It’s the end of July, and I’ve all but completed the first draft of my new book, provisionally entitled Birthright. We had been going to call it In the Family Way, my Penguin editor and I, but that’s a bit twee and patronising, I’ve decided, and – as a friend put it – rather too ‘nudge nudge’. I hope Birthright strikes the right tone. It’s about the stigma of illegitimacy, for parent and child, from 1918 to the late 1960s.
So what do I do now? I need to leave it to settle for a couple of weeks at least, so that when I return to it, I’ll be able to do so with a more objective eye. (The theory is that the re-drafting process will thus be simple, swift, and coruscatingly astute. Hmmm.) But I’ve been writing solidly since January, apart from the odd day or two off each week to give talks or meet a few short-term deadlines, and I feel lost.
Yesterday I cleaned out the back kitchen cupboard (that’s how lost I feel) and washed the dog’s blanket (thus coating the inside of the washing-machine with little white hairs for evermore). Today I might load up the ex-contents of the back kitchen cupboard for the dump. Tomorrow I’ll go through my study shelves culling books for the charity shop – and then squeeze them all back again, as I recall each volume’s associations.
My fingers are quivering, though; I’m so close to finishing Birthright that I want to get it done, get it in the bag, and then relax. It’s one of the hardest things about being a writer, I find: knowing when to stop, step back a few paces, and wait.