draft I realised that the research had merely acted as a sort of scaffolding which I later stripped out completely. Weeks, if not months, spent tracking down out-of-print books, trawling through The National Archives as the rabbit hole went deeper and deeper. All that time spent, only to end up in the bin. Except it’s not in the bin, it’s all logged somewhere in my head, and without it I wouldn’t have had a hope. Learning is one of life’s great pleasures.

This last month represents the last mile of a marathon that has taken over two years to run. That is the way of writing. It is a shameless thief of time. Months slip by unnoticed, then years, and suddenly the children are not children any more. They have somehow morphed into adults, driving around in cars, talking about getting married and having babies. (“Don’t be in too much of a hurry” I tell them, although between you and I, if you are lucky enough to meet and fall in love with someone wonderful, then why not?)

I will spend the next few weeks agonizing over sentences that aren’t quite right and words that I do not know. As my Indian mother often says, there is a correct word for everything in the English language, but I cannot claim to know anywhere near enough of them. With over 170,000 in current use, not including the archaic, the poetic or indeed the obsolete, the chances of my finding the right one are pretty slim. When writing, I avoid the fancy and the abstruse like the plague. They are my enemies, unless I am doing the Telegraph crossword which I rather like to torture myself with. I have put my family on notice that if they find me sitting in a chair staring at the wall, do not have me carted off; I am merely trying to find an elusive word or a better way to put a sentence together. Frankly, they all think I’m a little soft in the head anyway.

Incidentally, if you have some time to burn and are interested in history, do go and have a look around The National Archives. Click here for a direct link through to their list of catalogues and online records. You’ll find all sorts of fascinating things; old passenger lists for ships, maritime and military records, declassified government documents. It’s no wonder I became so distracted.