So now what do I do? I wrote the final word of the final section of my new book – the Introduction – last Wednesday. Went to work at my part-time job in Oxford on Thursday (taking a celebratory half-bottle of champagne to share at coffee-time), did lots of unaccustomed housework on Friday, and now here I am sitting blankly at my desk on Monday morning with a big shiny question-mark shimmering over my head.
I say I’ve finished, but actually I have yet to choose the illustrations. How I would love to have photos of some of my contributors, but I can’t ask them for any more than they have given me already, and confidentiality is too important a part of the whole undertaking to risk compromising with family snaps. I’m sure I’ll discover some interesting possibilities: migrant children arriving in Canada or Australia, perhaps; one of those lugubrious Edwardian villas in the suburbs that served as mother-and-baby homes in the 1950s and 1960s; early publicity material for the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child… Any suggestions for pictures relating to the stigma of illegitimacy gratefully received, by the way.
When I’ve finished that I’ll really be done. Except that I need to prepare a weekend course I’m teaching at Cambridge next year. And a lecture based on the new book. Oh, and respond to copy-editors and type-setters (or the digital equivalent) and think about possible features to accompany its publication.
Somehow I don’t think it’ll be long before I’m on the trail of another big project, though. I can never even contemplate starting another while I’m still finishing the one in hand: my enthusiasms would get the better of me, tempting me down all sorts of dangerous paths, and I’d get hopelessly lost. But if I consciously try to relax and think of nothing for a while (only a week or two) I usually find lying among the newly-settled detritus of my mind a little glinting idea that when picked up and carefully examined, proves to be the currency of another book. That’s what’s always happened before. I’ve no reason to think it won’t happen again this time.
Right now, however, it feels like every reason. Because, as any writer will tell you, this stage is the most terrifying part of the whole process. Two years of research and writing lie behind; no-one else has seen the product, and there’s no proof that it’s any good at all. True, anything is possible at this stage, but that thought isn’t always a comfort. And what if this time there’s nothing worth finding in the mud after all? Aaargh – who’d be a writer?
Me, please. I love every moment of it. And if all I’ve got to do is relax right now, I think I can probably cope with that.