My Authors Electric colleague Pauline Chandler tagged me to take part in this little game. You go to the seventh page of your work in progress, or your newest work if, like mine, your current work in progress consists of a heap of reference books and some notes and not much else! Count down seven lines and post the next seven sentences. Or you can go to the seventy seventh page if you like. We're hoping you don't have a seven hundred and seventy seventh page, but I suppose it's possible. Pauline's extract was from a tantalisingly interesting historical novel - you can find it here, on the Authors Electric blog.
The Physic Garden. When I turned to page seven of the paperback version, and counted down some seven lines, here's what I found:
'I should have started the tale elsewhere and earlier. But I wanted to write about her, the way you want to talk about what you love. Loved. I wanted to bring her to life in words the way I would once have made seeds, bulbs, roots and tubers grow into plants, the way a few green shoots could grow and stretch out and blossom, the way affection grows and blossoms, although you never see it happening, no matter how closely you try to follow the movement of it.
All the same, I should have started the tale earlier. Perhaps I should have begun by telling you about my father, Robert Lang, who had been college gardener for many years, since I was just a lad. Or with myself, who loved green and growing things, even as a boy. Or with Thomas Brown, who had come to teach botany at the college, a few years before I met Jenny.
But I think that would have been the hardest beginning of all. So instead, here I am, telling you about Jenny Caddas and her swarm of bees, the way she smelled of sweat and honey, and how her hair flew about her head and caught the light, a tangle of flax in the sunshine.'
You can see right away that I've cheated! It seemed such a shame to stop, since these few paragraphs are right at the end of a chapter - and I think we need to know that Thomas Brown would have been the 'hardest beginning of all.'
Incidentally, I had occasion to meet a retired editor a little while ago (not my editor, I hasten to add, who was an angel in human form and the kind of editor who is beyond price.) 'How,' this person asked, 'could you write in the persona of such an unlikable character?'
I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked. The novel is written in the first person 'voice' of William Lang. He is writing as an old man, remembering his youth in early 1800s Glasgow. Coming to terms with the events of his youth. Coming to terms with a grave betrayal. It would be no exaggeration to say that I loved every last thing about him, and still do. I had no way of answering the question, therefore, except to say that I didn't find him unlikable at all. Fortunately, a few other people agreed with me. They liked him too. What's more, they recognised him. But it got me thinking. And mostly what I thought was how very glad I was that this individual had not been my editor. Because if I had been persuaded to make William conform to somebody else's idea of 'more likable', I may well have destroyed the whole book in the process.
By the way, I'm hesitant to tag individuals in this game - I know how busy writers are. But if you are reading this and feel like doing it - why not just give it a go? And let me know how you get on in the comments below.