Coming to the end of anything entails a grief. No matter how much you want to get to that end – whether it signals the cessation of a painful process or the satisfaction of a major accomplishment (or, I guess, both) – the final act is the final act, and that part of your life is over.
I am, in some ways, fortunate to have had a lot of practice as far as grief goes, so I find myself in the privileged position of understanding both its importance and many of the ways one can live through it without becoming dead oneself.
The Chinese, in their ancient medicine teachings, linked grief with ‘value’. It’s obvious, really. If something holds true value for you, letting go of that will involve grief. The strange thing is that if you don’t let go when life asks that of you, the pain of the grief will destroy you, and therefore, also, any value that you may have experienced.
Learning to live with grief is one of the biggest lessons we get in our human lives. Learning to live past grief is another. I see too many people, damaged for ever by the passing of someone – or something – they loved. And sometimes by something they didn’t, but it held their lives together, in a subtle, unstated way.
I am discovering now that grief is an essential part of writing. It feels rather odd that no sooner has one birthed the ‘baby’, than one has to let it go. If the story one has created is to fulfil its function, it has to be released into the world – where the author has absolutely no control whatsoever over what happens to it! Despite the fact that some of them (authors, that is) would have you believe otherwise.
The journey my book will now undertake is, for me, very similar to the one we shared together as I created it. I never knew from day to day, from chapter to chapter, what was going to happen next. And this was the delight for me. I relinquished control and waited to see, each morning, what arrived on the page. It was so exciting. A roller-coaster ride of discovery, that continually demanded I let go of expectations, pre-planned routes, assumptions, presumptions and – my ‘bete noir’ – conventions. I absolutely loved the process, and that has meant I also love the result.
Now, I have to stand out of the way again, and watch how my baby grows, stepping in where required to aid publicity, addressing when necessary any admin issues, but essentially allowing my creation a life all of its own.
So what does that mean for me? I’ve been reading a bit this week about authors’ reactions to finishing a book. Some of them find they can’t bear to write again for a while. Some discover a huge hole in their lives that they can’t fill and don’t know how to live with. Some just get on with writing something – anything – to fill the gap. Some, of course, have parties. And others finally get to do the housework.
Me? I sit in the middle of the splendid mandala that is now my life. I’ve broken all the rules, as usual. I have three other novels on the go. Book 2 in the McShannon-Pearce series is currently eleven chapters in. I started this last year, just after writing the final chapter of The White And Silver Shore.
Another, different, detective appeared on my pages, unexpectedly, a couple of years ago, when I was writing an exercise. Tessa currently has a good ten or so chapters to her name.
And at Christmas, I tried to read the kind of book I normally eschew – a romance. Despite being listed as a bestseller, it was rubbish. (Sorry, that should have read: ‘I found it wasn’t very good for me, personally’.) I thought – I could do better than that. So I had a go. My romance – Rannoch Moor – is one brand new chapter long.
So I shall be able to continue, as before, dipping in and out of different adventures to see where they will take me, as I carefully and, I hope, honourably, wave goodbye to my first ever novel.
A casual conversation with a fellow writer, a few months back, revealed that I had four novels on the go. They put on a very serious face as they pronounced, ‘I want to suggest that’s three too many’. Well, maybe in their world, it is …